On December 17, 2010, Faida Hamdy, a municipal inspector in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, made the fateful decision to confiscate the vegetable cart of a street vendor. The vendor, a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi, was so incensed by what he saw as government corruption that he lit himself on fire in protest. Days later, he would die from the self-inflicted burns he suffered, but he would become known as the Tunisian Burning Man, and his example sparked a wave of copycat actions that swept the nation and plunged Tunisia into protests and widespread chaos. Within a month, Tunisia’s president had fled the country, and the Arab Spring became a disorganized movement that spread to other neighboring countries, most notably Egypt, where longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak was eventually overthrown.
Looking back on what unfolded following the simple carrying out of her job’s duties, Hamdy says she’s regretful. “Sometimes I wish I’d never done it,” Hamdy, now 50, told The Telegraph in an interview. A New York Times report from January 2011 explored the gender and cultural issues at play that precipitated the explosive situation. Hamdy was eventually arrested by Tunisian officials, but later cleared of charges. Since then, change has been the primary constant in the Middle East. The world has witnessed the rise of ISIS. Instability has spread, particularly in Libya, where longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown during a civil war and killed in 2011. Iraq and Syria are in shambles, overrun by civil war and ISIS.
“Sometimes, I blame myself and say it is all because of me. I made history since I was the one who was there and my action contributed to it, but look at us now,” Hamdy lamented in the interview. “Meanwhile, Tunisians are suffering as always.” Observers point to Tunisia as basically the only country that came away from the Arab Spring with improvements, though the nation is still racked with problems.
“When I look at the region and my country, I regret it all,” Hamdy said. “Death everywhere and extremism blooming, and killing beautiful souls.” As for Bouazizi, the man behind the vegetable cart she confiscated, she has strong opinions about him and was candid about expressing them in the interview.
Read the full story at The Telegraph and below watch an interview with Hamdy in which she discusses her perception of the Tunisian government.