14 April 2012

Big Fires from Little Sparks, or what a vegetable cart has to do with Arab Spring

The size of the match is no predictor of the size of the fire it will start.

In his book The Coming Jobs War, Jim Clifton tells a story about the catalyst for Arab Spring that I had not heard, a reminder that individuals make a difference and even the destiny of something as big and complex as a nation-state can be changed by something as unpredictable as one person's sense of justice.

"In December 2010, the local police chose to confiscate the vegetable cart of a 26-year-old Tunisian named Mohammed Bouazizi, which meant he could no longer support his family of eight. He went to the city's local headquarters to complain to officials who refused to see him. Soon after, Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest. The people of Tunisia took up Bouazizi's cause, and in less than a month, they ousted Tunisia's government. A few weeks later, Egypt was in revolt against its leadership, aided in no small part by an Egyptian Google marketing executive, Wael Ghonim. And Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was thrown out. And thus a region-wide Middle East rebellion was born. This all started when a policewoman chose to confiscate Mohammed Bouazizi's vegetable cart and hence his job."

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