Mohamed Bouazizi (left) gave his life for democracy and dignity, say his family.
The mother of the street vendor whose sacrifice was the catalyst for the Tunisian uprising wants her fellow citizens to honor her son’s memory by fighting for democracy.
“I pray that the new authorities will make new fair policies – policies that my son inspired,” said Manoubia Bouazizi.
“We want a new government that will give us our rights as a real citizens, not just lip service,” said his sister Samia. “A government that knows the value of the word ‘citizen’ because this is the right of my brother and it is the right of all Tunisians.”
The 26-year-old ran a vegetable cart in an effort to provide for his widowed mother and five brothers and sisters. He set himself on fire after he was slapped by police who closed his stall because he lacked an official permit. A municipal official to whom he appealed insulted and spat at him.
“My son has always been a hardworking person, and it never occurred to me that he would think about burning himself,” she said. “But the insults and humiliation from the municipal authorities became too much – how was he supposed to pay bribes and keep his family fed?”
Jobs and work permits were largely controlled officials of the ruling RCD party which demanded bribes for favors in a pervasive system of corrupt clientelism. Consequently, while the indignation and economic grievances that initially fueled the protests that followed his suicide quickly became politicized.
“Protesters demanded payback for the blood of Bouazizi and this developed into economic, social and political demands,” said Attia Athmouni, a local union leader in Sidi Bouzid and official of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party. “We started calling for an end to corruption.”
Bouazizi’s self-immolation and the subsequent revolt shatters two prevailing myths about the Arab world, writes Rhoula Khalaf, the first of which is that people power is irrelevant in the region’s repressive states.
The second myth is that Arab youth will tolerate oppression so long as they have a job and an income: the docility-for-security compact is dead.
“Tunisia’s revolt was triggered by anger at unemployment,” Khalaf writes, “but the momentum came from the stifling of all freedom of expression and the economic greed” of the former president’s family.
Mohamed Bouazizi’s mother makes the same point, somewhat more poignantly.
“We are poor people in Sidi Bouzid,” she said. “We don’t have money but we have our dignity, and his dignity was taken away with that slap and those wrong words.”