Saturday marked the one year anniversary of when a 26-year-old Tunisian fruit and vegetable street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi fatally lit himself on fire in protest of government oppression, sparking a year of regime-ending revolutions many believe were sustained and nurtured by social media.
Bouazizi sold fruit and vegetables from a cart — which did not require a permit — because he was unemployed and unable to get a formal job. His income of less than $150 a month supported eight people, including a sister who was attending a local university.
When Bouazizi refused to pay local authorities the typical bribes needed to do business in his area, he was reportedly slapped by a female official who also insulted his deceased father. Humiliated, Bouazizi went and bought a can of gasoline to light himself on fire in protest.
CBS News later reported Bouazizi stood in the middle of traffic outside of a provincial government building, doused himself in gasoline, and cried out, “How do you expect me to make a living?”
He then lit himself on fire, and later died on January 4, 2011 from fatal burn injuries.
Bouazizi’s act of self-immolation was only the tipping point for an eruption of protests in the Middle East over the price of food, lack of jobs and governments oppression. Several men in Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia emulated Bouazizi’s protest in order to bring an end to the autocratic regimes in their own countries.
Two men in Europe also followed suit: A 27-year old Moroccan street vendor in Italy and a 36-year old Iranian journalist living in exile in Amsterdam died from acts of self-immolation in protest to the economic inequalities in their home countries.
The events that followed through the year were dynamic and revolutionary — protests followed in Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Yemen, Libya and Egypt, in addition to the Persian country of Iran.
The regime of Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was the first to fall as result of the Arab Spring in January. Ben Ali fled his country for sanctuary in Saudi Arabia. Tunisians held their first free elections in 23-years this past October.
In February, during the height of the Arab Spring, Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign after 29 years in office as president of Egypt. The Egyptian military later took control of the country and set up an interim government. Egypt — currently swallowed in a state of political crisis, violence and civil unrest — recently held the second round of a three-part election.
After 34-years of dictatorial rule, Muammar Gaddhafi was ousted from power by a NATO-supported revolution of Libyan rebels, which included some members with ties to the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaida.