Tunisia is the location where the Arab Spring began in 2011. However a passive form of protest began in November, 2010, when a young rap musician calling himself El General posted a song on his Facebook page and YouTube. The song, Rais Leblel, was a mocking of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ali for the problems of poverty, unemployment, hunger and injustice. The YouTube video showed El General walking through a darkened, sewage-strewn alley, with graffiti spray-painted on the wall.
The video instantly became popular among young Tunisians. Al Jazeera picked it up, and it spread quickly across the Internet. As Robin Wright put it in her book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “It broke through the climate of fear in a country where no politician had dared to criticize a president in power for almost a quarter century.”
A few weeks later, a government inspector general demanded a bribe from a street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi. The vendor’s produce was confiscated, and his livelihood was put in jeopardy. When Bouazizi found no recourse, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire.
As protests over the street vendor’s death spread across the country, El General’s rap lyrics became the rallying cry. After he wrote another protest song, the Tunisian police arrested and imprisoned El General was released after three days when the government attempted to appease the demonstrators.
El General’s influence later spread to Egypt and Bahrain. His impact gained him the honor of being named one of Time Magzine’s 2011 Most Influential People.
Below is a YouTube video of El General’s video that had such a powerful impact on the Arab Spring.