The Arab Spring revolution brought about a welcome change in the Middle Eastern countries and in North Africa which were affected by the wave that began in 2010. A young Tunisian, who refused to be publicly humiliated for trying to earn some money in order to be able to afford two square meals a day, sacrificed his life. This triggered an entire movement. The man was 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi. After being publicly humiliated for selling fruits on his wooden cart, Bouazizi marched in front of a government building and set himself on fire. This event took place in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. The moorings for a wave of protests and the dethroning of the incumbent power holders were thus laid.
The internet was flooded with the pictures and videos of the protests that began in Sidi Bouzid that day. Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. He was forced to flee within a month. The reason why Bouazizi’s plight was understood by all Tunisians was that the country was shackled in the chains of corruption, poverty and political repression. The government officials continuously demanded bribes threatening to confiscate properties if their demands weren’t met. Ben Ali’s handling of the protests drew a lot of criticism from the international community as well as from some of his own ministers. A large number of protesters were killed in the clashes with the police who recklessly opened fire on them. However, the people of Tunisia were successful in their attempts and the Jasmine Revolution, as it was termed, became a source of inspiration for many other countries in the Middle East and in North Africa.
In Egypt, the uprising began in 2011. The youth groups which were protesting were largely independent of the established opposition parties present in the country. Cities all over the country rang with the same cry, calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately. As the demonstrations gathered strength, the Mubarak regime resorted to increasingly violent tactics against protesters, resulting in hundreds of injuries and deaths. Mubarak attempted to placate the protesters with concessions, including a pledge to step down at the end of his term in 2011 and the naming of Omar Suleiman as vice president. These token measures could not quell the widespread protests. It took three weeks of mass protests for Mubarak to finally step down. The country was left to be governed by the military.
In late January 2011, following the Jasmine Revolution and the Egyptian uprising, thousands of protestors gathered in Sanaa and many other Yemeni cities to call on the incumbent President ʿAlī ʿAbd Allāh Ṣāliḥ to step down. Pro-democracy slogans reverberated in the country where the people were no longer ready to suffer the oppression of poverty, unemployment and official corruption. Unlike the Egyptian and Tunisian protests, which seemed to have little centralized leadership, protests in Yemen appeared to have been organized and directed by a coalition of Yemeni opposition groups. There was little violence between the protesters and the security forces in Yemen. Salih made several economic concessions, including a reduction in income taxes and an increase in the salaries for government employees. He also promised to not stand for re-election once his term ended in 2013 and vowed that his son would not succeed him in office. The move failed to placate protesters, who noted that Salih had reneged on a previous promise not to seek re-election in 2006. The protests continued till March with violent clashes increasing as time progressed. On March 20 Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, commander of the army’s 1st Armoured Division, announced his support for the opposition and vowed to use his troops to protect the protesters. Attempts at negotiating peace and transfer of power continued till November when Salih finally agreed to transfer power to the Vice President Hadi.
Similar protests also took place in Libya and Syria depicting the inevitability of change. A very popular saying, “you can fool some people all the time and all people at some time but you cannot fool all people all the time,” proved to be true. These uprisings should become a symbol for oppressors all around the world. The ultimate power lies with the people. The day they rise in arms against oppressive regimes, there will be no stopping them.
Picture Credits: Worker’s Movement