SIDI BOUZID, TUNISIA — This is where an Arab revolution began, in a hardscrabble stretch of nowhere. If the modern world is divided into dynamic hubs and a static periphery, Sidi Bouzid epitomizes the latter. The town never even appeared on the national weather forecast.
The spark was an altercation on Dec. 17, 2010. It involved a young fruit-and-vegetable peddler named Mohamed Bouazizi and a policewoman much older than him called Faida Hamdy. What exactly transpired between them — who slapped or spat at whom, which insults flew — has already entered the realm of revolutionary myth.
Soon after — this at least is undisputed — Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the modest governor’s building where protesters now gather around portraits of the martyr. Bouazizi would live another 18 days. By then, an Arab dictatorship with a 53-year pedigree was shuddering. Within another 10 days, it had fallen in perhaps the world’s first revolution without a leader.