On the morning of Friday, December 17, 2010, a twenty-six-year-old Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, purchased $200 in fruits and vegetables and sets up his street cart in the city of Sidi Bouzid. Police, who had harassed Bouazizi all of his life, allegedly attempted to extort money from him for permission to sell fruit and vegetables on the street. Bouazizi could not pay the bribe, so police confiscated his cart and produce. After attempting to make a complaint with the governor, who refused to see him, Bouazizi doused himself with combustible fuel and immolated himself. Eighteen days later Mohamed Bouazizi died.
As a result of Bouazizi’s act of self-sacrifice, Tunisia rapidly descended into anarchy. After 23 years as Tunisia’s President, protesters ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, forcing him to flee to Saudi Arabia. The will of Tunisians have put the task on a new temporary government to put in place Tunisia’s first free election since its independence from France in 1956.
Bouazizi’s self-immolation inspired others in Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, and Yemen also to turn themselves “into human torches of protest.” When one is powerless, lacking education, money, social status, armies, or weapons, without any expectation of a satisfactory future quality of life, not having any way of gaining the bully pulpit to initiate change, they, out of a sense of helplessness and desperation, will take other courses of acton. So, in hopes of giving a voice to their cause, some will commit suicide. And self-immolation seems to be the weapon of choice for the powerless against economic and governmental oppression.
The repercussion from this one act of Mohamed Bouazizi is far and wide, not only manifested in the revolution taking place in Egypt, but also has had an effect on the entire region.
Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern policy and international relations, London school of economics, states, “Tunisia provided the spark, the spark that has ignited political fires in Egypt and Algeria and Jordan and Sudan. And the reason why Egypt is so significant, Egypt is the most pivotal Arab state. It’s the most populous Arab state. It holds the key to the Arab world. It used to be the capital of its cultural production. If Egypt goes, the saying, we teach our students in the classroom, if Egypt goes, the entire region goes.”
The media, pundits, and our politicians expressed their view that the United States must take a balanced approach in respect to its support of Mubarak or its people. However, America’s stance must be fundamental to its ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Americans must not support any response that does not hold to America’s proclaimed values.
The basis of our First Amendment Constitutional ideals of inalienable rights and personal liberty come from political theorist and philosopher John Locke, who developed the theory that “government derives its power and authority from the consent of the governed.” Lockean thought justifies the right of revolution in that “When the government … becomes an enemy to property, the duty to obey is superseded by a right of revolution, whereby the power and authority conveyed to the government revert to the people (or their representatives) who may then establish a new government.”
I do know that this is a complex issue that requires a delicate and sophisticated diplomatic response. But I also know that the United States should never support strongmen, warlords, tyrants or dictators, whatever one wants to label them, no matter what the strategical, geopolitical or national political reasoning might be. America must always be on the side of the people, whether here at home or in another country. That is what is in our best interest. That’s the only response that supports our ideals and who we say we are.
Economic, political, and/or social change, whether here at home or abroad, belongs to a nation’s inhabitants. It’s up-to them to initiate, make the change, and to maintain it. And, it’s up-to Americans to demand that their government support and be in solidarity with the people first; not governments.
Mohamed Bouazizi, Wikipedia
James Carroll, A human life – too valuable to burn, The Boston Globe
Becky Anderson, Connect The World: Protests Continue in Egypt, CNN.com transcripts, Aired January 31, 2011