After Bouazizi, a street vendor dreams of a happy ending

Posted on Thursday 07 July 2022 at 07:22

Nearly twelve years after Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation after his merchandise was confiscated, an act that sparked the first revolution of the Arab Spring, another peddler who rose to fame after his setbacks with the police in Tunisia dreams of a happy ending. .

Habib El Bey, 27, had set up his food truck during Ramadan in April in Bab El Khadra, a popular neighborhood in Tunis, to serve up sandwiches after iftar.

His conversational and theatrical way of engaging his customers by making grilled sandwiches with his own sauce soon made him a star in Tunisian street food.

Thanks to the uproar that his videos made on social networks, his company drew a crowd every evening that came for bai, the snack that gave him his name.

But at the end of April, the police arrested him and put his food truck in receivership, in front of angry customers, on the grounds that he had no permission. The scene, which was filmed and widely transmitted on social networks, angered many Tunisians.

His misfortunes sparked a wave of sympathy in the country, and the bey, whose real name is Habib Halila, bald and with a thick red beard, doubled on television to tell his story and projects.

– “Not Bouazizi”

Some have compared his case to that of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor of fruits and vegetables who died after setting himself on fire on December 17, 2010 in Sidi Bouzid (Central East) to protest police confiscation of his goods. .

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His gesture was the spark of the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, before it spread to other countries in the region. The Arab Spring has begun.

If Mr. Hleila’s setbacks occurred at a time when Tunisia is going through a serious social and economic crisis marked by high rates of inflation and unemployment against the background of strong political tensions, he rejects anything comparable to Bouazizi’s drama.

On the contrary, the restaurateur does well against bad luck and intends to take advantage of his newly acquired notoriety to bounce back and inspire young people whose initiatives often clash with tough bureaucracy and red tape.

“I am not Bouazizi and I will never resort to acts of desperation in the face of crises,” he told AFP. “I have decided to succeed and be a source of motivation for young people.”

After several steps, he was able to obtain permission to organize culinary shows throughout Tunisia before relaunching his food truck in the capital.

On Saturday, at the entrance to the city of Tunis, he presented his offer in a new truck costing about 20 thousand euros, which he will pay in instalments.

– “Beautiful story” –

In a black uniform adorned with two small Tunisian flags, he has been animating for more than five hours in the first meeting with his clients since his arrest.

“Congratulations to this young man who has persevered despite the obstacles,” Naziha Bahloul, 51, told AFP as she queued up at his podium. “He sets a good example for young people who are only thinking of leaving the country.” “It’s a great success story.”

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“Si Habib a repris son travail c’est parce que son histoire a été médiatisée, ce n’est pas le cas pour d’autres jeunes”, constate, amer, Bilel, un chômeur de 31 ans, qui rêve vivre d’aller in Europe.

The street food chef says he wants to “prove to young people that you can get what you want when there is determination. I want to tell them to never give up despite the difficulties”.

Mr. Halila, without a diploma, started taking an interest in street food since 2021 by lending a helping hand to a friend who sells sandwiches on the street.

Small carts of traditional Tunisian snacks such as basic “ayari”, round bread topped with harissa with eggs and olive oil, frikasi (fried donuts) or “Tunisian kaskorot” made with baguette, tuna and salad, abound on the streets of Tunis and across the country, but this sector of The economy is unregulated.

“I really liked this activity and had a lot of ideas to develop a project that could inspire young unemployed people,” he explains, calling for its organization.

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