Since last Saturday morning – January 15, 2011 – Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis has been a city under siege. Amidst dissipating plumes of smoke born from small fires started by the newly homeless – casualties of a civil war – and the acrid smell of burning debris, Tunisians scurry along Tunis’ significantly less-populated streets, consumed with inner thoughts of what comes after a “People’s Revolution”?
Last night the sound of sporadic gunfire was heard throughout certain pockets of the city, perpetuating long-term psychological scars in children who before the toppling of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government knew not the horrors of armed conflict.
The “Tunisian People’s Revolution” burst from its “seams” on December 17, 2010, hours after a 26-year-old street merchant named Mohamed Bouazizi publicly set himself on fire in front of a government building in Sidi Bouzid, a city located in centre Tunisia.
Allegedly, Bouazizi’s extreme act of political protest was a premeditated response to the non response he received from police officials after he repeatedly reported acts of routine public humiliation and harassment by local police officers.
Before he died – his demise was caused by his body losing the fight against infections – the fruit and vegetable salesman verified that the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the police along with living with the disgrace of having his livelihood confiscated, caused him to do the unthinkable.
In retrospect, selling fresh produce from his produce stand / cart enabled Bouazizi the opportunity to support him, his mother and his sister. Since the tender age of ten Bouazizi had held the title of family “bread-winner” a promotion earned early in life after Bouazizi’s father died when he was only 3 years old.
Rumors on the street in Sidi Bouzid say that because the young merchant did not have enough money to pay off local police, he became a target of their ire. According to family and friends, it became a common sight to see Bouazizi being physically abused by the very same officers of the law who swore to protect and serve Tunisia’s public.
Bouazizi’s ultimate and final act of protest – self immolation – was caused by an accumulation of personal frustrations and despair including Bouazizi’s awareness / realization that Tunisia’s corrupt government (both locally and nationally) had now became his enemy.
Skyrocketing unemployment for Tunisia’s youth and a national feeling of hopelessness has escalated the anger level all over the country. Incredibly since Bouazizi’s self immolation, scores of copy-cat fire suicides have occurred in several Tunisian cities and several other Arab countries whose youth suffer from disillusionment .
Within the last thirty days Tunisia has seen President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (the only leader / dictator? the country has known in 23 years) flee to Saudi Arabia and the emplacement of two different national leaders. From disposed President Ben Ali to former Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to the former Speaker of the Parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, Tunisians are in search of a person that will restore confidence in the people.
With over 50 percent of Tunisia’s population being less than 30 years old, young Tunisians – many with university degrees – are exasperated to the point of violence over the lack of employment opportunities. The fire suicide of a struggling and disheartened produce vendor was the catalyst of a national movement whose slogan was arguably, “Enough is enough…out with corruption”.
There are reports that hundreds of young Tunisians have died in their conflict with forces still loyal to Ben Ali. The military has refrained from picking sides and are functioning under the guidelines of its country’s constitution.
In other Arab nations across the northern African continent, Arab youth are defiantly speaking out against governments that are corrupt and ran by what they interpret as dictators. Egypt is currently smoldering with discontent. High unemployment in Arab countries where oil revenue is minimal creates idle minds and idle hands…a formula for revolution.
Perhaps leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak will take positive steps to bringing real democracy and opportunity to his country based upon the unfortunate action of a Tunisian vegetable and fruit vendor….or perhaps not. Whatever the final outcome, there has been a cold shiver felt along the spine of pseudo democratic leaders across the deserts of northern Africa and along the Arab peninsula, a shiver created by the ultimate sacrifice of a 26-year-old from Tunisia named Mohamed Bouazizi.
As always Louisianans, the New Orleans Examiner is interested in what you think. Has the fire suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi changed the thinking and political strategy of Arab dictators? Is Tunisia’s “People Revolution” the same sort of revolution that angry American Tea partiers envision in the United States? Inquiring minds want to know. Sound off.
Until next time Louisianans, Good Day, God Bless and Good Fishing.