The governments of both Tunisia and Lebanon have collapsed within the past week – for entirely different reasons. New governments are ahead for both countries, and those too may look quite different from each other. Hezbollah â€” supported by Iran â€” looms in Lebanon. The Islamists of the Nahda movement are in a good position to take power after years in exile or prison. Yet, Tunisia’s revolt is one against tyranny, while Lebanon’s battle against tyranny seems a losing one. Both countries represent important markers in the ongoing war for freedom in the Middle East.
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. A lady policeman had slapped him, confiscated his scales and knocked over his produce cart, allegedly because he lacked a permit. The fruit and vegetable cart was Bouazizi’s only source of income, and he had gone into debt to purchase the produce he had to sell. What’s more, permits are not required to sell on the street, according to Hamdi Lazhar, the head the local office for employment and independent work. Bouazizi’s siblings have accused the police of extortion. After he failed to find redress through the government, Bouazizi doused himself with paint thinner and lit himself on fire. He died of his severe burn injuries January 4, 2011.
Bouazizi’s self-immolation sparked protests that raged across Tunisia, toppling the corrupt government of Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali last Friday after 23 years in power. Ben Ali was secular, but had little concern for true freedom. The end of his corrupt regime has left the door open for his Islamic opposition to take over, but the populace is not interested in more tyranny. Elections are to take place in less than 60 days, and even now the protests continue against oppressive remnants of Ben Ali’s government.