Posted 10 years ago on Dec. 3, 2011, 11:18 a.m. EST by seshata7
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Mohamed Bouazizi was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, 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. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, 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 countries. 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 2011, Bouazizi was jointly awarded the Sakharov Prize along with four others for their contributions to "historic changes in the Arab world".
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." 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 16 December 2010, he had contracted approximately US$200 in debt to buy the produce he was to sell the following day. On the morning of 17 December, he started his workday at 8 a.m. Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again, ostensibly because he did not have a vendor's permit.
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."