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They Should Have Helped That Street Vendor

February 25, 2011 by admin

"2 Million in Alexandria. Almost 3 Million in Cairo. Around half a Million Suez. It's happening." read an Anonymous tweet I received this morning about the massive day of protests in Egypt.

I have been very busy recently writing updates for WikiLeaks Central on the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt. But I wanted to use my DailyKos diary today to look back on that petty bit of police harassment that started this prairie fire burning.

In a country where officials have little concern for the rights of citizens, there was nothing extraordinary about humiliating a young man trying to sell fruit and vegetables to support his family.

Yet when Mohamed Bouazizi poured inflammable liquid over his body and set himself alight outside the local municipal office, his act of protest cemented a revolt that would ultimately end President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year-rule.

Local police officers had been picking on Bouazizi for years, ever since he was a child. For his family, there is some comfort that their personal loss has had such stunning political consequences.

Al Jazeera published this almost two weeks ago. Since then, not only has Tunisia's Ben Ali been forced from powers but mass protests inspired by what happened in Tunisia have rocked Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and most importantly, the largest country in the region by far, Egypt. In Egypt the protesters are planning a Million Man March in Cario's Tahrir Square today and Hosni Mubarak, dictator for 30 years, is so sure to be removed from power imminently that he probably already has his boarding pass in his back pocket.

Historic changes are taking place. People are demanding their freedom and there is no going back. The future of North Africa and quite likely the whole Middle East is being driven by a chain of events that began the morning of December 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi decided that he was fed up with the petty police harassment he had put up with all his life.

Mohamed left school and began working full time to keep his sisters in school and support his family. Jobs have been hard to come by in Tunisia so at 26 he was earning a living by selling fruits and vegetables from a cart in the street. Everyday he would take his wooden cart to the supermarket and load it up with produce, then he would push it two kilometers to the local souk. And nearly every day he would have to deal with petty fines and harassment from those pledged to "protect and serve." The police would take his scale and produce or fine him for running a stall without a 'permit.' There was no permit reguired, this was just their way of extorting bribes and payoffs. Al Jazeera tells what happened on December 17th:

That morning, it became physical. A policewoman confronted him on the way to market. She returned to take his scales from him, but Bouazizi refused to hand them over. They swore at each other, the policewoman slapped him and, with the help of her colleagues, forced him to the ground.

The officers took away his produce and his scale.

Publicly humiliated, Bouazizi tried to seek recourse. He went to the local municipality building and demanded a meeting with an official.

He was told it would not be possible and that the official was in a meeting.

"It's the type of lie we're used to hearing," said his friend.

With no official wiling to hear his grievances, the young man brought paint fuel, returned to the street outside the building, and set himself on fire.

This kind of petty harassment by police and government officials happens far to often all around the globe. I've witnessed this kind of official meanness on a daily basis right here in Venice, CA USA. Here the extortion is official, like the new tickets for parking the wrong way in the beach lots and the meanness involves taking people's vehicles away when they have no place else to live and leaving them to die on the street.

To all those authoritarian enforcers and power abusers at every level, let the events that have transpired in North Africa and now the Middle East since December 17th serve notice that


I have to admit that the title for this diary is not entirely original. It is a paraphrase of the one of my favorite titles for a book about the '60s. The book by Dick Cluster is a group of essays about the civil rights movement and all the other mass movements it spawned including the anti-war movement, the Chicano, Native American and Black powers movements, the women liberation movement, the gay rights movement, the ecology movement and so on. But it starts with a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and is titled "They Should Have Served That Cup Of Coffee."

Here are the links to my articles at WL Central:
Mubarak Refuses to Step Down!
Egypt is on Fire!
Libya is in Revolt as Gaddafi Worries
Algerians Plan Big Protest Rally for February 9th
Tunisia Protests Continues as a Warrant is Issued for Ben Ali
Tens of Thousands Rally in Yemen, Demand Change
Mubarak Blinks as Egyptian Protests Continue for 3rd Day

Here is a recap of my other DKos dairies on the Internet, North Africa and Anonymous:
Egypt is on Fire!
North African Revolution Continues
Egypt Protests Continue, Tunisia Wants Ben Ali Back
BREAKING: Protesters Plan Massive "Day of Wrath" in Egypt Today
Tunisians Thank Anonymous as North Africa Explodes
Huffington Post Disses the Jasmine Revolution
Tunisia: A Single Tweet Can Start A Prairie Fire!
Anonymous plans Op Swift Assist in Tunisia
Arrested Pirate Party Member Becomes Tunisian Minister
Is Libya Next? Anonymous Debates New Operation
Tunis: This Photo was Taken 66 Minutes Ago
The WikiLeaks Revolution: Anonymous Strikes Tunisia
EMERGENCY: DKos Must Act Now to Protect Tunisian Bloggers!
Free Software & Internet Show Communism is Possible
BREAKING - Digital Sit-Ins: The Internet Strikes Back!
Cyber War Report: New Front Opens Against Internet Coup d'état
Operation PayBack: 1st Cyber War Begins over WikiLeaks
The Internet Takeover: Why Google is Next
BREAKING: Goodbye Internet Freedom as Wikileaks is Taken Down
BREAKING NEWS: Obama Admin Takes Control of Internet Domains!
Things Even Keith Olbermann Won't Cover - UPDATE: VICTORY!!!
Stop Internet Blacklist Bill Now!
Sweet Victory on Internet Censorship: Senate Backs Off!
Internet Engineers tell the Senate to Back Off!
Why is Net Neutrality advocate Free Press MIA?
Obama's Internet Coup d'état
Julian Assange on Threat to Internet Freedom

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