A people long-oppressed can endure many hardships as long as they are not too hungry and they are not handed the final straw. Marie Antoinette learned that lesson the hard way.
And so did Tunisia’s ex-President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali although so far he still has his head. It all started over a rather small licensing problem with a vegetable stand in December 2010.
Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, spent most of his life trying to make money by selling fruits and vegetables in the central town of Sidi Bouzid.
On 17 Dec 2010 the police came by and asked him for his permit [Tunisian translation: request for a bribe]. When he couldn't produce one they confiscated his produce cart and beat him up when he tried to stop them. When he complained to a local female official he was insulted and demeaned.
Humiliated, out of work, with no food for his family, he had had enough. He doused himself with paint thinner and set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. He was taken to a hospital near Tunis for treatment of his third-degree burns. This act of self-immolation set off a wave of protests throughout Tunisia. He died 18 days later.
Much of the Arab world is not much different than Tunisia: unemployment, food shortages, and political oppression. In the past, Israel was used to distract the Arab populace from these problems, but that ploy can only work so long before the citizenry rise up and form their own Tea Party and revolt.
Rising unemployment, high food prices, the government ignoring the wishes of the majority of the citizenry and forcing oppressive laws down the throat of the people: Obama, are you watching Tunisia closely?