Children who die in this way suffer immensely as their vital organ functions slow down and eventually stop. Their immune systems are so weak they are more prone to infections with some too frail to even cry. Parents are having to witness their children wasting away, unable to do anything about it.—Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Country Director in Yemen.
Remember the “Arab Spring,” that misleading, Euro-centric term used to characterize a period of dramatic political change in the Middle East? It began in late 2010 in Tunisia when an impoverished fruit and vegetable vendor set himself on fire in front of a government building. The young man— Mohamed Bouazizi—was the sole provider for his widowed mother and six siblings. The local police wanted to see his vendor’s permit; he didn’t have one. So they attempted to confiscate his cart. Mr. Bouazizi resisted; the cart was his sole means of earning a living. His refusal supposedly prompted a policewoman to slap him. This act of public humiliation was possibly the last straw for Mr. Bouazizi. Desperately poor and with no other means of support than his cart, the young man took his own life as a form of resistance to an otherwise hopeless situation in which the government and its various servants blocked all the exits to a life lived with dignity.
His death sparked a wave of protests across the country. Pro-democratic voices demanded that Tunisia’s iron-fisted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime relinquish power. He got the message and one month later closed shop and scurried out of town. And so it began—a wildfire that rapidly spread across Middle Eastern and North African countries in which the people rose up against their despotic overlords. There was nothing spring-like in these uprisings. Nor did they represent the sudden awakening of the Arab masses to the splendors of democracy and capitalism. Rather, the protests and demonstrations shared a unifying call for revolution, dignity, and the restoration of basic human rights—what generations of oppressive regimes had denied them. (The Arabic terms, transliterated, are thawra, karama, and haqooq.) In some cases, large-scale protests led to peaceful, though temporary transfers of power and a short-lived period of greater cultural and political freedom.