Tunisia: coronavirus lockdown dampens 10th anniversary of Ben Ali toppling

Empty streets but Tunisians insist the revolution, and its aims, will not be forgotten

epa08937169 A Tunisian policeman stands guard amid a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Tunis, Tunisa, 14 January 2021. Tunisia on 14 January is marking the 10th anniversary of popular uprising that ousted former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA

Ten years ago on Thursday, thousands of Tunisians flooded on to Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis to demand the removal of their president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in a protest that would ignite the Arab uprisings of 2011.

But in 2021, the usually bustling avenue was silent as Tunisia plunged into lockdown again after an increase in cases of Covid-19.

A four-day general lockdown which began on Thursday morning was announced on Tuesday by the Tunisian National Commission to Fight Coronavirus.

A combo image showing a man trying to breathe through a cloth as teargas during a demonstration against former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the center of Tunis, Monday, Jan. 17. 2011 top, and empty chairs and tables packed outside a close street cafe in Tunis' landmark Avenue Habib Bourgiba, where massive protests took place in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, during to a national lockdown after a surge in Covid-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Tunisia is commemorating the 10th anniversary since the flight into exile of its iron-fisted leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, pushed from power in a popular revolt that foreshadowed the so-called Arab Spring. But there will be no festive celebrations Thursday marking the revolution in this North African nation, ordered into lockdown to contain the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Mosa'ab Elshamy)

A curfew is in place from 4pm to 6am, and all schools are closed until January 24, Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi said.

In recent weeks, the number of coronavirus cases in Tunisia surged, with between 2,000 and 4,000 new cases reported a day, according to the Ministry of Health. The test positivity rate hovers around 30 per cent, and in certain areas of the country's interior is significantly higher.

Tunisia has fared better than many countries in terms of raw infection numbers, but many fear the rising tide of new cases will overload the country’s fragile and overburdened healthcare system.

Hospitals are running short on everything from masks and gowns to oxygen tanks and ventilators. Last month healthcare workers took to the streets to protest against what they called dangerous and untenable working conditions after a young physician fell five storeys to his death when a lift malfunctioned.

The lockdown coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the Tunisian Revolution, and all planned rallies and actions were cancelled. Still, a small group took to the streets on Thursday afternoon to demand that the names of those killed or injured in the revolution, popularly referred to as the Martyrs of the Revolution, be printed in the government's Official Gazette.

They believe this will ensure better health care for the wounded, and a chance for families and survivors to sue those who injured or killed their loved ones. Successive governments promised and failed to create an official list, which includes up to 338 killed and 619 wounded in the actions that took place between December 17, 2010, and January 14, 2011.

A small group of people take part in a protest on the tenth anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Ben Ali , during to a national lockdown after a surge in COVID-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Tunisia is commemorating the 10th anniversary since the flight into exile of its iron-fisted leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, pushed from power in a popular revolt that foreshadowed the so-called Arab Spring. But there will be no festive celebrations Thursday marking the revolution in this North African nation, ordered into lockdown to contain the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Although the virus cast a shadow over the commemoration of the revolution, many Tunisians feel the lockdown is a necessary measure after people relaxed their vigilance during the summer downturn in cases.

“We haven’t forgotten the revolution,” said Hedil Hamad, 25, who was rushing home before the 4pm curfew. “But when you look at the numbers of those infected or dying of Covid, we can wait to celebrate and remember. For now, we have to keep each other safe.”

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL