The Arab Spring


Overview

The Arab Spring was and remains one of the most consequential and magnanimous geopolitical tectonic shifts in the Middle East region in recent memory. The Arab Spring began in 2011, and at the time that it began, the leaders of the states that comprise the Middle East region had either personally led the country for decades or had their family dynasty lead the country for decades.

Over those decades, frustration with the status quo was already high & tense and was made even worse by the lack of civil and political freedoms in the region. It was then put on display by the lack of transparency and accountability, as well as the centralization of wealth in the elite political class, corruption and nepotism that became normalized in the Middle East.

It wasn’t until Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire out of desperation and frustration, that a spiralling series of events took place throughout the entire extended region and became known as the Arab Spring. 

The Spring started in Tunisia, with Bouazizi’s act of self-immolation sent a shockwave throughout the region, with ordinary citizens empathizing with that sense of desperation and frustration that he felt. The empathy turned into anger, and with anger came the demand for change. In Tunisia, the long-time leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, commonly known as Ben Ali, who had at that point ruled for 24 years, became the focus of that anger and fled the country as mass-protests gripped the state. Ben Ali continues to live in self-exile in Saudi Arabia for fear of prosecution for his corruption upon return to Tunisia. 

The protests from that point spread across the region like wildfire, reaching Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Bahrain. In Egypt, with the protestors numbering in the millions, led the 40-ruler authoritative ruler, Hosni Mobarak, to step down and be arrested for his crimes against the Egyptian people, including the initial attempted violent crackdown of the Arab Spring protesters.

After Mobarak stepped down, the sense of fear among the ruling political class in the Middle East each began to fear that they would be next and suffer similar fates. Soon after, the leader of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, suffering the same fate as Mubarak, with stability evading the country till this day and resulting in the Yemeni Civil War. Muammar Gaddafi, the long-time leader of Libya, resisted the will of the Libyan people for him to step down, which resulted in his forcible removal from power, as well as a NATO-led intervention in the country. The Libyan events also remain uncontained till this day, leading to the Libyan power struggle between competing governments in the East and West of the country.

In Syria, the fight to remove Bashar Al-Assad has not yet ended and is still in full force, with the Syrian Civil War now reaching its 8th year. Some countries avoided the full brunt of the Arab Spring, with protests slowly dissipating or being appease with compromises by their leaders, or even financial incentives to want to keep the status quo. Such outcomes occurred in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, and Morocco. 

Other countries experienced very little, if not at all, upheaval as part of the Arab Spring, in part due to two reasons, either having a long history of conflict and hoping to avoid future ones, such as in Lebanon and Iraq, or due to the high quality of life in some countries, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In Bahrain, a country that has a majority of shia muslim population and is led by a King from the minority sunni muslim sect, was on the verge of a change of leadership until Saudi Arabia interfered and provided the Bahraini King with 15,000 Saudi soldiers to stabilize the kingdom and crackdown on the protesters. This is largely due to the fact that the biggest losers of the Arab Spring would be the two countries in the region that staked their entire domestic governance structure as well as regional influence on the basis of authoritative rule – the kind of rule that directly led to the Arab Spring and the one that the protestors fought hard to remove from power.

Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, seeing their long-term ruling counterparts across the region slowly fall one by one, led to legitimate fears that they would be next in being deposed from power. The only way to hold on to their rule, other than the vast wealth that came associated to their natural resources, namely oil, was to show that the mass-protests do not lead to success or democracy. This started the second phase of the Arab Spring which is known as the counter-revolution. 

Led and financed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the counter-revolution convinced rulers, militaries and established special interest groups to hold their ground against these protestors and even fight back, brutally cracking down on the will of the people. The fear of repercussions from the international community was alleviated by the two regional powers because of the large influence they have amongst western states, as providers of investment and exporters of natural resources, thus giving them the ability to provide the necessary diplomatic cover to stay the course.

This can be seen in their interventions in Yemen, Libya, Egypt and most recently, Sudan. While the Arab Spring came like a force of nature that was long overdue, it has since underwent many different phases, and the region remains at a crossroads once again. The crossroads at question is whether or not to continue on the path of authoritative stability or to shift to the grassroots democratic unpredictability.

Facts

Where:
Throughout the Middle East (Started in Tunisia)
Deaths:
Hundreds of thousands
Injured:
Thousands hurt in protests (600o in Egypt in 2015) 
Countries involved:
Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan

Key Actors

Most of them condemned the protests and refused to step-down at first, often resorting to aggression against their own citizens.

Criticized the clashes and pressured the UN to act, failed to provide any effective assistance to reduce violence or improve stability

Organized and led the protests, in a fight for democracy and better governance

Provides assistance and advocates for peace during the protests and consequential wars

Condemned the violence of governments in the middle east, many of whom dealt violently with protesters

Timeline

Tunisia sparks the Arab Spring after a street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire protesting against local police who humiliated him.

Tunisian President, Ben Ali, resigns and flees to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptians demand resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Protestors in Yemen also demand for the resignation of the president citing poor leadership

Sudanese citizens clash in Khartoum with police, demanding government’s resignation.

Egypt VP Omar Suleiman announces the resignation of Mubarak with the army council assuming control.

The Bahraini people also protests at the Pearl Roundabout citing poor governance as well.

Protests erupt in Benghazi, Libya which escalates into the Libyan Civil War. The protests began after a lawyer representing the relatives of the victims of the 1996 prison massacre was arrested.

Around 1000 military personnel dispatched to the Pearl Roundabout to quell protests. Hundreds hurt and 3 died.

Dozens die in demonstrations around Libya in areas like Benghazi, Zentan, and al-Baida.

Anti-government fighters take Benghazi with hundreds of Casualties.

Morocco protests begin again due to protestors citing bad governance and demanding constitutional reforms.

Protests against the hard-line government in Syria begin, which initiates the civil war that rages on up to this day.

NATO begins Libya bombing after UN resolution. The French began the bombing while others like the UK, the US, and others joining later.

Rebels defeat Gaddafi forces in Misrata which caused massive civilian deaths

President of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh hurt in an assassination attempt. He fled to Saudi Arabia for treatment after sustaining burns.

Constitutional referendum held in Morocco to curb monarchical rule.

Yemeni president appears on TV after the failed assassination calling for dialogue.

The eight-day battle of Tripoli between the National Transitional Council and Government forces begins, in which nearly 2000 combatants were killed. This was codenamed “Operation Mermaid Dawn” by rebel forces.

Yemen have their own Million Man March after Saleh returns to Yemen from Saudi Arabia.

Maspero Massacre in Egypt after clashes between the army and Coptic Christians protesting against the destruction of a church.

Gaddafi is captured and killed by rebels in Sirte. The National Transition Council declares an end to the Libyan Civil War of 2011.

UN condemns Yemeni president after he dealt violently with peaceful protesters. The UN also endorsed a plan for President Saleh to step down and his family granted amnesty.

The first ever election of the Arab Spring is held in Tunisia to form an assembly from 80 political parties.

Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, arrested near Ubari in Libya.

50 people die in clashes between security forces and protestors at Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo.

The Gulf Cooperation Council and Yemen’s Saleh broker a deal for Saleh to transfer power to Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi.

Egypt holds its first free elections after Mubarak.

Former dissident, Moncef Marzouki is elected Tunisia President with Hamadi Jebeli becoming PM.

Security forces attack the cabinet in Cairo triggering clashes. Shocking pictures of a woman being assaulted by police emerge.

Saleh resigns officially and transfers power to his VP, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi.

Egypt votes in search of a new president. The first round sees Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq emerge on top.

Syrian government forces attack villages in Homs Province killing more than 100 people, children included.

 Mubarak sentenced to life in prison.

Sudan protest over government’s desire to cut on fuel subsidies.

Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared new President of Egypt.

Ben Ali sentenced to life in prison (in absentia) by a Tunisian court for complicity in the murder of 43 protesters.

US consulate in Benghazi attacked. Chris Steven, US ambassador to Libya and three other US citizens die.

Morsi issues a constitutional decree making him all powerful which triggered protests again.

Mass protests against Morsi, culminating to violence for days.

Syria’s death toll increases to an excess of 70, 000 people.

Morsi deposed and Supreme Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour becomes interim president. Morsi supporters take to protests and Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested.

Sit-ins disrupted by police in Cairo resulting in hundreds of deaths. The government declares a month long state of emergency. The VP, Mohamed ElBaradei, also resigns because of the clashes.

Sad day for Syria as activists claim the government carried out chemical attacks in Damascus, killing hundreds.

Morsi accused and charged with terrorism.

 Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt declared a terrorist group.

ISIS and Syrian opposition fight over territory. In Tunisia, the first constitution since Ben Ali’s ousting is passed.

State of emergency lifted in Tunisia by the president. In Libya, the PM is sacked and a replacement found in Ahmed Maiteg.

 Former Egyptian Minister of Defence, Adel Fattah el-Sisi, wins the Egyptian presidential election in an election widely seen as not free nor fair.

Libyan PM resigns after his appointment is deemed unlawful. Tripoli erupts in conflict as thousands are displaced.

Raqqa becomes the ISIS capital. An ISIS propaganda video also emerges showing the beheading of James Foley, an American journalist.

US and five Sunni Arab states (Bahrain, Joran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) launch airstrikes against ISIS in Raqqa and Aleppo.

Beji Caid Essebsi becomes Tunisia’s President.

Russia sends fighter jets to hit ISIS territories. Outrage as some claim that the targeted people were anti-Assad. Meanwhile, in Libya, Gaddafi’s son, who was arrested in November 2011, is sentenced to death along with eight others.

ISIS claims responsibility for the downing of a Russian airliner in Sinai which killed all 224 people onboard.

Mubarak acquitted of all charges relating to deaths of protesters and is now unwell aged 89.

ISIS militants kill more than 300 people at a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula

Dozens of Tunisians protest in the streets in response to steep price increases across the country. More than 200 people have been arrested, and there has been at least one reported death.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is re-elected after all other major competition pulled out of the race, either by force or arrest.

Mohammad Morsi, the first freely and democratically elected president of Egypt, that was overthrown by an army coup led by now current president el-Sisi, dies during a court appearance. His death comes after repeated allegation of torture, sleep depravation, starvation, and what human rights groups have for long called a slow, excruciating death sentence.

The death this week of Tunisia’s first democratically elected president accelerated the timetable for choosing his successor, placing new strain on a political system in which power is shared among several parties, many voters are disillusioned and leaders are confronting a struggling economy. But if the death on Thursday of President Béji Caïd Essebsi, at age 92, shook up the only surviving democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring, the system worked as planned.

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