The death of a professional footballer in Tunisia has shocked the nation, after he set himself on fire earlier this week in protest against the country’s “police state.” Nizar Issaoui, aged 35, died after suffering third-degree burns from his extreme act of protest in the village of Haffouz in the central region of Kairouan. His brother Ryad confirmed the news to reporters on Friday, April 14, saying that Issaoui had “sentenced himself to death by fire” in a Facebook post shortly before the incident.
Issaoui’s protest reportedly stemmed from an incident in which officers accused him of “terrorism” after he complained about being unable to buy bananas for less than 10 dinars ($3.3) per kilogramme, double the government-set price. A video selfie of Issaoui’s final moments, which has circulated widely on social media, shows him screaming: “For a dispute with someone selling bananas at 10 dinars, I get accused of terrorism at the police station. Terrorism for a complaint about bananas.”
Issaoui’s death has sparked protests on the streets of Haffouz, with young demonstrators hurling stones at police who responded with tear gas. The incident has brought back memories of the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010, which triggered the Tunisian revolution and paved the way for the Arab Spring uprisings. Bouazizi’s act of protest was prompted by harassment from local officials, who confiscated his cart and his wares.
Issaoui’s death has also renewed calls for police reform in Tunisia, with many citizens taking to social media to express their outrage. The country has struggled to overcome the legacy of decades of authoritarian rule under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in the 2011 uprising. Despite the adoption of a new constitution and democratic reforms in recent years, many Tunisians feel that the police and security forces continue to operate with impunity and harass citizens with impunity.
As of his death, Issaoui was a free agent in the football world, having played for a range of clubs from the lower divisions to the top flight. His tragic death has prompted an outpouring of condolences and tributes from the Tunisian football community and beyond. It remains to be seen whether his death will lead to lasting change in Tunisia, but it has certainly highlighted the ongoing struggle for justice and reform in the country.
Un footballeur tunisien s’immole par le feu devant un poste de police
Arrivé au commissariat de police pour porter plainte contre un marchand de fruits, Nizar Issaoui s'est vu accusé d’être impliqué dans une affaire terroriste. Il s’est alors imbibé d’essence et s'est mis le feu pic.twitter.com/SoJVfaQjdu
— Baben Soro 🇬🇳 (@BabenSoro) April 11, 2023
Warning ⚠️ graphic footage 🚫
Tunisian Ex-footballer Nizar Issaoui set himself on fire outside a police station in Haffouz, Kairouane when he found himself with terrorism charges after a dispute with a fruit seller.
He suffered severe burns but is stable#Tunisia pic.twitter.com/5V7LorL9St
— Souhail Khmira (@SKhmira) April 10, 2023