In Thala, the silent distress of the families of “martyrs” of the Tunisian revolution

Almost abandoned marble quarries at the entrance to the heights of the city and quiet streets where men in burnous sip their coffee in the cold winter. In Thala, a small mountainous town in western Tunisia, only a few walls stained with graffiti and a square paying homage to the “martyrs” of the revolution bear witness to the uprising of 2011.

The police station, which had been set on fire, was razed to make way for a collective taxi rank. The police had taken nearly a year and a half to return to the city, the scene of violent clashes. At the end of December 2010, the majority of the 18,000 inhabitants of Thala had followed in the footsteps of the demonstrations which had fevered the neighboring regions in the wake of the self-immolation by fire of the itinerant vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid. During the night of January 8 to 9, the police fired live ammunition, killing 6 and wounding 14.

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In the main street, where the vegetable vendors adjoin the terraces of cafes and administrative buildings, Helmi Chniti, brother of Ghassen Chniti killed on January 8, remembers the start of the protests. “It was the end of the school holidays, he recounts. The high school students had come out en masse to protest and join other comrades. The police were already waiting for them and started beating them, which then mobilized everyone, including my brother, after several nights of confrontations punctuated by police violence.

His brother collapsed in the middle of the street with a bullet in the back. He was 19. For Helmi, the hardest thing is the memory of not having been able to help him in time, for lack of finding an ambulance, in the surrounding chaos.

Mourning memory

Ten years later, the wounds are difficult to close for the families who are sorry for having obtained neither justice for their children nor any form of recognition, for lack of a definitive list of martyrs and wounded whose publication is still pending. Tunisia is suffering from an unprecedented economic recession to which is added a recurring political instability: nearly a dozen governments have followed one another since 2011.

Hosni Kalaeyah, 49 (here in Tunis, January 12, 2021), set himself on fire during a demonstration in 2011.

Today, the counter-revolutionary political speeches carried by certain parties are on the rise, accusing the revolution of being at the origin of the socio-economic ills of the country. They oppose the pro-revolution ideology embodied by the President of the Republic Kais Saïed. A teacher of constitutional law elected with 72% of the vote in October 2019, the new head of state is struggling to impose his political vision, hampered by the constraints of a semi-parliamentary regime and his lack of partisan relays. In this tense context around the revolutionary heritage, the families of the wounded and martyrs of the uprising see indifference added to the pains of their mourning memory.

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