Mario Buda's wagon vs Bouazizi's fruit cart

Mario Buda's wagon vs Bouazizi's fruit cart
Sacrifices have brought more political change to the Arab world than car bombs and terrorism ever could.
5 min read
16 Dec, 2014
Mourners remember the fruit-seller at Mohammed Bouazizi square in Tunis [AFP]
In 1920, the poor Italian anarchist Mario Buda parked his explosive-laden horse-drawn wagon on Wall Street and left it to explode to take revenge on US capitalism for imprisoning his fellow anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

The young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi could have done the same. He could have packed his fruit and vegetable cart with explosives, detonators and nails and detonated it in front of the provincial government building in Sidi Bouzid in revenge for his humiliation, for the way in which he was insulted and prevented from continuing his job as a fruit and vegetable seller on the street.

More powerful than violence
Mario Buda started an age of wagon bombs, which was followed by car bombs that kill guilty and innocent alike.

The story would have stopped there, filed under the heading the revenge of the oppressed, and another name would have been added to the list of cart bombers around the world. He would soon enough have been forgotten by the world.

Instead, Bouazizi managed to carve his name in the memory of nations seeking liberation from poverty, ignorance, dispossession and oppression. Bouazizi set fire to himself on 17 December 2011, burning through the fear that had clouded the souls of poor and oppressed Arabs over the years. With the flames of his body, he lit the spark of revolutions that raged through countries.

There is a difference between the two men: the first started an age of wagon bombs, which was followed by car bombs that kill the guilty and innocent alike. We can witness its results in Iraq and other countries today. Most of these bombs achieve very little unless they are part of, for instance, a political and military campaign for independence from colonial masters or against neocolonial occupation.

Bouazizi was not the first person to set himself on fire, but he ignited a revolutionary spring. His sacrifice became a catalyst for revolutions that began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Arab world. Some of those revolutions succeeded, others are ongoing, while yet others are burning below the surface, unaffected by attempted reform in one country or military repression in another they only await the right moment to burst into flame, as long as oppression and poverty burden the people.

In the countries in which they succeeded, these revolutions are regarded like a second day of independence, because in terms of popular participation and passion they resembled the revolutions for independence, and they got rid of - or are at least working to get rid of - rulers subordinate to the old colonial powers.

Mohamed Bouazizi had no stable employment. Selling fruit and vegetables from a cart was the most he could hope for, in a country whose leaders and their families dressed in silk and enjoyed the billions they had made from selling out the public sector. This is not to mention the huge commissions they made from arms deals, and for allowing multinational companies into the country, and all the money they sent to offshore bank accounts.

Bouazizi had no hope the political elite would save him from his poverty, nor did he think they would protect him from a police officer. He knew that his present was his future, and that his future was the future of his generation, a future governed by a financial mafia, the security forces and the new business class.

Bouazizi could not accept a life in humiliation. His honour was all he had left. He would no longer be helpless; lighting a fire in his own body, he opened the eyes of Tunisians to the country's stolen wealth and confiscated future.

Months of revolt

December and January have special significance in Tunisia, as they are the months of revolt. In January 1984, there was the Bread Revolt, and in modern day Tunisia December is the anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution, a revolt for bread and dignity. There can be no dignity without freedom, and no dignity without social justice. Only through freedom can dignity be preserved.

Bouazizi's spirit promises the poor an end to fear and dispossession; his spectre haunts the nightmares of tyrants.

On the anniversary of Bouazizi's burning, the pictures of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's disgraceful exit fill the Arab media.

The general who ruled the country by oppression, corruption, embezzlement of public funds and tyranny for 23 years secretly snuck out the back door, afraid of the ghosts of Bouazizi and more than a hundred martyrs whose blood stained his hands. Ben Ali was afraid of the people he was not accustomed to listening to.

In his speech promising reforms, elections, the formation of investigation committees and even promising to step down in 2014, Ben Ali was effectively bidding Tunisians farewell. He knew the popular movement would not cease before it cost him his seat. He may have known what started in his country would reach other countries, and that, by leaving, he opened the door for the departure of other tyrants.

On the anniversary of Bouazizi's immolation, his spirit soars over the cities of the poor, promising them an end to fear and dispossession. His spectre haunts the nightmares of tyrants, promising them the carriage of Arab Spring will continue as long as oppression, dispossession and poverty are the means by which they govern.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.