Fayda Hamdy is a Tunisian policewoman who famously slapped street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010. He went on to set himself on fire and the protests that followed sparked the 2011 revolution.
Hamdy talked to Ahram Online on the anniversary of the revolution. She says she was made a scapegoat for Ben Ali and feels like she participated in the revolution, even though she was imprisoned at the time.
Forty-year-old Hamdy was also angry with Moroccan-French novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun for his novel tackling Bouazizi's death, which portrayed her negatively and “had nothing to do with reality." She also denies ever slapping the young street vendor.
Ahram Online: What is your job description since the Bouazizi's incident?
Fayda Hamdy: I wasn't a security police officer in this sense, I was never armed. I have been working as a municipal officer at Sidi Bouzidi since 2000, and my job was to oversee implementing the rules. For example, we monitor food markets and how sanitary regulations are applied. We also monitor building licences, and then write reports for the municipal administration.
AO: Prior to the Bouazizi incident did you face any problems?
FH: Of course, I faced many things that were even harsher and more violent. Before the Bouazizi incident a butcher threatened me with a knife, and once an owner of an unlicenced building hit me with a hammer, and that case is still being processed in the court now.
AO: Did you know Bouazizi personally before the incident?
FH: I knew him as a street vendor among many others, but we never had problems before that day.
AO: Could you describe to us about what happened on 17 December 2010?
FH: On 16 December, I talked with Bouazizi and told him not to sell his fruits in this area again, as it is illegal, which he agreed to and moved his cart to another place. The legal market was just 150 metres away, we just wanted to make sure that the law was in place.
Next day, we were called back to the same area, as the street vendors had returned and when they saw us they began to run away except for Bouazizi.
When I talked to him, he shouted and accused us of targeting him personally. He said, "If I bribed you, you wouldn’t have even be bothered by me," so I went to his cart and tried to carry one the boxes but he took it from me—I felt at the time like an Israeli soldier attacking an Arab.
We were doing our job, my colleague then tried to take the boxes but Bouazizi attacked us and cut my finger, we went to the car that we came in and asked for reinforcements. All that happened at around 11am. After nearly an hour and half I heard that he had set himself on fire.
AO: So why was it said that you attacked him?
FH: That never happened—even Bouazizi himself didn't say that. He went to the governorate's station to complain that I prevented him from selling his goods. But when the reinforcements arrived they took the legal actions and took away his wares.
AO: How did you know that he set himself on fire?
FH: A coworker told me, but I was surprised because we just did was our job.
AO: Why you think people attacked your conduct?
FH: I think because I'm a woman, and this is the problem of the East with women. Had a man hit him, none of this would have been happened.
AO: What did you do after Bouazizi's accident?
HF: Bouazizi's wares were sent to a deaf and mute centre, and the scales were sent to the municipal warehouse. Later that night the police called me for a hearing. The Monday after we went to the prosecution, where they said the charges were dropped, however I was detained until Wednesday with no order from the general prosecution.
I stayed home all week and then president Ben Ali visited Bouazizi at the hospital on 28 December. At the same day a troop of anti-terrorist security came to my house and detained me. They kept me and two of my coworkers in detention at the national security headquarters in Sidi Bouazizi. They accused us of humiliating Bouazizi, and it seems that Ben Ali is the one who ordered my detention—I was made a scapegoat.
The general prosecution they told me that I would be sent home soon, but I was imprisoned from 31 December until 19 April at the women's prison in Gafsa.
AO: How did you follow the revolution while you were in prison? And how did the female prisoners deal with you?
FH: The female prisoners who were detained with me were associated with criminal cases, they were not political detainees. We were following the news through the television. On 13 January 2011 the prison became a military area, and they intensified security measures after some prisoners tried to escape from the male prison in order to join the protests.
We listened to Ben Ali's last speech and I knew he was just trying to stay in power, he was trying to suck up to Tunisians, but he doesn’t care about them.
Regarding the prisoners, I didn't really tell them who I was, I told them that I'm a teacher and that I'm detained for slapping a little boy. I was afraid to tell them the truth.
AO: Did you face difficulties in finding a lawyer to defend you?
FH: Lawyers refused to defend me in the beginning, then Basma Manasry, a relative, defended me for free and she got me the innocent verdict in one session on 19 April 2011.
AO: How did you feel at that time?
FH: People knew that I was oppressed. At the verdict session there were citizens attending the session from Sidi Bouzid and from other parts of Tunisia holding signs calling for my release. When the court set me free, the administration suggested transferring me from Sidi Bouzid to the capital but I refused. I decided to go back to my job at the same place to prove that I was innocent and to negate any rumoUrs about me.
AO: So you do still do the same job?
FH: Yes, I still work at the same place but I no longer observe operations in markets because of the unrest in the country. There are now more vendors selling their wares at unlicenced places.
AO: Did your life change after the revolution?
FH: I became famous, which does not bother me, because I feel that people in Sidi Bouzid love me and consider me as one of the people who participated in the revolution. What happened taught me to be stronger and have faith. Now I feel the country has more freedom, however I am concerned about chaos, and maybe I'm afraid from the judgements of the people who don't know me.
AO: What about Bouazizi's colleagues ?
FH: We don't have any problems, and I have nothing against any of them, even Bouazizi, because this young man was under a lot of pressure, and the issue wasn’t a "woman’s slap." I never even slapped him.