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Self-immolation in North African protests

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Mohsen Bouterfif

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Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in protest at the confiscation of his vendor cart was a catalyst to the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests, which led to then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down after 23 years in power.[1][2] Ben Ali made a publicized visit to Bouzazizi in hospital before he died.

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Mohamed Bouazizi

Bouazizi, (Arabic: محمد البوعزيزي; March 29, 1984 – January 4, 2011) a young Tunisian street vendor, was one of six who chose a means of protest with potentially deadly risks, setting themselves on fire, to show their opposition to North African governments' policies.[3] [4] The "Freedom Revolution" in Tunisia eventually led to former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia with his family after France reportedly rejected a request for him to land there.

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Self-immolations in Tunisia

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After the successful overthrow of the Ben Ali regime, a number of self-immolation protests have taken place in Arab republics. Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar from Egypt was also hospitalized for burns after performing self-immolation in 2011.

Other incidents where people have also resorted to self-immolation occurred in Cairo, Egypt and Mauritania. Protests took place in Jordan, Libya (where demonstrations are illegal), and Morocco as well.[5]

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali visiting Bouazizi in the hospital after he risked death to protest Ben Ali's government's policies; Bouzazi would later die of his burns


Mohamed Bouazizi during self-immolation

Mohamed Bouazizi[edit]

Bouazizi, whose nickname was Basboosa, had been unable to find meaningful employment, resorted to selling fruits and vegetables on the street in Sidi Bouzid to support himself and his family.[6] At least one media outlet reports that Bouazizi had a degree in computer science. [7][8] However, his sister, Samia Bouazizi, stated that Mohamed had never graduated high school. [9] He is survived by his mother, Mannoubia Bouazizi.[10] Bouazizi supported his mother and sister by earning approximately $75 USD per week selling his wares. His father died when he was three and he worked since he was ten years old selling on the street after school. [11] "Mohamed hoped most to buy his own van," said his sister, Samia. "But he wanted it for work, not for himself. Even his private dream was to help his family." [12]

On Friday December 17, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight and he died seventeen days later at 5:30 pm local time on Tuesday January 4, 2011 at a hospital in the town of Ben Arous at the Burn and Trauma Centre.[13] 5,000 or more people took part in Bouazizi's funeral procession through Sidi Bouzid to his nearby village, union official Kamel Laabidi said. But police prevented the procession from passing near the spot where Bouazizi set himself on fire. [14] Bouazizi was laid to rest at Garaat Bennour cemetery 10 miles from Sidi Bouzid.[15]

"Freedom is expensive and my brother paid the price of freedom" and "My brother has become a symbol of resistance in the Arab world" said Salem Bouazizi. [16]

Tunisian Protests and support[edit]

In one account, it was stated that street vending is illegal in Tunisia. Because of this city authorities regularly confiscated Bouazizi’s small wheelbarrow of fruit. But Bouazizi had few options to try to make a living, and he bought his merchandise by getting into debt. He had contracted approximately $200 USD in debt to buy his merchandise. So he went to regional government headquarters to try to plead his case with the governor. Failing this, Bouazizi then bought two bottles of paint thinner and set himself alight in front of the building. [17]

It was also conjectured that Bouazizi didn't have the funds to bribe the police officials to allow his street vending to continue.[18] Authorities said that Bouazizi lacked a required permit. However, no permit is needed to sell from a cart, said Hamdi Lazhar, the head of Sidi Bouzid's state office for employment and independent work. Salem and Samia Bouazizi accused authorities of trying to extort cash from their brother. [19]

It has also been reported that Mohamed Bouazizi was publicly humiliated when a woman municipal official slapped him in the face and spat at him, confiscated his weighing scale, and tossed aside his fruit and vegetables cart.[20] Her gender made his humiliation worse due to expectations in the Arab world.[21] "From that moment, he became angry," his cousin, Rochde Horchane, said.[22] Bouazizi went to the local Governor to complain, but he would not listen. "My cousin said, 'If you don't see me, I'll burn myself'," Mr Horchane said. After the immolation, the female officer was suspended along with the secretary general (Governor) of Sidi Bouzid.[23] The report of this suspension was subsequently denied by the secretary general of the Sidi Bouzid municipality, Mohamed Saleh Messaoudi.[24]

Mohamed Bouazizi

In another account, on December 17, 2010, the police confiscated his wares, ostensibly because Bouazizi did not have a vendor's permit.[25] Some sources report that the police slapped him and otherwise harassed him.[26] Later the same day, Bouazizi tried to lodge a complaint with municipal authorities, apparently to no avail.[26] He left a message for his mother on his Facebook page asking her to forgive him after losing hope in everything. He then acquired a can of gasoline, doused himself in front of a local government building, and set himself alight.[26] He was then transferred to a hospital near Tunis, where he eventually succumbed to his wounds on January 4, 2011[27][28].

Final Facebook Message[edit]

Original Facebook message written in Araby:
‎‫مسافر يا أمي، سامحيني، ما يفيد ملام، ضايع في طريق ماهو بإيديا، سامحيني إن كان عصيت كلام لأمي، لومي على الزمان ما تلومي عليّ، رايح من غير رجوع, يزي ما بكيت و ما سالت من عيني دموع، ما عاد يفيد ملام على زمان غدّار في بلاد الناس، أنا عييت و مشى من بالي كل اللي راح، مسافر و نسأل زعمة السفر باش ينسّي‬ ‎‫محمد بو عزيزي‬
(English translation):I’m travelling, mother. Forgive me. Reproach and blame is not going to be helpful. I’m lost and it’s out of my hands. Forgive me if I didn’t do as you told me and disobeyed you. Blame our time. Don’t blame me. I am now going and I will not be coming back. Notice I haven’t cried and no tears have fallen from my eyes. There is no more room for reproach or blame in the age of treachery in the People’s land. I’m not feeling normal and not in my right state. I’m travelling and I ask who leads the travel to forget.
—Mohamed Bouazizi[29]


Algerian Mohsen Bouterfif in hospital; he died of his burns

Mohsen Bouterfif[edit]

In Algeria, Mohsen Bouterfif (محسن بوطرفيف) set himself on fire on January 13, 2011, after a meeting with the mayor of Boukhadra in Tebessa to request help in finding employment and housing. He later died of his wounds on 24 January at a hospital in Annaba (Boukhadra, Algeria).[30][31] His death was reported on 16 January,[30][32] and about 100 youths protested his death causing the provincial governor to sack the mayor.[33] Hospital staff the following day claimed he was still alive, though in critical condition.[34]

His protest and the protest about his death were part of, and perhaps the cause of, the 2011 Algerian protests over unemployment, increasing food prices, and housing costs.[32][33]

In Algeria, another man attempted but failed to burn himself.[35]


Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar[edit]

In Egypt, Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar, a 49-year-old restaurant owner, set himself alight in front of the Egyptian Parliament.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. Self-immolation reports spread through north Africa CNN online January 17th, 2011
  2. How a fruit seller caused revolution in Tunisia, CNN online January 16th, 2011
  3. ‘Mood of despair’ as self-immolations spread across N. Africa.
  4. Algerians Echo Tunisian’s Self-Immolation, Protest Unemployment. Al-Manar TV.
  5. Copycat suicides rise in N Africa. AlJazeera.
  6. Death of a street seller that set off an uprising
  7. The Story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the man who toppled Tunisia
  8. What Can We Do for Freedom
  9. Man at the centre of Tunisia unrest recuperating, doctors say
  10. Bouazizi has become a Tunisian protest 'symbol'
  11. Death of a street seller that set off an uprising
  12. Bouazizi has become a Tunisian protest 'symbol'
  13. Tunisian protester dies of burns
  14. Youth at heart of Tunisia unrest buried
  15. Tunisian protester laid to rest
  16. Tunisian vegetable seller a resistance symbol-brother
  17. Suicide protest helped topple Tunisian regime
  18. Sticking a fork in Tunisia's Ben Ali
  19. Bouazizi has become a Tunisian protest 'symbol'
  20. Bouazizi ends Ben Ali's reign
  21. Man at the centre of Tunisia unrest recuperating, doctors say
  22. Tunisia revolt sparked by a police slap
  23. Tunisia suspends four over attempted suicide
  25. Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi dies
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Guest commentary: Tunisia explodes
  27. Tunisia suicide protester Mohammed Bouazizi dies
  28. How a man setting fire to himself sparked an uprising in Tunisia | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free |
  30. 30.0 30.1 Algerian dies in self-immolation, echoing Tunisia. Reuters Africa.
  31. El Watan, 24/01/2011
  32. 32.0 32.1 Algerian Mohsen Bouterfif dies after following Tunisia-like protest action.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Algerian dies from self-immolation.
  34. Jeune Afrique, 17/01/2011, Vague de tentatives de suicide par le feu en Algérie
  35. Tunisia's protests spark suicide in Algeria and fears through Arab world The Guardian
  36. In Egypt, man sets himself on fire, driven by economic woes