TUNIS – Some lost a leg, some gaze out from permanently scarred faces, others live forever bound to a wheelchair. All these men were injured in Tunisia’s democratic uprising 10 years ago, and they are begging the government to recognize them as official victims of the revolution.
As Tunisia this week marks the 10th anniversary of the revolt that unleashed the Arab Spring, those injured in the tumult feel disappointed and marginalized.
Since mid-December, they have been holding a sit-in at the office of the Agency for the Revolutionary Martyrs and Wounded, demanding recognition. They voice their demands through megaphones, sit and share stories, or rest on mattresses on the floor.
Some have even tried to set themselves on fire, to emulate the street vendor whose self-immolation in desperation over poverty and police abuse sparked Tunisia’s revolt.
Rached El Arbi, now 30, has been paralyzed since being shot while protesting the autocratic regime of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown on Jan. 14, 2011. A photo of him hospitalized at the time went viral across the Arab world.
But now, instead of El Arbi supporting his family, they’re now supporting him. El Arbi was 20 when he was shot in the neck during a protest and had to undergo three complex operations. He said he was in a coma for four months before he started to recover.
His family wasn’t prepared for the huge medical costs. His mother said she has three other children, and for a year, “they had to be hungry, so Rachad could eat.”
Protester Hosni Kalaia set himself on fire during the uprising. Now 49, he lives with permanent scars on his face and missing fingers. His brother self-immolated in 2015 and died.