Time Magazine gives the title 'Person of the Year' to the individual who 'for better or for worse...has done the most to influence the events of the year'.
They are clear that the title should not in itself be a prize, but an acknowledgement of influence on world events. Recent winners include Mark Zuckerberg, Ben Bernanke and Barack Obama.
I think - and I know its only February - but in 2011 that title should be given to a Tunisian street vendor called Muhammad Al Bouazizi. It would be a fitting tribute to one man who has clearly already influenced the world in ways he could never have imagined.
For those who don't know, and you can read much fuller accounts here and here, (and from Time Magazine itself here), Mr Bouazizi was a fruit seller in a small provincial town called Sidi Bouzid. Following a confrontation with a local government inspector on Dec 17, and several attempts at getting anyone in authority to listen to his complaints, Mr Bouazizi set fire to himself in protest at his treatment and the treatment of millions like him, in front of the gates of the Governors office.
He died on Jan 4th from his injuries. In the intervening time, rioting, sparked by Mr Bouazizi's act, had started in cities across the country. Before he died he was visited in hospital by President Zine el-Abidine Ben, and 10 days after his death, the President fled the country.
As we now know, this is nowhere near the end of it. A second dictatorship has now fallen in Egypt (the world watches to see how the military will make handle the transition to, hopefully, full democracy). Meantime, protest movements gather pace in Algeria, in Yemen, in Syria, and across the Middle East. And it is still only 2 months since Mr Bouazizi's act started all this.
Of course, he could not have known where his protest could lead. But that is not the point. One man's selfless act has changed the Middle East more in 2 months than decades of diplomacy have managed. And I think his influence and memory must be marked.
I am sending the following note to the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengal. If you feel you would like to send a similar note, please feel free to copy the note and forward it to Time by clicking here Also please sign the on line petition by clicking here
Dear Mr Stengal
While it is only February, before he is forgotten, I would like to nominate Tunisian market trader Muhammad Al Bouazizi as your Person of the Year for 2011.
Your criteria is 'the person who has done most to influence events of the year'. Here we stand only in February and already we see his selfless protest leading to the collapse of two dictatorships, and popular uprisings across the Middle East as the people demand democracy and influence over their own destiny. It is hard to imagine any individual who could do more in the coming months to change the course of an entire region, if not the global political map itself.
It would be all too easy to forget, as events unfold on a daily basis, that all this started thanks to the actions of a single man, selling fruit on a street, in a small provinicial Tunisian town.
The 'Time' award is of course not a prize; but it should be a marker for the world to acknowledge the acts of others. And Mr Bouazizi, in a single act, has done more than Presidents, Prime Minsters, Diplomats and opinion leaders have achieved in 30 years in the Middle East.
Please, over coming months, don't forget him, and make him your Person of the Year