Arab Spring Anniversary: Remembering Mohamed Bouazizi

Exactly one year ago, a university-educated Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the provincial city Sidi Bouzid, after police confiscated his unlicensed fruit and vegetable cart because he refused to pay bribes to three council inspectors. Bouazizi was 26 years old and supported eight people on $150 a month. His hope had been to trade up from a wheelbarrow to a pick-up truck. Because Bouazizi refused to pay the bribes, his cart was seized and he was beaten. After he was not granted an audience with the governor, Bouazizi poured a can of fuel over himself and set himself on fire. He was taken to the hospital with burns over 90 percent of his body and died on January 5.

On December 17, 2011 — a year in which the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted and tried in a cage as global audiences watched; in which Libya’s long-time dictator Muammar el-Gaddafi was deposed and killed; in which the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, finally agreed to a transition of power after 30 years; in which a popular uprising has persisted in the wake of a bloody crackdown in Syria – Tunisians unveiled a statue of Bouazizi. As Moncef Marzouki, an activist who became Tunisia’s president last week after the country’s first democratic vote, was quoted by Al Jazeera:

“Sidi Bouzid, which has suffered from marginalisation, restored the dignity of all Tunisians. We have pledged to restore the joy of life to these areas.”

Al Jazeera reports that tens of thousands rallied and danced in Sidi Bouzid’s main square; streets were adorned with photographs of Tunisians killed in the popular revolution that, a month after Bouazizi’s self-immolation, led to the ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. Celebrations will continue through the weekend and include Nobel Peace Prize-winning Yemeni opposition activist Tawakkol Karman, among other international figures.

Economic and Social Challenges Remain

But while the revolution has brought democratic freedoms, poverty and joblessness remain the reality for the vast majority of Tunisians. Unemployment was at 13 percent at the end of 2010 and is now at 18.3 percent and even higher for young people. The revolution has actually set Tunisia’s economy back as tourists and foreign investors have stayed away, says Al Jazeera:

“Honoring Sidi Bouzid is good but we need to work, only jobs can restore our dignity. People here need bread, not a musical instrument to entertain themselves,” Nabila Abidi, an unemployed university graduate, told the Reuters news agency in the town.

“The new government must understand the message well and take care of us and improve our conditions. If not, the revolution will return,” said Mansour Amamou, another resident.

Tunisia’s gross domestic product growth is forecast to drop to about 0.2 per cent in 2011 from 3 percent in the last year of Ben Ali’s rule. However, officials expect it to bounce back to 4.5 per cent in 2012.

Riots have occurred in some towns due to the economic uncertainties in recent weeks, with some setting fire to government buildings and clashing with security forces.

2011: The Year of A Global Youth Revolt

Much, much remains to be done to improve the material circumstances of all. But there is no doubt that Bouazizi’s act of desperation has set off “convulsions,” as the Guardian puts it, across the world:

…in the depths of a Russian winter activists are planning their next howl of protest at the Kremlin; in a north American city a nylon tent stands against a bitter wind; in a Syrian nightmare a soldier contemplates defection….

It began as a Mediterranean revolt spreading on both sides of the sea … from Tunisia through Egypt and Libya and beyond, and from Greece and Spain upwards into Europe. In a million different and fragmented ways, scenes of protest were the narrative backbone to 2011 played out again and again in cities as far afield as Santiago, Stockholm and Seoul.

But to view the activism of 2011 through a nationalist, ethnic or even class lens is to miss its unifying trait … 2011 was the year of a global youth revolt.

Driving many of the youthful protesters is a thorough uncertainty about dwindling economic opportunities and the sense that they will be the first in many generations to face a future in which they will be “worse off then their parents.”

In addition, the “80 million unemployed young people from the most well-educated generation in human history” are unsure — who among us can be sure? — about how to integrate themselves in a globalized economic market. Jesse LaGreca of Occupy Wall Street speaks of frustration with “political promises” and of having “to make that change ourselves.” The  Guardian also quotes David Osborn of Occupy Portland:

“To see the movement generally, but in particular the youths, mobilise and really demand the impossible … to think Mubarak would not have been president more than a few weeks or even a month or two before he actually fell was almost impossible. And yet they asserted that another world without Mubarak was possible, and I think that kind of re-inspired the radical imagination in many of us.”

It’s no wonder that Time magazine chose the protester as its Person of the Year, in a year in that saw the widest-scale uprisings since 1968. As the example of Tunisia shows, much, much remains to be done, but, as the Guardian also notes, the protests of 2011 were also significant for being “largely non-hierarchical, creative and locally autonomous” and “consciously so.” Social media played a huge part in spreading minute-by-minute news of protests, brutal crackdowns and more protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, in Sana in Yemen, in Dara’a in Syria, in Tripoli, at Bahrain’s now-demolished Pearl Roundabout.

Demonstration, strikes and occupations continue to this day. While the internet played a huge role, the Arab Spring and the occupy movement in cities in US, Canada and Europe has reaffirmed the power of asserting your presence, of showing up and standing and sitting in, to make the simple statement “here I am” — or rather, “here we all are.”

Related Care2 Coverage

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Photo by magharebia


Fabrevet T.
Fabrevet T.5 years ago

Society is breaking down steadily as population pressures get more intense with panetary overcowding. The tis there is nowhere left to escape to for the poor and huddled masses. This will inevitably result in war caused by oppresive and cruel laws driving people to desperate measures. Just look at the laws arounf the worls where even the USA ios removing citizen's legal rights under the auspices of terrorism. It will soon become apparent to even peaceful protesters that these newly drafted draconion laws will be applied in the most ludicrous circumstances to enable the power-brokers to hold on to power.

Fabrevet T.
Fabrevet T.5 years ago

Preserving the rights of Tunisian women is going to be a long hard risky struggle. Muslim men are amongst the most oppressive, mysogynistic, abusive, sexixt creatures in the whole animal kingdome. Few creatures abuse their females more than muslim men abuse their women.

Huda G.
Huda G5 years ago

I don't think we can begin to imagine how desparate Mohammed Bouazizi felt!! To set yourself on fire to be heard!!
God willing these countries will move forward at their pace in their own way we need to respect that their desires maybe different from the Wests, but that doesn't mean they are wrong or backward. We should embrace the differences around and learn from each other!

Beth S.
Beth S6 years ago

Come to think of it, the Egyptian Muslims might not even let the Copts go, because jizya will provide a revenue where it did not exist.

Beth S.
Beth S6 years ago

I see there are calls from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists to make the Copts pay jizya in the new and improved post-Arab spring Egypt. I imagine that like the Jews before them, the Copts will be making an exit from a country where their presence predates the existence of Islam.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

It's just begun.
Considering their financial strength and how well entrenched these corporations have become, and what we, the people, have to face because of that, it's going to be a long war.
The most encouraging thing to me is the way the protestors have 'joined hands' with those in other lands, struggling for the same human rights and dignity.

Beth S.
Beth S6 years ago

I think you are right, Bruce S., and I think it's not only been a giant leap backwards for the Middle East, but also is taking its toll on Europe as well. Hopefully, Europe is beginning to stir from its slumber.

Bruce S.
Bruce S6 years ago

I think that the "Arab Spring" is turning into a VERY COLD "Arab Winter.

While quick changes by revolution may seem like a good idea when it's happening, history has shown otherwise. Look at the Russian revolution, do you think that the Soviet Union is what the original revolutionaries were looking to do?

It doesn't appear to me that Egypt is really better off now without Mubarak. Would they have thrown out Sedat?

William K.
William K6 years ago

It is very sad that Mohamed Bouazizi had to kill himself. I do not even think that it was his intent to spark a global movement. It is a testimony to the truth that he stood up for however, that resonates with so many in the world, that has been shaking the world to its foundations. He had to set himself on fire to have his voice heard. Sad, too, that in this current day in which "money is free speech", that this means that the voices of those with money are amplified and broadcast, and those that do not have money have their voices drowned out. Bouazizi's self sacrifice proves the point.

Michael C.
Michael C6 years ago

We are rapidly approaching an American Autumn, something like the Arab Spring. Given that Obama has lifted his Veto threat against the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.

This act will enable DHS to

One provision in NDAA FY2012 will allow for the reinstatement of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” essentially making waterboarding and forms of psychological torture a very possible reality for anyone America deems to be a threat, including its own citizens who, prior to the ruling, had the US Constitution on their side.

Under the Act, those suspected of “belligerent” crimes can be subjected to the treatment. Graham tried to calm fears by insisting that suspected criminals will all be allowed a day in federal court, but made it clear that as long as a judge deems someone a suspect in a crime, that indefinite detention can begin without the help of any legal counsel for the defense.

“How long can you hold them? As long as it takes to make us safe,” said Graham.

According to Graham, "Because of this, Miranda Rights should not be read to suspected criminals and additionally the right to an attorney is also suspended under the act."