On Christmas Eve, Abderrazak Zorgui, a thirty-two-year-old television reporter, posted a chilling cell-phone video shot in Kasserine, a city in western Tunisia that dates back to ancient Roman times. “I have decided today to put a revolution in motion,” he said, looking intently into the camera. “In Kasserine, there are people dying of hunger. Why? Are we not humans? We’re people just like you. The unemployed people of Kasserine, the jobless, the ones who have no means of subsistence, the ones who have nothing to eat.” Zorgui, who had short brown hair and wispy hair on his chin, then held up a clear bottle of gasoline. “Here’s the petrol,” he said. “I’m going to set myself on fire in twenty minutes.” His video was live-streamed onto YouTube. In his poignant farewell, Zorgui added, “Whoever wishes to support me will be welcome. I am going to protest alone. I am going to set myself on fire, and, if at least one person gets a job thanks to me, I will be satisfied.”
The flames Zorgui lit quickly consumed his body. He died just days away from the eighth anniversary of the Arab Spring, which was started when another young Tunisian set himself on fire, on December 17, 2010, to protest injustice, corruption, and desperate living conditions. It was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vender who sold citrus fruits off a wooden cart, in Sidi Bouzid, that ignited the epic Arab Spring protests. They spread across two continents; unsettled politics in more than a dozen countries; launched three wars, in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which still rage today; and ousted four dictators, who, collectively, had held power for more than a hundred and twenty years. Despite burns on ninety per cent of his body, Bouazizi survived for several days. He died on January 4, 2011—eight years ago this Friday. Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi’s home town, is only forty-five miles from Kasserine, where Zorgui lived—and where he died by the same means.
Zorgui’s self-immolation was “a sign of rejection of a catastrophic situation, regional imbalances, high unemployment among young people and the misery in which our fellow citizens live in the interior regions,” according to Le Quotidien, a Tunisian newspaper. “No one can deny today that all the leaders of this country are responsible, responsible for the distress of our youth, their despair and their frustration.”
In the eight years between the deaths of Bouazizi and Zorgui, at least three hundred others have set themselves on fire and died in Tunisia—political acts to protest the difficulties of life in the country. Another two thousand have tried but survived, Chaima Bouhlel, the former president of Al Bawsala, a local political watchdog group, told NPR on Sunday. [Continue reading…]