In this Book Excerpt from my recently released Egypt Unsh@ckled: Using social media to @#:) the System, UK Progressive magazine salutes the man who started a revolution that led to Egypt’s Revolution, the Arab Spring and now the global Occupy Wall Street movement that grows daily and will liberate the 99%.
Tunisia Awakens in Anger
Mohamed Bouazizi, 26 sold fruit illegally from a market cart. His cart was confiscated by government authorities and on December 20th, unable to support his family, he gave up.
Bouazizi doused himself in gasoline and lit a match while standing in front of a government building in the city of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia. He picked a very public location for his action, just outside the Governor’s House and another Facebook page sprang up to honour him. This time though, the Tunisian government made the mistake of blocking Internet access to his page:
@virtualactivism Sad #Tunisia: Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of govt building to protest confiscation of his fruit stand. Demos on st. in #SidiBouzid
@nawaat Picture of Mohamed Bouazizi whose plight triggered mass protest in #Tunisia #sidibouzid http://twitpic.com/3jux1e
@SGardinier Mohamed Bouazizi sold fruit in illegal cart/Arrested/Friday in front of the governor’s set himself on fire/Now his comrades in the streets
@suehutton Mohamed Bouazizi of Sidi Bouniz, burnt himself to death as he could not support family. Tunisian Gov blocked FB page
@samihtoukan Mohamed Bouazizi proved that every person no matter his abilities can change history #sidbouzid
@AymanM Rest in Peace Mohamed Bouazizi: the man who may have single handedly brought change to the Arab World. #tunisia #arabfreedom
Soon afterwards a Bouazizi Facebook commemorative page appeared as people protested in the streets against police brutality and government indifference to the working poor.
The Tunisian government made the fatal mistake of blocking access to that page. The Labour unions then joined the protest and soon there was intense fighting across the inland city of Sidi Bouzid. It soon spread to the capital of Tunis and poor people with nothing to lose… lost their fear.
Tunisian dictator Ben Ali was challenged on the streets of Sidi Bouzid and Tunis by crowds angered at the death of Bouazizi. Ben Ali followed the despot’s playbook and tried to crush the resistance by force. In the end 147 Tunisians were killed and more than 500 wounded.
It was television pictures of young men stacked in the local morgue like cordwood that was the tipping point for the people. Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia on January 14th. While there he suffered a massive stroke and remains critically ill.
When Ben Ali’s government fell, Bouazizi’s desperate act was embraced by all across the Arab world. Soon demonstrations were seen across Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Iraq. But the biggest was yet to start:
@GSquare86 The Tunisian revolution is being twitterized…history is being written by the people! #sidibouzid #Tunisia
@__fury Twitter: Tunisia ‐ Police violently prevent journalists from covering Sidi Bouzid riots
@Advox Tunisia apparently taking a lesson from Iran…reports Internet is shut down in #sidibouzid amid protest/clashes with police.
@Zeinobia BreakingNews: President Ben Ali of Tunisia has been overthrown by the army
@Kalboosha @3arabawy @kalimakhus @gSquare86 “Tunisia, the country where a street vendor took down a dictator” #jasminrevolt #sidibouzid @gSquare86 goooose bumps all over ..i can’t believe i lived through an arab revolution !! thank you #Tunisia
@shadihamid What is there to say? No one saw it coming. Arabs were thought to be passive. But they said enough is enough.
@Zeinobia One of the greatest achievements of the Tunisian revolution is that it made us feel for each other as Arabs again.
Having seen Tunisia crumple in just 23 days, the Egyptian youth knew their power to organise and mastery of social media would give them an advantage. The Egyptian youth were happy for the Tunisians but angry someone else beat them to the revolutionary dance. Days after Tunisia’s success, their anger was visible online:
@GSquare86 we need to stop venting about “poor us” “we the repressed people” ..GO TO THE STREETS don’t just write about it! #Egypt
@wildebees @GSquare86 I am sorry but NO FUCKIN way!! The solution is revolution in STREETS like TUNIS www.yfrog.com/h5yr9mj Egypt is restless
Just as in Tunisia, an unemployed Egyptian man, Ahmed Hashem, set himself on fire in front of an Egyptian government building in Alexandria just four days after Tunisia fell. The organisers seized this moment for planning on Facebook and it was “Game On.”
They saw this as their moment to begin preparing a youth response in Egypt. When three more Egyptians set themselves ablaze, including a fired Egypt Air employee, Twitter and Facebook came alive with talk of January 25th and revolution:
@GSquare86 if the new trend for triggering a revolution is to set oneself on fire, then i am volunteering! #EgyptianRevolution
@Zeinobia 12000 Egyptians have committed suicide in Egypt in the past 4 years because of unemployment
@Zeinobia A New Chronicle: Another 3 Egyptians Set Themselves on Fire in the Last 24 hours!!
@Zeinobia The Egyptian citizen who set himself on fire in Alexandria has passed away 🙁 May Allah bless his soul
@GSquare86 i want #Mubarak to piss his pants now!! RT@mfatta7 An Egypt Air employee attempts self‐immolation after being fired.
@monaeltahawy In past 8 days at least 12 #Egyptians set themselves on fire out of desperation: unemployment, poverty, corruption. #Jan25 #Egypt protest.
@ielsakka @alaa @GSquare86 The state security orders gas stations to not sell gas in bottles 2anyone…. r they stupid or stupid?
Egyptian youth began to organise their January 25th protest. Their hatred for the police ran deep. The Khaled Said murder was fresh in their minds as was the blocking of Bouazizi’s page in Tunisia.
As word went out on a special Facebook page in Egypt, they immediately got 88,000 positive, “yes I am planning to attend” responses. This was an amazingly powerful bush telegraph at work.
With Khaled Said as a rallying cry, preparations were underway, the media were alerted and all they needed was for everyone who said they would be there to show up. And based on past experiences, that was not guaranteed:
@onlykhalid (via @TIME) Egyptians, Inspired by Tunisia, Use Facebook to Set Up Protest
@nelaontherun TIME.com: 85,000 Facebook users pledge to attend protests tomorrow Jan 25, 2011 in Egypt #tunisia #activism #politics
@SheikhAchmed People, it would be practical too if we tweet in English, French and German as well as Arabic to let our voices be heard #Egypt #jan25
@Dima_Khatib Tomorrow: protests are planned in Egypt. We will be using hashtag #jan25 + if you can: #sidibouzid too.
@ashraf9999 @GSquare86 @mfatta7 this is too much…and it is not working. Just because it did work in #Tunisia, it does not mean it will work elsewhere
(h/t to Rebecca Sonit of Tomdispatch.com posted today at Alternet.com)