One young man’s relatively simple action has initiated a domino effect of protests and, perhaps, has struck fear into the heart of authoritarian rule in the Arab world.
A few months ago, 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi was a common peasant living in the suburbs of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. After obtaining a university degree and no success finding employment, he took to the streets, selling produce without a license.
When authorities confiscated his items in December, he set himself ablaze in protest of unemployment and poverty, according to Guardian. The resulting protests eventually led to the toppling of Zine el-Abidine, the assumed president of Tunisia of nearly 23 years.
The iconic action has shot a rare level of faith through hearts in the Arab world, restoring their ability to protest social injustice and tyranny. This long overdue resurgence should be supported.
Tunisia lingers as an example of the Arab regime’s obedience to the West. Police states such as Jordan, Algeria, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, Yemen remain close, strategic allies to the West, especially the United States.
These powers, however, have been under intense pressure. In Yemen and Jordan, citizens took to the streets demanding social justice in the country.
Most significantly in Egypt, which America donates $1.3 billion to annually, protesters are currently swarming the streets in hopes of toppling the oppressive regime of Housni Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years.
The current uprisings prove that these regimes are no longer immune to protests and social demands. Gone are the days when brutal security techniques, human rights violations and media control went unquestioned.
The danger of democracy as a result of the toppling of Tunisia’s government should not be taken for granted by authoritarian regimes such as Syria, Jordan, Libya, Yemen and a number of the Gulf States. Unless there are some social, economic and political reforms meeting the demands of the citizens, the rulers of these regimes should begin demanding asylum in other countries.
What may be absolutely critical to the Arabs is the West’s reaction to the protests – especially the United States.
Surprisingly, the U.S. has issued a mild statement against Mubarak. According to ABC News, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “we want to see reform,” adding that the U.S. wants to see the protesters grievances addressed.
Whether the U.S. chooses to support the popular masses will determine their future relationship with the Middle Eastern region.
The world has seen the dramatic effects of the US’s interference in Iranian affairs during the overthrow of the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1952, and the placement of the brutal and oppressive Shah.
Citizens never forget betrayal; therefore, the U.S. government should be careful not to repeat mistakes.
Nader Hasan is a junior majoring in international affairs and religious studies.