by Darrell Castle
Constitution Party Vice-Chairman
Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old man who lived in a small town in Tunisia called Sidi Bouzid. According to family members, he supported his mother and six sisters with the US$140 per month he earned as a street vendor selling produce from a wheelbarrow-type cart. His dream was to someday buy a van for his produce and allow his sisters to go to university.
Bouazizi did not have a license to sell from his cart, although the local police say that no license was needed. His sisters said that the police often harassed him and destroyed his produce because he could not or would not pay their bribes. His sisters accused the police of trying to extort money from him. On December 17, 2010, he contracted US$200 in debt to buy his merchandise to sell. He was then publicly humiliated when F. Hamdi, a 45 year old female official, slapped him in the face, spat at him, threw out his produce and confiscated his scales. The fact that she was female made the humiliation worse due to the customs and traditions under which he lived.
He appealed to the governor’s office, but the governor refused to see him. He then told his mother that he was going to burn himself and he bought gasoline or paint thinner, sat down in front of a government building, doused himself and set himself on fire. He was transferred to several hospitals as the need for better trauma care overwhelmed the local hospitals, but he died 18 days later. More than 5,000 people attended his funeral, and the mayor of Paris announced that a place in Paris will be named after him.
The protests and riots became so intense after Bouazizi’s death that the President of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled the country, bringing down the Tunisian government after 23 years. Ben Ali tried first to go to Paris, but was refused entry. He eventually was accepted into Saudi Arabia and apparently resides there now.
Since the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, many other people have burned themselves in protest in many countries. Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have had several cases of self-immolation. Protests have become widespread across the Middle East including Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Jordan. Some of us remember the TV images of Buddhist monks burning themselves in Vietnam as a form of religious protest.
There was the public humiliation angle to what Bouazizi did, but his act had an economic angle as well. The poverty of the Tunisian people, the 30% unemployment rate, the rising food prices, along with the obvious official corruption, were enough for his act to serve as the match that burned down the Tunisian government. Now the Egyptian government looks to be on fire as well. Egypt – a nation of 85 million people – and 40% of them survive on less than US$1 dollar per day.
It seems that one man really can make a difference when the conditions are ripe for him to do so. The world has never been so ripe as it now. Is this our future? Time will tell.