Mohammed Bouazizi: he will not be forgotten
A look at the plans to commemorate the man who set fire to himself and started a revolution
As if his name was not already etched deeply enough in the pages of history, a Tunisian-born producer today announced that he is planning to make a film about the man whose self-immolation and eventual death sparked the greatest unrest the Arab world has seen for decades. The Parisian mayor has also declared that a square or street will be named after him in the French capital.
Mohammed Bouazizi is not likely to be forgotten.
The direct consequences of his death on January 4 due to his self-inflicted burns are still being felt. Two days ago, Al Jazeera showed a video of his mother, Menobia, sending a message to the people of Libya.
"I would like to kiss every martyr’s mother on the head," she said. "May god grant them the serenity and patience to bear the unbearable. I hope you get everything you wish for. God willing, Libya will be a free country. We hope your dictator leaves, just as Ben Ali has left."
Bouazizi was neither political nor especially religious. The main provider for his five younger siblings and his widowed mother, he earned less than $150 a month by selling fruit from a cart in the centre of the dusty town of Sidi Bouzid.
The 26-year-old was not especially well-educated, but worked hard to allow his sisters to go to university. His dream was to own a van in which to drive his produce to work everyday.
He was, in every possible way, an average citizen in a country where unemployment and corruption daily combined to provide little to no opportunity for a better standard of living.
The confiscation of his wares and the ensuing slap from a female officer when he tried to argue was merely the final spark to a tinderbox waiting to explode. Bouazizi set himself alight outside a government office a mere hour after the altercation on the morning of December 17.
After protests in Sidi Bouzid began to snowball and spread to other parts of the country, Bouazizi was moved from his local hospital to a burns unit in Tunis, where President Ben Ali took the opportunity to be photographed standing by his bedside.
The damage had been done, however, and Bouazizi’s death on January 4 was followed by a funeral attended by thousands. The rest, as they say, is history.
The power of his story is not, however, in the drama or heroism that has been conjured up in the months since. He was not a university postgraduate refused a job by the state. Nor was his suicidal act that day a calculated echoing of Czech political activist Jan Palach's famous self-immolation in 1969.
He was nothing more than a man whose frustration with his situation in life had reached the tipping point. That his story continues to inspire millions across two continents to take action is a poignant testament to the very basic grievances at the root of the unrest sweeping the Arab nations. ·
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