On Sunday, January 22, a group of friends set off to Jbel el Faouara in the hills of Hammamet, where they were threatened by security forces at the service of wealthy businessman Mohamed Ayachi Ajroudi, who is expanding his palace in the foothills, illegally. The following Sunday, residents of Hammamet organized a picnic protest recalling their right to access the green space they love.

Picnic protest: residents react to agression against young hikers in Jbel el Faouara

The gathering was set for 11am on Sunday, January 29. Several dozen Hammamet residents meet in front of the blue tower close to the train station before getting in their cars and setting off in the direction of the natural reserve Jbel Hammamet, also called Jbel el Faouara, which overlooks the city and sea. As the road steepens, most park their cars and continue by foot. A bit later, some twenty cyclists from the bike club arrive, breathless from the climb. The organizers pull out provisions for the picnic, which takes place in the same spot where three young men from Hammamet were assaulted one week earlier.

Ezzedine, Bassem et Yassine had decided to go for a walk at Jbel el Faouara. They had parked their car and were taking pictures of the landscape when two 4x4s surrounded the car. Assuming it was blocking the road, the young men went to see what was going on. The men driving the 4x4s, employees of businessman Mohamed Ayachi Ajroudi, ordered them to leave the hill. The young men protested, arguing that the zone belongs to everyone and that they had every right to be there. One of the three called the National Guard, which did not impress their interlocutors: «You can call the National Guard, Mehdi Jomaa, or even Essebsi for all I care. You have to leave! » They began to push, insult, and threaten two of the young men. «Get out of here, before I put a hold in you!» Observing the escalation, one of the friends began filming the scene, and the video of the assault was widely diffused on social media. In contrast, the recorded events found no echo in the media. The National Guard, for its part, never showed up.

The kitsch palace of a powerful businessman with political aspirations

From the hillside is a stunning view of the forest and plain that stretches to the horizon, but also of construction underway, buildings of questionable archictectural taste. One of these—half luxury residence, half fortress—is complete, and distinctly overladen with arches, balconies, columns and terraces embellished with crenels. The other building, an imposing, four-story concrete cube, also decked out with crenels, is under construction. The property is guarded by barking dogs whose voices carry over to where people are gathered for the picnic.

Slide over the image from one side to another to view the progession of Ajroudi’s buildings.

These buildings are the property of businessman Mohamed Ayachi Ajroudi, native to Gabes. After five years in the merchant marine and engineering studies, Ajroudi began his career in the oil industry and mechanical engineering. He then bought and founded several companies—Sadeg promotion, Aquatraitements énergies services, Objectif pertinence, Razin Contracting Saudi Arabia, SNCFIME, Ferrara Ltd, etc.—in railway, real estate, civil engineering, telecommunications, water treatment and international trade, based primarily in Cannes (France) and Saudi Arabia, where he has lived for the past 25 years. He also collaborated with large French companies such as Suez and Constructions industrielles de la Méditerranée (CNIM).

In Tunisia, he used a privatization law to purchase the freight transportation company Sogetram in 1995. In 2010 he signed a partnership agreement with the National Sanitation Bureau (ONAS) to create a mixed company, ONAS International, and to « export ONAS expertise » overseas, particularly to the Gulf countries. After the revolution, he tried his hand in politics: in 2013, he created a « centrist, moderate, and united » party aptly named The Tunisian Movement for Liberty and Dignity, and, in the same year, bought the station Al Janoubiya TV. He finally pulled out from the election campaign shortly before the 2014 legislative elections. But since September 2016, he is president of the Sports Association of Hammamet, the handball club…