TUNIS // Thousands of people gathered amid an atmosphere of anger and disappointment yesterday in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, to mark two years since the self-immolation of a fruit seller that sparked protests that became the cataclysmic Arab uprisings.
Chanting the "degage" or "get out" cry once aimed at the former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, people hurled stones at president Moncef Marzouki at a ceremony marking the anniversary. The new president has been globally feted for his role in steering Tunisia toward democracy, but stirred the ire of people in the countryside after failing to address the economic problems that were among the roots of the initial unrest.
Local television showed the president and his entourage being hustled off a stage and into a local government building. Soldiers were providing security at the rally but there was no sign of further violence.
"People are really mad here in Sidi Bouzid, they feel betrayed by the politicians and by the government," said Majd Mastoura, a poet and activist who was performing at a festival to commemorate the passing of the fruit seller, Mohammed Bouazizi. "There is nothing to feel that the people are celebrating anything here. People are feeling depressed."
The president told the jeering crowds: "I understand this legitimate anger. But the government has diagnosed the problem. In six months, a stable government will be in place and will provide the remedy to heal the country's problems."
But his audience was unimpressed. Despite efforts by the government, unemployment has stagnated or worsened in rural areas and, in October and November, thousands of people clashed with police in the similarly rural, poor town of Siliana.
"Here we are celebrating and being happy," said one woman interviewed on Tunisian television, with jostling close crowds behind her. "But nothing has been done. There is no employment and life is expensive."