TUNIS, Tunisia — It started with a young man who set himself on fire, acting out of desperation after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he sold without a permit.
Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26-year-old university graduate without a steady job, trying to support his family. His self-immolation — which left him in intensive care, wrapped head to toe in white bandages — shocked the North African nation and sparked protests over unemployment that have led to at least three deaths.
For decades, Tunisia has promoted itself as an Arab world success story, a place where the economy is stronger than in neighboring countries, women's rights are respected, unrest is rare and European tourists can take stress-free vacations at beach resorts.
But the recent protests have exposed a side of Tunisia that the country has long tried to hide: the poverty of the countryside, poor job prospects for youths and seething resentment at the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia with an iron fist since 1987.