Tunis, Tunisia – AFP
Tunisian street vendors often complain of official harassment, but one sandwich maker-turned-social-media-star hopes his struggles against bureaucracy will motivate young entrepreneurs.
Habib Hlila, 27, first set up a food van in the working-class Bab El Khadra district of Tunis in early April, selling sandwiches at the end of each day’s fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
As videos on social media helped his name spread, Hlila started drawing ever bigger crowds. But in late April, police detained Hlila and seized his truck on the basis that he had no licence to operate.
After a long struggle, he finally managed to procure a licence to organise cooking shows across Tunisia — then retrieved his van and started up his sandwich business again.
The operation was caught on camera and widely shared online, sparking anger among Tunisians who often complain of the obstacles authorities place in front of small businesses and everyday life.
Hlila says he wants to turn his experience into a positive story to inspire young Tunisians who often find it impossible to create a successful business in the face of suffocating bureaucracy.
But not everyone is inspired.
Bilel, an unemployed 31-year-old who, like many young Tunisians, wants to leave in search of a better life in Europe, said that Hlila “was able to go back to work because his case got media attention — it’s not the case for other young people.”
But Hlila said he wants “to prove to the young that you can reach your goals if you are determined. I want to tell them that you should never give up, despite the difficulties.”