Monday, February 14, 2011

Revolution 1

Mohamed Bouazizi

Former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali

Revolution in Tunisia

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

"In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as President of the Republic," Omar Suleiman said. "He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor."
Suleiman, formerly the head of Egypt's national intelligence agency, made this speech last Friday, the 11th of February. At the time he was the de facto Head of State after Mubarak stated he was handing him all authority to rule the country just the day before. He had been appointed vice president by Mubarak 14 days previously in an attempt to appease the thousands of protesters that had filled Tahrir, or Liberation Square since January 25th, dubbed The Jasmine Revolution (in keeping with the geopolitical nomenclature of "color revolutions"). Apparently he lost both jobs as he delivered the above speech informing the country that it was now being ruled by the Armed Forces Supreme Council, consisting of the military's top generals and headed by Defense Minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
It was 32 years ago to the day, in 1979, that the Shah of Iran's monarchy had been officially dissolved (he had fled weeks before interestingly enough, to Egypt), allowing Ayatollah Khomeini, a former philosophy teacher, supreme religious and political control of the country until his death ten years later, a theocracy that lasts to this day.
It was just 8 weeks ago to the day that a 26 year old Tunisian street vendor lit himself on fire in front of a government building in the provincial city of Sidi Bouzid, which set off an extraordinary chain of events, leading to the abdication of President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak who had ruled Egypt under an authoritarian thumb for over 30 years.
Tarek el-Tayyib Mohamed Ben Bouazizi, nicknamed Basboosa, sold vegetables by which he could make about $140 per month to support his mother, uncle, and six younger siblings, on the street in Sidi Bouzid, which was stifled with poverty, corruption, and suffering from an unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. Quite different than the conditions in the country's capital, Tunis, and the northern coastal areas where the President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 23 years, lived with his family and enjoyed a life of luxury and opulence.
Bouazizi had left high school before graduating in order to work full time to meet the needs of his family. He tried joining the army, but was rejected. With the unemployment rate so high, and the proliferation of hundreds of other young, desperate men just like him, he could find no other work than that of selling produce. And he did this, providing for his family, even helping one of sisters through university, for seven years.
I mentioned corruption above. The country was corrupt, the province was corrupt, as was the city. It would appear the officials there were arrogant as well, used to having their way with the local, powerless citizens. This proved to be their downfall.
The incident which began the remarkable chain of events occurred last December 17th, but what had precipitated that event was years, decades in the making.
"It was always difficult. The worst thing was what happened to the land," Bouazizi's 24 year old sister Leila said. "We owned it with our neighbors and we grew olives and almonds. It was earning good money, but then things turned bad for a lot of people, our sales went down and the bank seized our land. I went with Mohamed, we appealed to the bank, we appealed to the governor, but no one listened. Other families had the same problem; people just ignored us."
Asma Gharbi, a hydraulic engineer who lives nearby, said: "Just look at this town, how everything is falling apart, there is no money. I have lived in Tunis and I can tell you the high-up people there don't care. Everyone is fed-up there, but Mohamed did something that forced people to take notice."
So here we have an autocratic ruler who had been in power for 23 years, living a life of immense luxury while most of his country languished with little or nothing. Sound familiar? It should, it is the same for most autocratic societies and dictatorships. It is what our own country is turning into with the constant attack on the middle and lower classes by the corporate elite, the wealthy, and their political henchmen, the Republicans, the evidence being the huge disparity of wealth distribution in the United States. It would seem that intense greed is a universal aspect of human nature, apparent the world over... but we'll get back to that later.
Well when you have those kind of conditions people tend to get desperate, fed up, and willing to do anything to affect change, no matter what the odds are against you, even if you face almost certain retribution and death. Countries like these are tantamount to powderkegs, with the autocrat or dictator, or in some cases... president, sitting right on top. All that's needed is a little spark.
In Bouazizi's case the spark happened when he went insane... albeit justifiably so.
On the morning of December 17th Mohamed had borrowed what amounted to $200 to purchase his vegetables... his merchandise. Soon after setting in to sell his goods the police, who had harassed him many times throughout the years, told him they were going to confiscate his wares because he didn't have a vendor's permit. The actual need for said permit is difficult to ascertain. Some say it is illegal period to sell goods on the street, others say a permit is required, while still others say just the opposite. Who knows? The police were intent on having their way, but they went a little further that day.
The police rejected his $7 fine (bribe) money that day, wanting his merchandise instead. Bouazizi refused to hand it over, the only means of sustenance for his family, and argued, causing a 45 year old female (I emphasize the word due to the role women play in traditional Arab culture) municipal officer, F. Hamdi, slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, and upended his fruit and vegetable cart, while her two colleagues assisted her in beating him. It was also stated that she made a slur against his deceased father. In the end they confiscated all of his gear, leaving him in the dirt, humiliated.
"The government drove him to do what he did; they never gave him a chance. We are poor and they thought we had no power," his mother Mannoubia said. "My son is lost, but look what is happening, how many people are now getting involved."
Rightly angered, Bouazizi went to the Governor's office to complain, and was ignored, the Governor refusing to see him. "'If you don't see me, I'll burn myself'," he was reported to have said. He acquired an accelerant (what type is in question), and at 11:30AM, less than an hour after the altercation, he doused himself in front of a local government building and set himself on fire.
According to the Bouazizi family lawyer, Mohamed, still alive, was taken by ambulance to a local medical facility and treated. When they were not able to cope with his severe burns he was taken to the city of Sfax, more than 70 miles away. Later, he was transferred to the Burn and Trauma Centre in Ben Arous, where he was visited by President Ben Ali. There he would die, eighteen days after the immolation, on January 4, 2011, at 5:30PM local time.
Usually heads of state do not visit the bedside of attempted suicides. But during this time Mohamed Bouazizi's action and fate had gained the attention of the entire countries populace, who understandably were somewhat sympathetic.
It was estimated that more than 5,000 people participated in the funeral procession that began in Sidi Bouzid and continued through to Bouazizi's native village. "Farewell, Mohamed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep," some were heard to chant.
Made to weep.
On February 4th, the mayor of Paris, France, Bertrand Delanoƫ, announced that as a tribute to honor Bouazizi, a place in the city will be named after him.
On December 20th, F. Hamdi, the female officer who accosted Bouazizi was suspended along with the secretary-general (Governor) of Sidi Bouzid. That's one story. Some say she was dismissed, and still others say imprisoned on orders of the President.
By now though the spark had ignited the powder. Local demonstrations of protest began in Sidi Bouzid, then spread throughout the nation, with attempts by security personnel to quash them just adding further fuel to the fire, making the protestors more angry and determined. The anger and violence became so intense that President Ben Ali fled Tunisia with his family on January 14th. He was denied entrance into France, and were eventually welcomed into Saudi Arabia under many strict conditions, ending his 23-year dictatorship, just 38 days after Bouazizi committed his final act.
And Tunisia's similarly oppressed neighbors to the east and west began to take notice.

To be continued:

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