A slap sets off a wind of change
Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's act of self-immolation lit the fire that is now raging through the Arab World
On December 17 of last year, out there in the back of the beyond in Tunisia, in a dusty decrepit town called Sidi Bouzid, a fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi was slapped by a municipal inspector Faida Hamdy for setting up his stall illegally.
Bouazizi protested and was in turn subjected to another round of beating. Stung by this public humiliation he retaliated the only way he could, under a repressive regime. Bouazizi doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. Sustaining 90 per cent burns, he died a fortnight later.
A video of his self-immolation soon found its way into the pages of Facebook. And one man's angst and retaliation against a brutal dictatorship was delivered fibre-optically to the globe.
And, it found an immediate and astonishing resonance in Tunisia and on the Arab street. Bouazizi, until then less than unknown, quickly transformed into a cult figure.
Al Jazeera, until now more known for its tirade against Israel and being the post box for messages and tapes from Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden, picked up the story from Facebook. It almost instigated and shepherded Tunisians into a hitherto unthinkable wave of social and political protests.
A people as a whole rising against what has become the staple, with a few exceptions in the Arab world - a dictatorial regime, utter lack of opportunities, soaring prices and unavailability of food, corruption institutionalised by the rulers, lack of freedoms.
A slap sets off a wind of change
Ousted Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali
Faced with the massive protests in his own streets, the Tunisian dictator of more than two decades vintage, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, first sought to brazen it out but soon realised the inevitable and fled Tunisia. Predictably he surfaced in that haven of political fugitives- Saudi Arabia.
But the fire that Bouazizi lit on that innocuous day in December did not die with him. It continues to rage and cut swathe around North Africa and onto the Arab peninsula - in its streets and bylanes.
The first stop was Egypt, whose civilisational history has become infinitely more glorious than it present. Rule for the last three decades by the rapacious regime of Hosni Mubarak, who has increasingly entrenched and enriched himself, his family and its cohorts.
Mubarak's looting of the Egyptian people is the stuff of legends to the utter despair of its citizens. The President's wealth has been estimated by experts in a recent report to be in the region of a whopping 40 to 70 billion dollars.
But the despair of the Egyptians, until recently, was lying dormant; buried under the fear of taking on Mubarak and his regime, with the dire consequences that would inevitably follow.
But one man's 'no' in Tunisia inspired and emboldened a whole population and set off an unprecedented chain of events which is still being played out in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria & Luxor.
Where it will end, is clear - the exit of Mubarak. But if the events leading up to it will exact a toll in Egyptian lives or will the men at the helm of affairs see the writing on the Egyptian streets is still up in the air.
A slap sets off a wind of change
Dozens of Jordanian Islamists and trade unionists waving their national flag stage a noisy protest in Amman on January 29, 2011. Placard reads: "For Change"
But, this story does not end with Egypt. After the tumultuous events in North Africa, the Arab world saw the curious phenomena of winds of change beginning to sweep across the region.
Even as the unrest in Egypt simmered and filled the streets, thousands gathered in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to protest against rising food prices and unemployment. They demanded that Prime Minister Samir Rafai quit. In the past, a demand which would have been hard to articulate, much less heeded. But with the cries in the streets of Cairo still ringing in his ear, the Jordanian king not only dismissed the Prime Minister, but also the whole government!
Jordan was not the end either. The "virus" as an Jordanian official put it, permeated Yemen, this time in the Arabian Peninsula.
In Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled uninterrupted for 32 years, 20,000 protesters, wearing pink bandanas as a reference to the uprising in Tunisia, swarmed the capital Sana'a. Police resorted to firing and tear gas to quell the storm leading to casualties.
But the protests only grew in intensity and numbers. In a desperate attempt to placate the opposition, President Saleh offered Yemen a post-dated cheque - he would leave in 2013 and that his heir apparent and son Ahmed would not be a claimant for the throne.
The opposition was and still remains unmoved, especially since Saleh had reneged on a similar pledge in 2006. The battle in Saa'na, as in Egypt, goes on, with major protests and demonstrations planned in the next few days.

A slap sets off a wind of change
Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has ruled for 32 years promises to step down in 2013
Yemen was not the end of the "Virus"either. It entered Syria.
Syria has been ruled by the Baath part for half-a-century and is considered by many as a police state. As a direct effect of the events in other capitals, a 'Day of rage' has been announced on February 6 against the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assad. An event that is largely being coordinated through Facebook and the social media. Protests have also been called in capital Damascus; and Syrian embassies worldwide to force the President's hand.
And just yesterday. Algeria became the latest country to catch the "virus". After several people tried to clone Bouazizi in Tunisia and self-immolate themselves amid widespread protests, the 72-year-old Algerian President President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would lift the state of emergency which has lasted 19 years!
Not giving in, the combined opposition of political parties, leftist unions, human right organisations, students and workers have called for a massive protest on February 12. The opposition has promised that the unrest will only end when Bouteflika is ousted.

The fire that Bouazizi lit in Tunisia promises to rage on and engulf the Arab street, and beyond. Watch this space.
Source: India Syndicate