Mohamed’s father died when he was three years old. When his stepfather became ill, Mohamed quit school to support his family by selling fruits and vegetables on the streets. He quickly tired of paying bribes in order to maintain his business. After officials confiscated his property on December 17, 2010, he lit himself on fire and ignited the Arab Spring movement.
When Mohamed’s brother was asked what his brother might have hoped his sacrifice would mean to the Arab world, he reportedly replied, “That the poor also have the right to buy and sell.”
Regrettably, the Arab Spring has not brought about increased economic freedom for the Arab world. As a result, the region has some of the world’s highest unemployment rates, especially for young people.
Nobel prize–winning economist Milton Friedman observed:
In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.
It is possible for freedom to thrive in the Middle East. According to Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom, people in Bahrain have almost as much economic freedom as do people in the United States. Abdel Hamid Abuzaid, a Muslim Brotherhood member who taught economics at Cairo University in Egypt, commented: “Islam endorses the market economy and free trade. It is part and parcel of Islam as a complete way of life.” The Arab world can prevent additional Mohamed Bouazizi tragedies by embracing economic freedom, including free trade and protection of property rights.
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