A year after Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight, little has improved in the town where the Arab Awakening began.
|Tunisians are credited with setting the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in motion, a movement that spread like wildfire [AFP]|
It all began in Sidi Bouzid, a small landlocked city in the heart of Tunisia – 200 kilometres from the capital, Tunis, and light years away from the eyes of the world’s media.
It was there that the twin frustrations of economic injustice and repressive authoritarianism proved to be the last straws for 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who was fed up after years of police harassment.
So when a policewoman confiscated Bouazizi’s fruits and fruits scale on December 12, 2010, publicly humiliating him, he attempted to seek retribution at the local municipal office. When that failed, he returned to the street, poured paint fuel over his body, and set himself alight.
A little more than a year after that fateful day – and Bouazizi’s eventual death on January 4, 2011 – the actions of one man have been credited with helping to set what many have called the “Arab Awakening” in motion.
The mass uprisings – aided by the organising power of Twitter and Facebook – spread fast and furious, knocking Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power on January 14, before sweeping across the continent towards Egypt.
Protesters in the Egyptian capital’s Tahrir Square were photographed holding Tunisian flags in January, thanking their fellow North Africans for taking the lead as they filled the air with angry chants against their own president, Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak would go on to meet a similar fate as Ben Ali – swept from power on February 11 by the sheer determination of demonstrators who filled the streets of cities across the country for 18 days.
“Ash-shaab yurid isqat an-nizam, or “the people want the downfall of the regime” became the unifying rallying cry across the region as the “days of rage” overtook yet more countries.
Calls for protests surfaced in Oman, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, but it was Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain that witnessed sustained uprisings – uprisings that would be met with brutal violence from governments desperate to maintain or regain control.
With the conclusion of 2011 has come the end of the reigns of four former leaders in the region – from Ben Ali and Mubarak to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by Libyan fighters on October 20, and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who agreed to step down from power on November 23.
The road to 2012 is not an easy one, though. Thousands of people have been killed across the region and hundreds of others detained, tortured, and thrown before military trials – accused by their governments of a host of crimes that protesters say they did not commit.
The rapid pace of the still unfolding events in the region made the “Arab Awakening” Al Jazeera’s obvious choice for the most significant story of 2011. The ongoing unrest, however, is proof that the uprisings and their after effects are likely to remain in the public consciousness for months to come.