North African Dissent

“Nothing goes off suddenly; even the earthquakes set in motion from the depth of the earth to the rooftops of villages.”

Mourid Barghouti. Palestinian poet.

Over 41 years ago in Czechoslovakia, 20 year old Czech student Jan Palach set himself on fire as part of a suicide pact to protest against Soviet invasion, which had occurred the previous year [1968]. He thus became a martyr of Soviet occupation. In Sidi Bouzid, a small village in Tunisia; a carbon copy act occurred that would have an impact not only in Tunisia but further implications in Egypt and across other Arab states.

Mohammed Bouazizi, had had enough. A 26 year old former university student, he supported his family by selling fruit and vegetables on the roadside for $5 a day. Yet to work was often met with complications including kicking up bribes to the local authorities that was worth more than he got paid to set up his stall, as they would not give him a permit.  His mistreatment by the authorities came to a head when his cart was unjustly confiscated by police and he was beaten. The humiliation was further increased through the municipality that refused to allow him to complain where a female worker abused and slapped him.

On the 17th of December last year Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire outside the local government offices to protest against this mistreatment. Bouazizi’s act was not political like Palach’s, but an expression of frustration that could not be articulated. He was not the first Tunis to do such a thing; Abdesslem Trimech set himself on fire in the town of Monastir in March. The people of Sidi Bouzid made sure, without the use of Facebook or Twitter that the news got attention beyond its town, and the seed of a revolution was planted.

Thus this poor desperate young man became the catalyst for a non violent Arab revolution. In the streets of Tunisia they shouted “Ben Ali Out”

And pretty soon it was game over.  Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23 years of dictatorship put to an end within a month has restored Arabic pride, though the efforts in Egypt, at the time of writing is proving harder to accomplish. The leaders that followed the end of European rule in the Arab and African states consolidated this power to a select few.  These leaders allowed foreign influence at the expense of civil and human rights of its own people such as Mohammed Bouazizi. In Egypt and Tunisia the last two generations have only seen two or three heads of state brought to power through heredity, or a coup d’état.

The other great achievement of this revolution other than its domino effect is that it has sent a clear message to Western Europe and the US. The anti Islamic rhetoric readily endorsed by the West while at the same time supporting Arab tyranny such as Murabak and Ben Ali goes beyond hypocrisy. Democracy was fought for internally without outside influence and without militancy, Islam or terrorism.

Egypt’s plea for regime change influenced by Tunisia is a reigniting on the Kefaya movement of 2004, the unofficial name for the “Egyptian Movement for Change”. Then like it did now, it opposed Murabak’s presidency and the notion that his son Gamal would take over. The streets of Cairo echo with the phrase “ash-sha’ab yureed isqaat an-nizam or “the people want the fall of the regime” In the name of Khaled Said, and Mohammed Bouazizi, let us hope that this is achieved and Hosni Murabak joins Ben Ali.



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