On December 20, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor tired of having his produce regularly confiscated and with no money to bribe municipal officials decided to burn himself alive in protest. Little did Bouazizi know at the time, his brave act of defiance would spread through Tunisia in a matter of days following his death on January 4th.
The Tunisian people in the town of Sidi Bouzid where the self-immolation of Bouazizi occurred took up his fight armed only with rocks and cell phones. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook helped protesters spread the word by posting videos and comments from Sidi Bouzid to the rest of Tunisia. On January 14th, Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ended his 24 year reign.
In the month that followed Bouazizi’s sacrifice, at least a dozen others have burned themselves in protest in other countries; five from Algeria, five from Egypt, one each from Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. No ever knows what the trickle down effects of one’s actions might be, but I don’t think anyone saw coming what followed Ben Ali’s ouster.
Protests erupted in Syria, Jordan, Yemen and especially Egypt. Jordan’s King Abdullah dissolved his government and appointed a new prime minister. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh increased wages and cut income taxes and of course in Egypt protesters are calling for nothing less than Mubarak’s departure.
President Mubarak learned very quickly from Iran’s massive protests in 2009 and Tunisia’s revolution a couple weeks earlier. When the malcontents in his country got serious he pulled the plug on Egypt’s internet and text messaging services, an internet blackout never seen on such a scale. Much to Mubarak’s displeasure, his stunt may have actually backfired as tens of thousands of demonstrators still pack the streets.
The age of information that we live in definitely makes it easier for us to organize, protest and rebel, but on the other hand it can just as easily go the other way with Facebook and Twitter acting as eyes for Big Brother. Most people in Tunisia were reluctant to post news, videos and other information in fear of government reprisals.
The Iranian government following protests against what many saw as unfair elections hunted down individuals responsible for organizing protests by way of the same social media sites. The lucky people were arrested, the unlucky ones were executed. Fortunately for them, you can kill a man, but you can’t kill his words once he’s said them and I believe it won’t be long before Iranians start to shout even louder.
I think technology and the spread of the internet will be far more instrumental in the removal of unwanted autocrats and the spread of democracy in the future as it is also much more peaceful than waging a full blown war in order to remove a tyrant. Given enough time and motivation (and followers on Twitter), even one man can start a revolution.
Rest in Peace Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi
Part two of Viva La Muslim Revolution! will be posted soon and will concentrate on the ongoing Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and the western democracies that fear change.