The Times newspaper in London on Wednesday named Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who unwittingly started a wave of protests known as the Arab Spring, as its person of 2011.
The 26-year-old from a poor family set himself alight in the town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, in protest against harassment by officials, and died from his burns in early January.
His actions sparked a revolt that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ignited protests across the region which ultimately led to the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
“Mr Bouazizi takes his place with other figures whose willingness to see through the charade of oppressive rule elevated them beyond the drudgeries and petty humiliations of commonplace existence,” The Times said in an editorial.
“His brief life and agonising death are a fanfare for the common man.”
Bouazizi’s mother told the newspaper that her son did not intend to kill himself when he set himself on fire, but merely wanted to protest against the confiscation of his weighing scales during an inspection of his fruit stall.
Already struggling to earn a living from the unlicensed business, his pride was also severely dented when a female official confiscated his fruit and slapped him, his mother said, although the official has denied this.
Whatever his intentions, “his death inspired downtrodden masses to believe that it is possible to challenge the local police officer, the security agent, the governor and even the president-for-life”, The Times said.