Mohamed Bouazizi

* 24 March 1984, Sidi Bouzid

† 4 January 2011, Ben Arous

On 17 December 2010, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of malevolence of Tunisian officers. His act sparked mass street demonstrations which led to a change of political system.

Most self-immolations did not have any real significant impact but a few of them played a major role and had a considerable influence on local political situation. Mohamed Bouazizi’s suicide was one of them. The Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire in protest of persecution of local officers. The details about his case are not absolutely clear and some witness statements differ a lot.

Mohamed Bouazizi was born in Sidi Bouzid (about 250 km from Tunis) into a family of construction worker. His father died when Bouazizi was three and his mother married Bouazizi’s uncle some time later. Bouazizi had six siblings. Although several media mentioned his university degree, he attended only a country school in Sidi Salah. His family was very poor, so he had to start working very soon. In his last years, he worked as a street vendor of vegetable. As he had no vendor’s permit, local police officers regularly confiscated his small wheelbarrow of produce.

According to his family, Mohamed Bouazizi headed to his usual vending place early in the morning of the 17 December 2011. Around 10:30 a.m. police officer, Faida Hamdi, confiscated his electronic weighing scales. Moreover, she reputedly slapped him in the face, spat at him and casted a slur on his deceased father (however, Ms. Hamdi contested this statement and after few months she was released from custody). Bouazizi ran to the governor’s office to complain but the governor refused to see him. Then he bought a can of gazoline in a nearby gas station and around 11:30 a.m. returned to the governor’s office. According to witness testimonies, he shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?” Then he doused and set himself on fire. After the flames were doused, he was brought with severe burns (on over 90% of his body) to a medical facility in Sidi Bouzid, then he was taken to the hospital in Sfax and later he was transferred to a Burn and Trauma Centre in Ben Arous.

His desperate act sparked a wave of mass public protests. Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets, calling for Ben Ali’s resignation. The regime was struggling with long-term economic and social problems, which resulted in higher unemployment, especially among young people. The authoritarian president took pains to save the situation. On 28 December 2010 he even went to the hospital to visit the burnt young man. Mohamed Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011. Several thousands of people participated in his funeral procession. Ten days after Bouazizi’s death, President Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia with his family, ending his 23-year rule.

Mohamed Bouazizi became a celebrated symbol of the “Arab Spring”. Many people emulated his self-immolation not just in his home country (about 107 Tunisians tried to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire in six months after Bouazizi’s death) but also in several other Arab countries, where mass protests erupted. In the Islamic world, the acts provoked a heated debate, as many scholars criticised their self-immolation for religious reasons. In 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi was posthumously awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought at the European Parliament. Apart from him, there were four other laureates, all of them connected with mass protests in the Arab countries.

Bibliography: >>>

Tunisia one year on: New trend of self-immolations, In: BBC News, 12. 1. 2012, dostupné on-line: (ověřeno 7. 11. 2012)

Mohamed Bouzizi, In: Wikipedia (anglická verze), dostupné on-line: (ověřeno 7. 11. 2012)

RYAN, Yasmine: The tragic life of a street vendor, In: Aljazeera, 20. 1. 2011, dostupné on-line: (ověřeno 7. 11. 2012)