Has the Arab Spring forgotten Bouazizi’s sacrifice?

Posted on December 21, 2011


Amid political wrangling, we seem to have lost sight of the young entrepreneur’s aspirations.

A french protest in support of Mohamed Bouaziz...

A French protest in support of Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation. (Image via Wikipedia)

When Tunisians unveiled a statue of Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi‘s cart in Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2011, to commemorate a year of bloody change in the Arab world, it was a reminder that the real issues of the revolution have become blurred in political rhetoric and posturing. The street vendor set himself alight in front of the governor’s office in protest against the difficulties he routinely faced while conducting his small business, culminating in yet another confiscation of his produce. When he poured gasoline over himself and flicked his lighter open, it was a scream from the heart, that even the little guys have the right to do business without unlawful and unnatural barriers.

When a policewoman confiscated Bouazizi’s pears, bananas and apples, along with his weighing scale, she effectively wiped out his business. Bouazizi could no longer feed his family for more than a week, as he was the sole bread-earner. The fruit had likely been bought on credit, and since he could not sell it, he could not pay back his creditors. The loss of his weighing scale was equivalent to the loss of his capital. Bouazizi was now bankrupt. The victim of a heavy-handed state that brushed aside the aspirations of a whole generation of budding young entrepreneurs, who constitute more than half of the populations of the Arab world, especially in North Africa.

Bouazizi immolated himself in a country that ranks highest among its North African peers on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Rankings for 2012. Tunisia demands a minimum of 10 procedures that take an average of 11 days to accomplish if you want to start a business. Additional time, effort and money goes in dealing with construction permits, registering property, getting credit, etc. Imagine the effort required to start and run a small business in the other nations that the Arab Spring visited, which are much further down the World Bank rankings. In contrast, Singapore, ranked first in the world, mandates three procedures that take three days to complete.

While the wranglings continue over government-formation in the countries that deposed complacent, cruel and self-serving leaders in 2011, the new regimes would do well to recognize that demolition of the ingrained institutional hurdles against entrepreneurial aspiration need priority action. Reform will be meaningless and short-lived if the common man continues to be economically oppressed.

— Yazad Darasha

Click here for more intelligence on a year of Arab Spring on Zawya.com.

Posted in: Economy