In Tunisia on Dec 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, aged 26, a fruit seller in the town of Sidi Bouzid (population around 40,000) found himself in trouble. On a good day, he was making ten dollars and was hoping to send his sister to college. Because his fruit stand was near a government office, the police would shut him down by taking his scale away. In turn, he had to bribe an official in order to get it back. He begged. He pleaded. He could no longer afford the bribes. He just could not do it again. Darkness set in on his goal of having his sister educated. He bought some gasoline. He set himself on fire.
The fire has not gone out. It burns brightly and clearly to all the young people in the region. This individual fire has lit the sky of the northern Africa as never before. The Mediterranean Sea itself has been set on fire. The days of old world dictators and elites eating the nation's cash are over. The days of the dictators are numbered. The spirit of the fruit seller Mohamed is after them. The young of the region know that their world is not working. Their parents were voiceless and herded like cattle. They took and absorbed the human rights abuse of their governments. Their prisons were so dark, damp and crowded, one falters at the thought of entry. The days of the ancient regimes are filled with nothing to do and nothing to say. Fear reigned supreme, until the fruit seller Mohamed lit up the sky. The terrible odor of his death brought the spirit of life. Typing and reading the screen became the theater of action. Twitter and Facebook became weapons of mass destruction. It's been said that that the whisper of a truth is louder than any blast from any gun. Mohamed the fruit seller is the truth teller and he did not need a gun to inspire a nation.
Western pundits have been unable to make sense of it all. They sense change and they sense that it is profound change. It scares them, quietly. It is too vast and too wide a river to navigate for them. They have never felt the sting of daily oppression or the serious intent of a torturer. Or the close and serious hand of the policeman creeping into every conversation and every hope. Regimes make the young of the Middle East ill and confused. Depression turns to anger. Anger becomes a national "hand me down" for the all-too weary. But now, these children of the fruit seller Mohamed will not wear these dated clothes of silence and apathy. They do not want them. They rightly fear the weight of the cloth and its history of death, imprisonment, torture and disappearances. They want new clothes. The pundits read the big headlines and how governments are doing. Below, way below, the fruit seller Mohamed is speaking to his generation of the sweet whiff of freedom. He whispers of a new day, a new hope and a new way to look at the world. He tells them over and over, 'we are the people'. Governments are the watch wearers; we are the time keepers. Yes, Mohamed says, we the people are the nation.
Compare the fruit seller Mohamed to Presidents George Bush and Obama. They have attacked Iraq and Afghanistan which have resulted in thousands of deaths and cost billions of dollars. Changed little for the good, maybe. The other simply lit a fire which cost him a dollar, but made the ultimate sacrifice. The real shock and awe of freedom has come to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but not to Kabul or Baghdad.
The fruit seller Mohamed has spoken and it is now up the youth of these nations to determine what their energy, vision and power will produce for the world. This pundit would ask all of those striving for peace and justice and freedom to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bring this document down into their hearts and actions. And thus, truly, honor the fruit seller Mohamed. The dire indecency in governments is hopefully over. Those like the fruit seller Mohamed get a fair share. The world deserves it. I hope this future of optimism and political freedom is for all of us, all over the world. If so, Mohamed Bouazizi has truly spoken, to all.