TUNIS (Reuters) – Nearly 12 years after his image went around the world freeing a caged bird among protesters during Tunisia’s revolution, Wadi Jellasi has lost sight of the political ideals that raised him above the crowd. inspired to rise.
There is a parliamentary election in his country on Saturday. But the new legislature would be largely powerless and, after years of political frustration and a drift away from democracy, Gelasi would not vote.
He told Reuters, “I feel more suffocated in my country. There is no clear future for me or my family and friends in the neighborhood.”
“I don’t feel free and I can’t write freely on social media. It’s very worrying.”
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Gelasi’s journey, from a rebellion against one-man rule to a vote on the anniversary of the event that incited the revolution, reflects the lost illusions of a generation that fought for democracy but saw it slip away.
Tunisia’s revolution began when a vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouzizi, set himself on fire after an altercation with police on 17 December 2010, sparking a nationwide uprising.
As huge crowds filled Tunis in January 2011 and autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country, Jellasi was photographed in the crowd holding a cage with a Tunisian flag and opening the door to release a pigeon. Was.
The image of the unemployed 21-year-old became iconic, a symbol of the hopes for independence that spread across North Africa and the Middle East and triggered the ‘Arab Spring’.
As other rebellions were crushed or turned into grinding civil wars, Tunisia’s democracy stood out as the only glimmer of success.
But although the elections were fair and there was free speech, the country lurched from crisis to crisis as its leaders bickered and the economy faltered.
‘Nothing works in this country’
Sitting in a cafe in a run-down district of dilapidated streets and dilapidated buildings, Gelasi has lost faith in politicians.
“We were tired of the political elite and political parties stealing our dreams and focusing on their own interests,” he said.
He was not the only one fed up. In the 2019 election, voters elected Kais Syed, a hardline independent who vowed to end paralysis and clean up corruption.
Working as a porter at an electronics store, Jellasi had to cope with the rest of the country when the COVID-19 pandemic crushed the economy and drove up prices.
When Said closed parliament with tanks last summer, citing a national crisis, Gelassi was among the crowds who took to the streets echoing those who filled Tunis during the revolution.
Gelasi said, “We were with Kais Syed and supported him… because he is like us and comes from poor areas.”
But nearly 17 months later, nothing has materially improved for Jellasi.
Tunisia’s economy is on life support. The new parliament to be elected on Saturday will have few powers.
The opposition calls Syed a dictator and calls him an enemy of the people. New law mandates jail terms for people posting “fake news”
Gelasi said, “Nothing works in this country. Democracy, the economy and the condition of the people.” “For the first time, I will not vote… Enough is enough.”
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by John Stonestreet)
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