In early 2011, the Arab Spring quickly ignited in Tunisia, and within weeks its fires had spread to almost every nation in the Arab World. As massive demonstrations and conflicts ignited in city after city, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto realized that he was witnessing what was perhaps the most important event of his lifetime. One question dominated his thoughts: Exactly why would the suicide-by-fire of Mohamed Bouazizi, and insignificant fruit peddler in a dusty backwater Tunisian town, resonate so strongly that the reaction would topple four governments?
He immediately sent a research team to Tunisia and other North African countries to find out. Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) researchers worked in the streets and souks of North Africa for months. To their great surprise, they learned that there had been dozens of similar suicides by small entrepreneurs and businessmen across the region.