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Tunisia, One Year On

(Originally Published in the UCC Express in February 2012)

Just over one year ago, on January 14th 2011, Tunisia finally managed to oust presidential despot, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, after a relatively short but explosive struggle. His regime came crashing down around him as the Tunisians revolted in a way not seen in 30 or so years. His fifth term as president came to an inglorious end, after he rose to the position in the aftermath of “the medical coup d’état” or the “Jasmine Revolution”, with Ben Ali of course preferring the latter term, in 1987. The incident which provided the metaphorical and literal spark for the uprising was the self-immolation of 26 year old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. He had been harassed by the local police and bureaucrats for years with the climax of this abuse being reached on December 17th 2010 when his cart and produce, his only source of income, were confiscated by the local authorities. Bouazizi’s family have also claimed that he was verbally abused by a local female municipal official who spat in his face and tossed aside his cart before it was confiscated. The latter incident has been disputed and we will probably never know exactly what happened, but what happened next is something which will be recorded for decades to come. He ran to the Governor’s office seeking the restitution of his goods where upon the Governor ignored him. Bouazizi then went to a local gas station, filled up a gas canister and then returned to the Governor’s building. He stood in the middle of traffic, doused himself in petrol, shouted out “How do you expect me to make a living?” and set himself alight.