Revolt: Genesis Of The Tunisian Revolution

The individual man retains his position as an occasional formative force in history. He is the cause of countless effects, as well as the effect of sundry causes; he shapes his era, as much as it shapes him. There are great men all around us, with the potential to influence contemporary events in profound ways. Yet without the appropriate conditions precedent to act as the kindling, the fires of change would sputter and fizzle into smoky impotence.

Mohammad Bouazizi was born in the obscure Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid in 1984, and was one of six children. Like many of his peers, he received a scant and middling education, and worked regularly since he was ten years old; since his late teens he labored to support an extended family consisting of a mother, uncle, and younger siblings. An estimated $140 per month in wages, earned by selling fruits and vegetables on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, was expected to be sufficient to keep both himself and these relatives clad and shod. Like the other governments in the region, Tunisia’s was profoundly corrupt; important posts, jobs, and opportunities went to those who had connections. Those who did not—of which Bouazizi was one—had to fend for themselves.

The nation’s president, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, was only the latest of several contemptible mediocrities who had worn the presidential sash since the granting of the nation’s independence. His vices, and those of his notorious spouse, were only circumscribed by their abilities to indulge them; as a consequence, an enfeebling stagnation descended on the population, which had learned to acquiesce fatalistically in the avarice of its leaders. Nepotism, venality, and a stifling bureaucracy was the rule of the day. A citizen unable or unwilling to navigate these turbid waters would quickly find himself destitute.

By all accounts, Bouazizi was an honest, upright man, seeking only the opportunity to provide a measure of support for himself and his kin. With no employment opportunities available to him, he worked as a street vendor of produce. On December 17, 2010, Bouazizi had purchased several hundred dollars’ worth of produce to sell from his cart in the town center. He was then descended on by parasitic police officials claiming that he lacked the requisite “permit” to sell produce; but this, as any informed traveler to the region knows, is parlance in the Arab world for the payment of graft.

But Bouazizi did not have the money to bribe the police on this day. A female municipal official and her entourage confronted the miserable vendor and demanded payment; Bouazizi refused; and in the ensuing confrontation, either she or her entourage physically abused him. His produce scales and cart were confiscated. In any part of the world, a public slapping of a man by a woman would be a profound insult to masculine honor. It is even more so in the Arab world, which places a high value on the saving of masculine face.

His attempts to recover his wares came to nothing. An attempt to appeal to the local satrap was met with official silence. “How can I be expected to make a living?” he begged the governor in desperation. In front of the mayoral office later that morning, Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline and ignited it. Horrified onlookers, having been told that some sort of protest was underway, were unprepared for the ghastly spectacle of a man’s suicide; and the passions of the crowd, aroused to fury at the sight of a death and its attendant injustice, gradually swelled into a seditious torrent that would carry all before it.


An opportunistic visit by Ben Ali aimed at a show of sympathy

Bouazizi remained in a coma and was transferred to several different hospitals. When public dismay at the story began to gather steam, President Ben Ali—ever the opportunist—decided that some public show of sympathy for the victim might be advisable. A photograph of the hospital visitation scene is grotesque. Bouazizi, wrapped in bandages, is surrounded by nervous, well-fed government officials and Ben Ali himself, all not knowing quite what to do. According to some sources, Ben Ali made promises to send Bouazizi abroad for advanced burn treatment; if so, these promises were not honored. Bouazizi died eighteen days after his act of self-immolation. But by then events had already begun to spiral out of control.

Protests and demonstrations began slowly, in scattered cities and towns around the country, but then began to gain momentum in a few days. Ben Ali, who had enjoyed unlimited power since 1989, hesitated at first, not knowing quite how to handle the situation. Long simmering resentment of Ben Ali and his wife, who was notorious for her own and her family’s greed, exploded across Tunisia.

But because his government was supported by the United States and France, official reaction from abroad to the protests was non-existent. What became known as the “Sidi Bouzid Revolt” (in the Arabic press) or the “Jasmine Revolution” (in the West) surged from the countryside into the capital, Tunis. Trade union activists, lawyers, and public figures organized protests across the country to demand better job opportunities and less corruption. By early January of 2011, more than 95% of Tunisia’s eight thousand lawyers were on strike; some rioters were killed by security forces. The demonstrations had now turned into a full-fledged revolt.


The Tunisian military, seeing the declining fortunes of their president, removed Ben Ali’s personal security and made moves to take him into custody. By mid-January, apprehending his peril and not knowing how to restore the dignity of his office, he boarded a plan with his wife and a select group of cronies (and a considerable amount of money) and flew off into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The outcome might have ended differently had Ben Ali and his empress been made of sterner stuff.  He lacked a Theodora to stiffen his backbone at the critical moment, as the Byzantine emperor Justinian had had during the Nika Revolt in Constantinople in 532 A.D. In that year, the seat of the Greek empire in the East was convulsed with demonstrations and disorder that had erupted from various factional provocations both real and imagined. Justinian’s inclination was to abdicate, but at the critical moment, according to historian Edward Gibbon, his ruthless empress Theodora shamed his cowardice:

“If flight,” said the consort of Justinian, “were the only means of safety, yet I should disdain to fly. Death is the condition of our birth; but they who have reigned should never survive the loss of dignity and dominion. I implore heaven that I may never be seen, not a day, without my diadem and purple; that I may no longer behold the light, when I cease to be saluted with the name of queen…For my own part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity, that the throne is a glorious sepulchre.”

Justinian then proceeded to crush the rebels with a brutal fist.  He kept his throne, and went on to become the greatest of all Byzantine emperors. Alas, however, Ben Ali and his queen lacked the stomach for a fight, and preferred to flee with their treasures intact.

The aftershocks of the Tunisian Revolution were profound. Within a very short period of time, every other Arab country in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt) was engulfed in protests and demonstrations. In two of these nations—Libya and Egypt—the ruling clique was overthrown. The situation probably would have been the same in Algeria, were it not for the fact that the country’s exhaustion from its civil war during the 1990s had left little enthusiasm for such ventures. Public protests even spread to Syria, which was soon plunged into its own bitter conflict (which was complicated by outside interference).

Although each nation’s circumstances were different, the fact remains that, incredible as it may seem, the wave of revolt that pulsed through the Arab world after 2011 can be directly traced to the actions of one humble vegetable vendor. Not since the revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848, causing the crowned heads of several ancient monarchies to tremble in fear, had so much popular revolt happened in so little time. Anyone who would doubt the influence of personality on history has only to remember Mohammad Bouazizi.

Read More: Fact-Checking Emotional Propaganda

41 thoughts on “Revolt: Genesis Of The Tunisian Revolution”

  1. You always have a way of turning things that I’ve already known into profound experiences of thought, Quintus. Very timely article too. As Caesar said: “important events often result from trivial causes.”

  2. Frankly, bro, this is preposterous. It resembles the sort of cute, lead-character-centered story Hollywood uses when it wants to serve up historical events in a simple, 90-minute wrapper.

    1. I don’t understand your criticism, which seems more snark than anything else. There isn’t anything “cute” or “preposterous” here, except your comment. The fact is that the Tunisian revolution started with the actions of one man. The Bouazizi drama was the spark that ignited the fire.
      That revolution set off a chain reaction all across the region. These are facts. Are you denying this?

      1. Might be that the underlying stuff is left out, or there is no question as to how one immolation “just happens to” trigger a revolt. The CIA is known to enable these “color revolutions” and the results have been good (for creating turmoil, furthering the need for the “war on terror” and selling weapons).
        So the question needs to be asked: how come that does not happen here? I bet if 100 Thomas James Ball types self immolated all we would get is the mainstream media totally ignoring it and we could write about it until our fingers fell off and nothing changes.

        1. I don’t know about the CIA, I’ve never heard of them being highly involved in much of the Arab Spring except for a few parts (you never know though), but I disagree mainly with Quintus’ notions about the “influence of personality on history.”
          Sometimes that influence is major, such as the case of Theodora and Justinian, but other times, such as the case of the vendor, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, the vendor was the spark that began it all, but as a result of the broader situation in the Middle East, the Arab Spring would likely have occurred in a largely similar fashion regardless of whether or not the vendor had lit himself. I don’t think the vendor himself wasn’t all that important in the big scheme of things.
          It is still a compelling story though!

        2. What went on there from Tunisia to Syria was planned ahead and I knew one of the people involved in the arms deals around it. I was told this was going to happen as far back as 2009.

        3. Are you sure that the arms transfers were specifically related to the Arab Spring? Because I know we do a ton of arms transfers to unsavory actors around the world, but everything I’ve ever seen (except Julian Assange’s claim that HE planned it) has said it was a grassroots movement with a variety of social and economic causes.
          What exactly did the CIA do? And what was it’s motive? Or do you not know this information? Do you have any media links you can share about this? I’m very curious because I have never before heard this theory that the Arab Spring was planned.

        4. Dude I literally just posted what you posted 5 min ago and took it down when I saw Dr. Jeep’s response lower down on the page which explained basically what I was asking.
          I guess leave it up if you think he might have more to say, but seeing this show up here just creeped me the hell out!

      2. ignore him. trolls can roll off an false argument from authority one liner very easily, and cause people to get in a tizzy.
        its more insidious because its easier to bait people with that kind of comment

    1. Of course. The reasons for each revolt in each country were specific to that country. But the fact remains that the spark which ignited the blaze started somewhere…and it fell on the shoulders of one random person. I don’t believe that the Tunisian Revolution (or the Egyptian revolution) was engineered from abroad. They were true grassroots revolts.

      1. Random sparks are everywhere. What varies is the tinder.
        Interesting read, though. I’m just highly sensitive to the fact that popular progressive indoctrination has left the masses believing that noone would ever be able to search the internet if it wasn’t for Brin/Page; and that if it wasn’t for that one guy who happened to invent the wheel, we’d still be trying to drive cars on square tires…..

        1. I was told – no – bragged to – in 2009 from someone who actually works in and makes tons of bank in supplying military gear to the middle east:
          “You wait! North Africa is going to light up! We’re going to make money and not you and not your fucking Ron Paul can stop it. ”
          “well, that’s not sustainable.” I said. “America will run out of money fomenting revolutions and then having to go in and bomb them and such”.
          The reply to that:
          “Fuck you! We’re gonna make money and then use it to buy up all of the gold”.
          This was a face to face conversation with someone who regularly flew to Egypt to arrange deals with the military for the purchase of sniper systems.
          So don’t give me that “tin foil hatter” line. I’ve seen stuff personally that gets called conspiracy and could hardly believe it at the time.

        2. General Wes Clark reported that soon after 911 plans were laid to topple 7 nations in the middle east (neo-cons presumably). Tunisia wasn’t one but Libya was, as well as Syria and of course Iraq (already) & Iran. If that wasn’t just a reaction to an appalling event then the tragedy here may have been the opportunism involved in a great power seeking to co-opt what began and continued thereafter to be presented as a spontaneous grassroots movement against corruption and tyranny.

        3. I’m sure the military-industrial industry influences government policies as the best they can. However, if you understand FID/UW operations, you would know the degree of complexities and uncontrollable variables that cannot possibly be accounted for by any organization. As many proven failures of foreign policy are evidence of this. Humans are just tribal, petty, divisive, chaotic creatures.

        4. If anybody is wondering, the fellow who told me this was for the most part “alpha as fuck”.
          Of course his PUA tendencies nearly came to a screeching halt when he almost boinked a tranny but to this say I say he didn’t ONLY because he’s afraid we’d never let him live that down if we found out.
          After he told me he’d gladly take work as a contractor to take away peoples’ guns and put them in camps I have not spoken to him since.

        5. Military spending isn’t all about profiteering; it’s also used to clandestinely transfer money into black projects (which is the CIA’s original purpose when they were hastily formed mere months after the Roswell crash). There’s more than one reason why a roll of military toilet paper in Iraq costs thirty bucks.

        6. Because the military is a lumbering highly inefficient bureaucracy and input costs are extremely high. Ruckus, you and I aren’t going to agree on much. But for the sake of defeating feminism, can’t you concentrate your efforts on modern political correctness instead? Or do you have to regress back to your conspiracy doctrine?

        7. I’m here to amuse and educate. I can happily focus on feminism and political correctness, but unfortunately the background of both movements are unfortunately steeped in conspiracy. And yes, there are intelligence agencies and Khazars involved – it’s simply what the evidence points to.
          I can try to limit my ramblings, but just remember – the truth is very often stranger than fiction.

  3. Always love your articles, there’s so much knowledge in them. Thank you for another great read.

  4. The reasons for the revolts were many and varied, even in each individual nation. But the thing Quintus has really hit upon, here, is that you never know what spark may light the tinder. When the time is ripe, the opportune act can wield an influence far out of proportion to the value of its power in isolation.
    I don’t know if it is possible for a great mind to see what will strike the spark in advance. Often, they seem to be completely unsought events with a rather baffling enormity of influence. So, I don’t know that we will predict what may “set things off.” But the times are ripe these days, and if more men act with resolve on their principles, who knows but that there is a spark waiting to be struck in the midst of it all?
    I agree with DoktorJeep a bit below, though; those who have shaped our society have very smartly organized the media to keep silent on such matters, and have smartly organized the “social media” like twitter, to accustom people to getting outraged for five seconds at a time, and to feeling like they’ve “done their duty” if they re-tweet something with a frowny face. It may be that the missing ingredient is the ability to sustain a focused, principled anger about real injustice, for long enough to act. As comforts slip away and the crises get bigger and more immediately relevant, probably the fleeting and superficial outrage will yield to something more productive.

    1. As usual, Cui, you summed it up perfectly. I agree with you. I absolutely agree that those who manage (or presume to manage) the affairs of the world do try to shape the perception of events in the media. It is clear that foreign intelligence agencies are always trying to stir the pot or shape things to their benefit.
      But the fact remains, as you said, there are rare times in history where personality can have an undue influence. There are some (rare) examples when random acts can catch everyone off guard. The Arab revolts of the 2011 took everyone off guard. The CIA did not control them (at first), and no other intelligence agency did (at first).
      My point here: a man should not feel helpless in the face of events. Sometimes, actions can make a big difference.

      1. Thanks, Quintus. And yes, it did seem to me that many of the recent events in the Near East, far from being driven by Western interests, actually caught them off guard. Those who seek to manage society can’t manage absolutely everything. That has to give us hope! It’s time for us to become less predictable.

    2. Don’t get me started about “clicktivism”. Seeing that in action, these hashtag campaigns (mainly from the SJWs) make me wish I had an arsenal of ICBMs.

      1. Oh noes! Everybody needs to stand together to say that ICBM possession is NOT okay. #Womenandalliesagainstbadthingshappening.

    3. Only a few people make a real difference in the world… but where they will come from and who they are can be surprising at times.

  5. thought provoking in a welcome and unfashionable way. Great man theory has been in decline since Marx, and I’m not quite clear whether this article does or doesn’t support that idea. In Bouazizi’s undoubtedly heroic actions certainly seem to have been a trigger to the arab spring, although perhaps the question of causality is more complex, i.e. would it have occurred anyway. There’s a difference perhaps between a “great man” like Bismarck for example whose personality and ideas guided german unification and someone like this who mades a huge and very brave personal sacrifice with huge effect. That act and sacrifice clearly demonstrates that individual acts and individual agency can make a huge difference, but the subsequent events also show the difficulty of being anything other than a trigger, or partial cause. That’s not a criticism of that heroism, or his role in history, but an acknowledgement that though such acts are necessary, they may not be sufficient. Groundwork and preparation may also be necessary

    1. Michael:
      Good point. I’m glad you mentioned the “great man” theory of history. That’s a whole other debate, but I am not a huge fan of this theory. The “great man” is not quite the god that Carlyle supposed: he is shaped by events as much as they shape him. He is the cause of many effects, and the effect of many causes.
      But there still is some usefulness for this theory. Can anyone deny that certain personalities had a major influence on world events: Hitler, Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, Mohammad, Caesar, etc.? The answer seems to be that sometimes, the “great man” is the deciding factor. Other times, he is not. Some things would have happened with or without the “great man”, such as the Reformation in Europe, which would happened without Luther. Or the discovery of America, which would have happened without Columbus.
      I am not saying that Bouazizi was a “great man” of history. I was trying to make another point. And that is: even a random, unknown person can play a big part in contemporary events, under the right conditions.

      1. I agree with that, and appreciate that there can (and must!) be individuals who though they are anything but ‘great’ can take brave actions that may have huge significance. I think scepticism about great man theory is appropriate but equally I think we all hanker for those great figures in history – such as you mention – who seem to fly against that sensible scepticism. The compromise position is perhaps that whether great or small, the men who act to change the world, or simply to protest injustice, need to have some sense perhaps of the spirit of the time, and perhaps of which way the wind is blowing.
        With respect to your last point about the possibility of real agency, I think that is an important point to take away not least because apathy and helplessness feeds on the sense we too often have that the forces we are up against us are huge, overwhelming and monolithic. Examples like this may demonstrate that may not necessarily be the case

      2. I kind of agree with the ‘great man theory’ Quintus. Lets look at iran for a sec.
        How can Ayatollah Khomeini have convinced so many people to have taken up his cause in 1979 without some industrial levels of cult of personality?
        He must have been a kind of steve jobs x 1000. (I think you wrote an article about khomeini in the past).
        To me, i dont think there would have been another man in that place that could have created a movement like that.
        Some great men are momentum generators, of which there was no readily available alternative man that could have done what they had done at the time.
        From my physics background it was said that Einstein had been about 30 years ahead of the curve when he wrote his seminal 1905 papers. Scientific research had to actually catch up with him.

  6. This was a very interesting article I view this event as a final straw. When a boil is big and tender all it takes is a little agitation and the floodgates open. This event gave the masses a chance to “exhale” violently the collective poison air inside their minds, because of their stagnant and devastating lot in society. Just as this country is currently experiencing an undercurrent of extreme anger, apathy, and unhealthiness. With Globalization and unchecked Corporatism you will start to see the equalizing of the International–poor in life. Couple that where their corrupt Government and their establishments, their tyrannical regimes often supported by Western Governments and the combined factor of having no recreational outlets…that causes especially young men to mass riot.
    People like to point out the “P.C. environment” although I can debate that the P.C. environment is annoying at best compared with systematic prejudice of certain people in this country. However it can be argued that controlling what you say in public is the beginning of greater control. Thing is everyone is susceptible to P.C. culture in public to a certain extent. For example on Columbus day being changed to Indigenous people day, or at least when the negatives of Columbus were mentioned people cried out “P.C.” police when ironically for centuries there was a positive spin on all things Euro-centric. People then bashed “Natives” with the same language used to paint them negative in the first place.
    I think there is a defensiveness when people point out a blemish with you or your culture and although true we feel uncomfortable. We have our disagreements on this site but I have also seen some articles that I can agree on. On women I believe it is harder now to find a reasonable partner but there is a way to find someone if you believe in yourself and stand for something. At the very least you will be the very best you can be.
    On this article I thought it was a thought provoking article on society and the people that live in them, and perhaps it is a foreshadowing of things to come in America if things do not change for the better.

  7. Ben Ali also tried lowering the cost of bread and other commodities in order to quell the uprising but of course, to no avail. The funny part is that in Tunisia drugs and alcohol are essentially forbidden. You have to buy alcohol in the back of the store but at the end of his reign, Ben Ali himself was a huge drug peddler.

  8. A lot of these revolts were actually ‘colour revolutions’ instigated by clandestine Western intelligence agencies intent on destabilizing the region.

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