Campaign to get a Tunisian Street Vendor named as Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year 2011’

I’d like to enlist your help.

Time Magazine gives the title ‘Person of the Year’ to the individual who ‘for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year’. They are clear that the title should not in itself be a prize, but an acknowledgement of influence on world events. Recent winners include Mark Zuckerberg, Ben Bernanke and Barack Obama.

I think – and I know it’s only February – but in 2011 that title should be given to a Tunisian street vendor called Muhammad Al Bouazizi. It would be a fitting tribute to one man who has clearly already influenced the world in ways he could never have imagined. Because everything currently unfolding in the Middle East can be directly traced to the action he took on Dec 17th 2010.

For those who don’t know, and you can read much fuller accounts on CNN, at the New York Times and from Time Magazine itself, Mr. Bouazizi was a fruit seller in a small provincial Tunisian town called Sidi Bouzid. Following a confrontation with a local government inspector on Dec 17, and several attempts at getting anyone in authority to listen to his complaints, Mr. Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest at his treatment and the treatment of millions like him, in front of the gates of the Governor’s office.

He died on Jan 4th from his injuries. In the intervening time, rioting, inspired by Mr. Bouazizi’s act, had started in cities across the country. Before he died he was visited in hospital by President Zine el-Abidine Ben, and 10 days after his death, the President fled the country.

As we now know, this is nowhere near the end of it. A second dictatorship has now fallen in Egypt (the world watches to see how the military will make handle the transition to, hopefully, full democracy). Meantime, protest movements gather pace in Libya, Algeria, in Yemen, in Syria, and across the Middle East. And it is still only 2 months since Mr. Bouazizi’s act started all this.

Of course, Muhammad Al Bouazizi could not have known where his protest could lead. But that is not the point. One man’s selfless act has changed the Middle East more in 2 months than decades of diplomacy have managed. And I think his influence and memory must be marked.

I have written to the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengal, asking him to make Muhammad al Bouazizi ‘Person of the Year 2011’ and I am asking you to do the same. Also please sign the on line petition here and look at the campaign website.

Mr. Bouazizi’s remarkable act and its effect must never be forgotten.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Yes, I was thinking earlier today that this is a no-brainer this year. Can’t be any doubt that Mr Bouazizi has had more influence on world events this year than anyone else even though we are two months in and he cannot have the slightest idea of what he would create.

    However, don’t think it is really necessary to have a campaign…

  • “One man’s selfless act has changed the Middle East more in 2 months than decades of diplomacy have managed. And I think his influence and memory must be marked.”

    This is a great idea, but I’d be careful about this sort of language. It smacks of martyrdom, and while that might be the obvious narrative in the circumstances, it may not serve truth and I don’t think it’s really the point of the award either. The award is about changing the world “for better or worse”. Bouazizi’s role as a catalyst seems undeniable. If you try and tag saintliness on as well, you run the risk of making recognition of the catalyst thing dependent on the saintliness thing. The fact is we know very little about this guy. We know the bits that have been selected for a post mortem narrative by media outlets in a time of high emotional and political tension. It may or may not accord with what he thought he was doing and with what he was actually doing.

  • David Allen 24th Feb '11 - 3:02pm

    Good point Alix. We shouldn’t take up the cudgels against the celebration of martyrdom, but, should we really go out of our way to promote it? Ghonim in Egypt, who did something constructive and knew what he was about, seems a better hero to me.

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