Between blackmail and heroism

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Tuesday 18 Jan 2011

While Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi is very much a hero deserving of his place in history, the copycats setting themselves on fire in Algeria in an effort to manipulate the system rightfully did not generate a following

Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian man who set himself on fire after a contemptuous female police officer tried to stop him from selling vegetables even though he could not find other employment, has become part of history. His suicide sparked events which transformed conditions in Tunisia, altering its course.

Bouazizi has since become a trendsetter in Algeria; several young people there have already attempted suicide by fire. Four such incidents have been reported in the past few days, in which one has already died. Another would-be suicide victim had actually caused the death of his father, who was burnt instead. The first of these young men called the head of the municipal council in his small home town seeking a job, but there were none available so he carried out his suicide threat, leaving behind a young daughter. In other incidents, young men set themselves alight when their applications for state-subsidised apartments were turned down. One of them is a father of six.

It seems that some in Algeria are using Bouazizi's case as an opportunity to blackmail the authorities, as they try to maintain stability. But the difference between blackmail on the one hand and heroism and sacrifice on the other is immense. The young people in Algeria set themselves on fire, but this did not lead to riots in the country; Bouazizi acted spontaneously and without pretense, and so the people responded to him in like. Pretension and blackmail is very apparent in the case of the Algerians, and therefore no one sympathised with them and people remained unmoved by their stories.

Bouazizi is a hero and his story is full of human and political drama because all he wanted to do was express his anger, without contemplating how his actions might change the history of his country. He was not acting on a premeditated plan, and this makes his a story one of heroism; he did not consider whether his actions will move anyone, but the people mobilised in response to a call he did not make.

The Algerian copycats, on the other hand, had their entire scenarios planned out, but these did not work out as they had planned. The masses do not move according to pre-designed situations, whether by the government or by adventurers which is the beauty and danger of politics. The Algerian mimics tried to manipulate the people, but they were ignored because the masses can differentiate between what is genuine and what is fake – or at least in these blatantly obvious cases. What occurred in Tunisia is an incredible human epic, but the attempts by impersonators are nothing more than a ridiculous black comedy.

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