Sunday, September 4, 2011

⅏Did You Know: Mohamed Bouazizi - "The Hero of Tunisia"

Did You Know... Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi aka Mohamed Bouazizi (29 March, 1984 – 4 January, 2011; Arabic: محمد البوعزيزي‎), was a simple street vendor who became a hero when he self-immolated outside a local municipal office, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides?

A town not previously recognised outside of Tunisia is now known as the place where a revolution began [Al Jazeera]

His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. The public's anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi's death, leading then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January, 2011, after 23 years in power.
The success of the Tunisian protests sparked protests in several other Arab countries, plus several non Arab contries. The protests included several men who emulated Bouazizi's act of self-immolation, in an attempt to bring an end to their own autocratic governments. Those men and Bouazizi were hailed by some Arab commentators as "heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution."

In a country where officials have little concern for the rights of citizens, there was nothing extraordinary about humiliating a young man trying to sell fruit and vegetables to support his family.
Mohamed Bouazizi
Mohamed Bouazizi, who was known locally as Basboosa, was born in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on 29 March, 1984. His father, a construction worker in Libya, died of a heart attack when Bouazizi was three, and his mother married Bouazizi's uncle some time later.  Along with his six siblings, Bouazizi was educated in a one-room country school in Sidi Salah, a small village 12 miles (19 km) from Sidi Bouzid.  Although several media outlets reported that Bouazizi had a university degree, his sister, Samia Bouazizi, stated that he had never graduated from high school, but that it was something he had wanted for both himself and his sisters. With his uncle in poor health and unable to work regularly, Bouazizi had worked various jobs since he was ten, and in his late teens he quit school in order to work full-time.

Bouazizi lived in a modest stucco home, a 20-minute walk from the center of Sidi Bouzid a rural town in Tunisia burdened by corruption and suffering an unemployment rate estimated at 30%.  According to his mother, he applied to join the army, but was refused, and several subsequent job applications also resulted in rejection.  He supported his mother, uncle, and younger siblings, including paying for one of his sisters to attend university, by earning approximately US$140 per month selling produce on the street in Sidi Bouzid.  He was also working toward the goal of buying or renting a pickup truck for his work.  A close friend of Bouazizi said he "was a very well-known and popular man [who] would give free fruit and vegetables to very poor families".

Confiscation and of wares and self-immolation

According to friends and family, local police officers had allegedly targeted and mistreated Bouazizi for years, including during his childhood, regularly confiscating his small wheelbarrow of produce; but Bouazizi had no other way to make a living, so he continued to work as a street vendor. Around 10 p.m. on December 16, 2010, he had contracted approximately US$200 in debt to buy the produce he was to sell the following day. On the morning of December 17, he started his workday at 8 am Just after 10:30 am, the police began harassing him again, ostensibly because he did not have a vendor's permit.  However, while some sources state that street vending is illegal in Tunisia, and others that Bouazizi lacked a required permit to sell his wares, according to the head of Sidi Bouzid's state office for employment and independent work, no permit is needed to sell from a cart.

Bouazizi did not have the funds to bribe police officials to allow his street vending to continue. Similarly, two of Bouazizi's siblings accused authorities of attempting to extort money from their brother, and during an interview with Reuters, one of his sisters stated, "What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him ... and take his goods. In Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live."

Regardless, Bouazizi's family claims he was publicly humiliated when a 45-year-old female municipal official, Faida Hamdi, slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, and tossed aside his produce cart.  It was also stated that she made a slur against his deceased father. Bouazizi's family says her gender made his humiliation worse. His mother also claimed Hamdi's aides beat and swore at her son. Countering these claims, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, a brother of Hamdi claimed neither his sister nor her aides slapped or otherwise mistreated Bouazizi. He said they only confiscated Bouazizi's wares. However, an eyewitness told Asharq Al-Awsat that he did not see Hamdi slap Bouazizi, but that her aides did beat him.

Bouazizi, angered by the confrontation, ran to the governor's office to complain and to ask for his scales back and demanded to a meeting with an official.

Tunisian president
paid a visit to Bouazizi in hospital [AFP]
He was told it would not be possible and that the official was in a meeting.

"It's the type of lie we're used to hearing," said his friend, Hajlaoui Jaafer.

Following the governor's refusal to see or listen to him, even after Bouazizi was quoted as saying "'If you don't see me, I'll burn myself'," he acquired a can of gasoline from a nearby gas station and returned to the governor's office. While standing in the middle of traffic, he shouted "how do you expect me to make a living?"  He then doused and set himself alight with a match at 11:30 am local time, less than an hour after the altercation.
For Mohamed's mother, her son's suicide was motivated not by poverty but because he had been humiliated.

"It got to him deep inside, it hurt his pride," she said, referring to the police's harassment of her son.

 Burn and Trauma Centre, Ben Arous
Photo credit by Wiki user Rais67
According to Bouazizi's sister, people immediately panicked when he caught fire, and one of them tried to douse the flames with water, which only worsened his condition. Bouazizi barely survived, and suffered severe burns over 90% of his body before locals managed to douse the flames. He was taken by ambulance to a medical facility in Sidi Bouzid. When they were unable to treat Bouazizi's severe burns, he was taken to a larger hospital in Sfax, more than 70 miles (110 km) away.  Later, as the government's interest in his case grew, he was transferred to a Burn and Trauma Centre in Ben Arous, where he was placed in an intensive care unit.  On December 31, 2010, doctors at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre reported that Bouazizi was in stable condition, and that he was showing positive prognostic factors.  However, he remained in a coma throughout the remainder of his life.

Bouazizi was visited in hospital by then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  According to Bouazizi's mother, Ben Ali promised to send him to France for medical treatment, but no such transfer was ever arranged. Bouazizi died at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre 18 days after the immolation, on 4 January, 2011, at 5:30 pm local time.

It is estimated that more than 5,000 people participated in the funeral procession that began in Sidi Bouzid and continued through to Bouazizi's native village, though police did not allow the procession to pass near the spot at which Bouazizi had burned himself. From the crowd, many were heard chanting "Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep."  He was buried at Garaat Bennour cemetery, 10 miles (16 km) from Sidi Bouzid.  His grave was described by Al-Jazeera as "simple" and surrounded by cactuses, olive and almond trees.  In addition, a Tunisian flag flies to it.

Tunisians holding painted portrait honoring Bouazizi
Photo credit by Wikipedia

On 19 April, the case against Hamdi was dropped after Bouazizi's mother withdrew the family's complaint against her. She stated "It was a difficult but well-thought out decision to avoid hatred and... [to] help reconcile the residents of Sidi Bouzid." Hamdi had maintained her innocence, telling the court she did not slap Bouazizi, while her lawyer said the matter was "purely a political affair."
Bouazizi's brother Salem supported the decision, saying "All the money in the world can't replace the loss of Mohamed who sacrificed himself for freedom and for dignity." Large crowds of people outside the courtroom also appeared to have been satisfied by the Bouazizi family's decision with some claiming Hamdi was being used as a scapegoat.



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