The story of how the Tunisian revolution began is well known. On December 17, 2010, a 26-year-old fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi from the town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire outside a local government building. The man’s self-immolation—an act of protest against repeated mistreatment by police and local officials—sparked protests that quickly spread across the country. Within a few weeks, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had stepped down and fled the country after 23 years in power, offering Tunisia an unprecedented opportunity for a democratic opening. A massive wave of uprisings soon swept the country’s neighbors, reaching all the way to the Levant and the Persian Gulf. 

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This article was originally published by Foreign Affairs.