It was a humble fruit vendor, a man so outraged by the injustice and corruption of his native Tunisia, who sparked the uprising that is now spreading through the Arab world.
According to CBS’ “60 Minutes,”
the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world started in a forgotten town in the flatlands of Tunisia. Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa, strategically irrelevant, with no oil and not much of an army.
And it was a fruit vendor in one of its smallest towns who lit the match – literally and figuratively – that set the Mideast aflame. His suicidal act was reported and spread across the country through social media. It drew hundreds of thousands into the streets and eventually toppled the regime of Zine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia for 23 years and who routinely filled his prisons with anyone who spoke out against him.
On the morning of Dec. 17, 26-yr.-old Mohammed Bouazizi was selling fruit from a cart as he did every day to support his family, “60 Minutes” reported Sunday night. He didn't have a license. But very few of the vendors did.
A municipal official, a woman, came by and confiscated his scale. It was worth $100 and Bouazizi knew he'd have to pay a bribe to get it back. This had happened to him before. But this time, he had had enough. He yelled at the woman and she slapped him.
That slap launched a revolution.
He ran, screaming, to the government office in the center of town. He wanted his scale back. That's all. But they wouldn't let him in. He went to a gas station, filled up a canister and went back to the government building. His friend Jamil, another fruit vendor, went with him. Jamil says Bouazizi stood in the middle of traffic, poured gas over himself and cried out, "How do you expect me to make a living?"
He just wanted to continue making his $10 a day and send his sisters away to college, his friends told CBS. But that slap was one indignity too many. It was illegal to demonstrate in Tunisia, but hundreds came from all over town to protest. Nothing like that had ever happened before in Sidi Bouzid.
"The symbol by just burning himself, using his body as a way to express that anger and need for dignity touched a lot of Tunisians," Zied Mhirsi told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon.
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