Mohamed Bouazizi Ignites the Arab Spring

Mohamed Bouazizi Ignites the Arab Spring

“On this day in 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated, sparking a wave of revolutions across the Muslim world known as the Arab Spring.

Born 29 March 1984 in Sidi Bouzid, a small town in north-central Tunisia, Bouazizi grew up in relative poverty. He and his six siblings attended a small, one-room country school, from which he never graduated. With his father deceased and his stepfather in poor health and unable to work regularly, Bouazizi quit school in his late teens to work full-time to support his mother and family. The young man made about US$140 per month working as a produce vendor in Sidi Bouzid, a rural town rife with corruption and an unemployment rate around 30 percent. On 17 December 2011, at around 8 AM, Bouazizi began selling produce from his cart. Around 10:30, the police began harassing him, purportedly because he did not have a vendor’s permit, according to some reports. Local police had harassed Bouazizi for years, often confiscating his produce cart. This time, Bouazizi’s family claimed a female municipal official, Faida Hamdi, publicly humiliated Bouazizi, confiscated his weighing scales, and had her aides beat the young man. Angered by the abuse, Bouazizi went to the governor’s office to complain. When the governor refused to see Bouazizi, even after he was quoted as saying “”If you don’t see me, I’ll burn myself,”” Bouazizi went to a gas station, bought a can of gasoline, and returned to the governor’s office. Standing amidst a busy street, he doused himself with gasoline, shouted, “”How do you expect me to make a living!”” then set himself alight. It was 11:30 AM, less than an hour after the abusive altercation.

Though he survived, barely, Bouazizi suffered severe burns over 90 percent of his body before locals were able to douse the flames. He was taken to a local hospital, and later a burn and trauma center, where he was visited by then-president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. All the while Bouazizi was in a coma. He eventually died, 18 days after his immolation, on 4 January 2011.

Some 5,000 people participated in his funeral procession, chanting “”Farewell Mohamed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep.”” And indeed, outraged by the abuse that brought about Bouazizi’s self-immolation, Tunisians protested their country’s conditions in a months-long revolt that became so intense President Ben Ali fled Tunisia and a new regime was installed. Bouazizi was regarded as a martyr, a hero, and an inspiration, the man who galvanised the frustrations of much of the Muslim world’s youth into mass demonstrations and revolutions. Furthermore, his self-immolation was the catalyst of the Arab Spring, the wave of revolutions across the Arab world protesting lack of opportunities and state repression.

It was a single match, that which ultimately killed Bouazizi, which ignited a revolution.”

Credit: Getty Images
Caption: Tunisian protestors use a coffin draped in a Tunisian flag—representing Mohamed Bouazizi—to break down the door of the prime ministers office on 24 January 2011.