How many of you reading this recall the name of Mohammed Bouazizi?
He was the 26-year-old street trader in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, whose tragic self-immolation in response to a humiliation from the authorities sparked what became known as the Arab Spring — despite its origins in deep mid-winter. Just ten days after Bouazizi’s suicide, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year rule was over, as he fled Tunis in ignominy.
Scarcely one month later, Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years as President of Egypt also came to a sudden end. In mid-February anything seemed possible, and with relatively little bloodshed too.
That was then. Seven months on, we have had the violence in Yemen, the crushed protests in tiny Bahrain, the brutal suppression of rebellion in Syria, and the lengthy, bloody Libyan civil war, in which we have become so hopelessly enmeshed. Much blood has been spilled, and I am afraid there will be much more to come this week in and around Tripoli.
After several false dawns it really appear this might be the endgame for Col Gaddafi and his regime. This column is not the place for serious analysis, but it would serve us all well to remember the ordinary citizens of the Libyan capital this week. Unlike the Brits who evacuated on a boat to Malta yesterday, most have little choice but to remain. They must decide which side of the uprising they are on this week. There is much more than a 42-inch plasma screen at stake.
And while I am at it, I would just like to spare a thought for our own Kim Sengupta, who — as he has been for much of this year — is on the road with the Libyan rebels on the outskirts of Tripoli, displaying — like many of the journalists out there —extraordinary courage in bringing you first-hand reports of real history in the making. It will be one hell of a week.