The Tunisian Whose Suicide Changed the World
Almost all societies ordinarily view suicides with a measure of disdain and it is very rare that suicide victims are viewed as heroes. Mohamed Bouazizi is one suicide victim who bucked this trend and is, perhaps deservedly, viewed as a hero by many.
Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself ablaze after a police woman confiscated his vegetable cart and humiliated him for his failure to obtain the appropriate license. He died from the resulting injuries and, with his self-immolation, sparked a latent anger against the corrupt dictatorship that ruled his country. The ensuing massive street demonstrations forced President Zine Ben Ali out of office, and set off a chain reaction that saw popular uprisings in several North African countries, resulting in the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and the overthrow and killing of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan strongman.
The contagion unleashed by Bouazizi ultimate act of protest soon spread from North Africa to the broader Middle East to countries like Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Jordan. Even the West and countries of the former Soviet Union were not immune to the wave of popular unrest sparked by Bouazizi. The Occupy Movement, it is fair to say, found inspiration in the North African and Middle East protests engendered by Bouazizi’s suicide. Even Vladimir Putin’s Russia has seen the once unthinkable: Mass protest by young people who have taken to the streets in a bold challenge to the government following elections perceived to be marred by widespread fraud.
It is difficult to say how the revolutions that have gripped Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Middle Eastern nations will ultimately fare. It is similarly difficult to gauge the long term impact of the Occupy Movement or the fate of the Russian protests. It is not, however, difficult to say that they are all the direct result of the act of one African: Mohamed Bouazizi.