Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire 10 years ago, on Dec. 17, 2010. His suicide put a human face on the frustration and alienation of the Tunisian people. It led to an ever-growing wave of demonstrations and forced longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia exactly four weeks later. The Tunisian people’s success in ending Ben Ali’s 23-year reign inspired an outpouring of demands for more representative governments throughout the Middle East and beyond, and the slogan chanted during the Tunisian demonstrations (“The people demand the fall of the regime!”) was adopted by protestors from Tahrir Square to Wall Street.
Many of us serving at U.S. Embassy Tunis at the time had years of experience in North Africa and the Middle East, and yet we recall the start of the Arab Spring and Tunisia’s transition to democracy as an inspirational high point in our careers. Witnessing history was why we joined the Foreign Service in the first place. Constantly having the opportunity to learn and adapt was another reason; and serving in Tunisia when the Arab Spring began was immensely educational. I drew a dozen important lessons from the experience.
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