Tunisia's President Kais Saied has ordered that the annual celebration of the country's 2011 uprising be moved from January 14 to December 17, which he says is the true date of the revolution.
The public holiday, known as the Festival of the Revolution, marked the start of Tunisia's transition to democracy after nationwide protests ended the autocratic rule of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, the country’s second president. The date was decided through talks between political groups in 2012.
The protests began on December 17, 2010 when a poor fruit seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in front of a government building in Sidi Bouzid, a city in Tunisia’s neglected interior. His dramatic protest triggered riots that quickly escalated into a popular uprising that forced Ben Ali to flee on January 14.
However, on a visit to Sidi Bouzid on September 21, Mr Saied described January 14 as "the date of the abortion of the revolution” and said December 17 was the real origin.
Mr Saied, a political outsider elected in 2019 on a promises of fighting corruption and changing the political system, dismissed the government and froze the Tunisian parliament on July 25, using his interpretation of Article 80 of the constitution to invoke a period of exceptional measures.
On September 22, he declared his rule by decree and described his actions in July as a "revolutionary movement" that would put the process back on track.
Many of those who took part in the revolution supported Mr Saied's decision to change the commemoration date.
“For us in Sidi Bouzid there is no 14th of January, only 17th of December,” said Mohammed Ladher Gamoudi, the Sidi Bouzid representative of Tunisia's influential UGTT labour union.
Adel ben Guiza, who described himself as a critic of Mr Saied, also supported the president's move.
“I believe it is a correction and 17th December is the real date of the start of the revolution,” Mr ben Guiza, told The National.
Mr ben Guiza heads an association that fought for official recognition of the people killed or wounded by state security forces during the revolution, to enable them or their families to claim compensation. They achieved their aim with the publication in the official gazette on March 19 of the names of 129 dead and 638 wounded.
“We have not finished the revolution, ”Mr ben Guiza said.
The revolution will only be complete when the whole country enjoys liberty, democracy and social improvement, he said.
But Hatem Mliki, an independent MP from the western city of El Kef who took part in the 2012 discussions on the commemoration day, questioned Mr Saied's motives for changing it.
“I think it is an opportunity for the president to create a relationship between his political project and the revolution for his own reasons. But a president doesn’t have the right to change the political system,” he said.
“What is more critical is trying to use this discussion to divide the people – it is very bad for Tunisia to be so divided.”
Mr Saied said on Thursday that his long promised master plan for Tunisia would be unveiled in the coming days.
Pro-Saied activists have already begun recruiting volunteers and participants for the occasion through Facebook.
One volunteer, Kaouther Elkouki, who works in banking, said she expected him to reveal his plans on December 17.
“He said before, in Sidi Bouzid on September 22, that December 17 is the true date of the revolution,” Ms Elkouki told The National.
“We are waiting for him to explain his plan on that day.”
She said the celebration would take place in major towns and cities across the country, with the main focus being in the capital.