17 December 2011
Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight a year ago today.
The reaction set much of the Arab world alight. The aspiration for good government, and trustworthy, public spirited leaders, found expression in rebellion. The Arab Spring ultimately brought massive change before the winter set in.
Whether that change will substantially improve lifestyles of the majority in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya remains uncertain.
States in the North Africa / Middle East region vary widely in their rating on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. Qatar the highest placed, is 22nd on the 2011 CPI. Tunisia is 73rd, Egypt 112th and Libya 168th. These figures suggest that regime change is not, in itself, likely to deliver on expectations. Major legal and institutional reform, strengthened by substantial capacity building, will be necessary to reverse levels of corruption.
It was corruption that drove Bouazizi to self immolation. In January, Time magazine reported that “…a policewoman had confiscated his unlicensed vegetable cart and its goods. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it would be the last. Not satisfied with accepting the 10-dinar fine that Bouazizi tried to pay (US$7, the equivalent of a good day’s earnings), the policewoman allegedly slapped the scrawny young man, spat in his face and insulted his dead father…
Humiliated and dejected, Bouazizi, the breadwinner for his family of eight, went to the provincial headquarters, hoping to complain to local municipality officials, but they refused to see him. At 11:30 a.m., less than an hour after the confrontation with the policewoman and without telling his family, Bouazizi returned to the elegant double-storey white building with arched azure shutters, poured fuel over himself and set himself on fire. He did not die right away but lingered in the hospital till Jan. 4. There was so much outrage over his ordeal that even President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator, visited Bouazizi on Dec. 28 to try to blunt the anger. But the outcry could not be suppressed and, on Jan. 14, just 10 days after Bouazizi died, Ben Ali’s 23-year rule of Tunisia was over…”