Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat –Tunisian municipal inspector, Faida Hamdi, age 45, who slapped Tunisian fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi, resulting in him setting fire to himself, thereby inflaming the Tunisian opposition, was not aware that her actions would change the political landscape in Tunisia and bring down a regime that had been in power for 24 years.
Asharq Al-Awsat has investigated the story behind this “slap”, and its repercussions which include the suicide of a young Tunisian graduate, which in turn incited a popular uprising against the government, and ultimately resulted in the removal of a sitting president. In turn, the Tunisian “jasmine revolution” has had a regional impact, and similar protests and demonstrations against long-established Arab governments and leaders have been seen in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. However let us return to the woman, and the incident, that sparked all of this unrest. Faida Hamdi’s brothers have called on her not to be viewed as anything more than a female police officer carrying out her duty, and have said that this incident has nothing to do with the collapse of the Tunisian regime.
Fawzi Hamdi, the family’s spokesman, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that his sister has spent a quarter of her life in her position as a “municipal officer’ whose salary does not exceed $450 a month. He said that his sister was employed by an extremely unpopular regime, and this is why it was ousted following the “jasmine revolution”, rather than due to any action by his sisters, who he described as “unfortunate”
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from the city of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, he said “my sister remains under arrest by the Tunisian security forces, but in reality she was just doing her job and following orders…especially as a municipal inspector in Tunisia means to ensure that the municipal laws are being followed, and investigate buildings, shops, roads, and vendors, and ensure that they have the requisite licenses, as well as remove all contraband.”
Contrary to what has been portrayed in the media, Fawzi Hamdi claimed that his sister, municipal inspector Faida Hamdi, did not slap or even lay a finger on Mohamed Bouazizi. He added that “her two aides did not attack or humiliate him [Bouazizi] in any manner, whether by kicking him or insulting him or swearing at him, rather all they did was confiscate his goods.”
Fawzi Hamdi also told Asharq Al-Awsat that his sister had been arrested and detained on two separate occasions, “firstly, this occurred after ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali visited Bouazizi in hospital and met his mother and his sister at the presidential palace. However the regime later released Faida and her two aides following a brief period of time [in detention], following the end of the investigation into this matter and the confirmation of her innocence.” As for her second arrest, Fawzi Hamdi said that this occurred later in response to the demands of the Tunisian protestors.
Fawzi Hamdi also expressed his anger that “those others who were accused with her of humiliating Bouazizi have been released, despite the fact that the charges are against three people; two men and a woman, so how can the parents [of Mohamed Bouazizi] raise a [legal] case against Faida whilst the other two involved are free?”
Fawzi Hamdi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Tunisian security authorities had informed him that there is no legal case against his sister, and that she remained in detention for her own protection, and that she would be released once calm returned to the Tunisian street. Hamdi also said that his neighbors had been sympathetic to his family despite the media hype surrounding his sister and the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi.
However Basma Bouazizi, Mohamed Bouazizi’s sister, rejected Fawzi Hamdi’s claims, and stressed that Faida Hamdi had not only slapped, but also spat on, her brother. She told Asharq Al-Awsat that “her aides completed what she started, by swearing at him and beating him.” She added “what my brother experienced, beginning from the confiscation of his fruit-cart to being insulted and slapped by a woman – which represents a grave insult in [Middle] Eastern societies – was enough to make him lose his mind, especially after all municipal officials refused to meet with him, and he was unable to complain about this abuse.” She stressed that the Bouazizi family would be taking legal action against all those involved in this case, “whether this is the municipal officers that slapped and insulted him, or the mayor…that refused to meet him.”
Asharq Al-Awsat also spoke to an eye-witness who saw Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself outside of the municipal headquarters. The eye-witness denied that Faida Hamdi had slapped Bouazizi, although he did confirm that her aides had kicked and beaten him after confiscating his fruit-cart.
There has been much controversy over this incident; with Mohamed Bouazizi setting fire to himself on 17 December 2010, finally dying of his injuries on 4 January 2011. This led to severe demonstrations throughout Tunisia against unemployment and government corruption, ultimately resulting in the collapse of the Ben Ali regime.