What Comes Next?
The Arab Spring One Year On
On 14 January 2011, the first president to fall at the hands of protests in the Middle East departed Tunisia. The next twelve months have since become a historic period of profound transition and evolution for the region. It is a movement still in the process of realization.
It all began when, on 17 December 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi—a fruit vendor driven to desperate measures by corruption and abuse endemic across Tunisia—set the whole region aflame by dousing himself with paint thinner and striking a match. His death two weeks later became a tragic inspiration that rallied Tunisians to continue his protest against unemployment, rising food prices, and an autocratic government that was seemingly indifferent to their suffering.
Funerals for those killed in clashes with the armed forces became the flashpoints for more battles. More and more clashes occurred in small towns similar to Bouazizi’s home of Sidi Bouzid. Back then it was being called the ‘Jasmine Revolution.’ Acts of defiance like Bouazizi’s would occur all over the region over the subsequent weeks.
Egypt would turn the Jasmine Revolution into the ‘Facebook Revolution’ when protestors—organizing themselves on social media—made Cairo’s Tahrir Square the new flashpoint to watch. When Mubarak resigned on 11 February, the jubilation was as contagious as it was short-lived.
One month later, fighter jets sweeping Benghazi, Misrata, and Brega in Libya brought a heavy sense of dread to the once hopeful outburst of resistance. The movements in Yemen and Libya tested the endurance of protesters—protesters that became rebels and rebels that became rebel armies. A NATO intervention and tens of thousands of lives lost in Libya brought Western powers front and center in the Arab Spring.
After Qadhafi’s dramatic and televised demise and Saleh’s departure, the violent face of the Arab Spring was unmasked: peaceful protesters with placards were now rebels with rocket-propelled grenades. Meanwhile, Syria’s long and bloody standoff continues to claim lives as the world waits for the right agreement with the Arab League to tip the scales in Damascus.
It was a long road the Middle East traveled down in 2011. One year later, the question of what comes next has no confident answer. In this series, The Majalla asks who won. And who lost? What needs to happen now? Country by country, we review the Arab Spring and bring you our predictions and highlight the things we will be watching this year.