The Decade of Arab Spring: A Retrospective Outlook Into Democratic Imperatives and Western Imperialism

The term ‘Arab Spring’ was given to the series of anti-government protests, rebellions, and people’s uprisings that took place in the early 2010's in the regions of the Middle East and North Africa. It has been a long decade since the Arab Spring as it has entailed a rather mixed legacy. Be it the civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria or the democratic shift in Tunisia. With civil wars turning into behemoth proxy wars, constant military intervention by global geopolitical interests, and the ongoing regional agitations, the Arab Spring has led to a lot of complicated dissonances. Internal displacements and a widespread influx of refugees has also led to a global refugee crisis. Let us trace these legacies in detail.

The Tunisian Revolution

Also popularly known as the Jasmine Revolution, the Tunisian Revolution was a 28-day long civil resistance ousting the then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. An intensive series of street demonstrations led to a thorough democratisation of the country through free and democratic elections. There were a lot of factors which contributed to this mass agitation, namely unemployment rates, corruption, food inflation, poor living conditions and little to no political freedoms. 

The protests were sudden due to the most extreme lengths of protesting one can imagine - self-immolation. On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself to death willingly as an act of extreme agitation. He was a 26-year-old vendor who was treated badly by some local officers, and he made the decision to self-immolate. This, of course, catalysed an entire movement throughout the country. The government of Tunisia tried its best to end the unrest by using violence on the street demonstrations and issuing economic concessions. The protests couldn’t be halted, and eventually, this led to an overwhelming of the security forces and compelled Ben Ali to step down and flee away to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011. In October of 2011, Tunisians participated in a free and democratic election to choose the members of a council which drafted a new constitution. The new democratically elected president and prime minister took oath in December, 2011. A new constitution came into effect in January, 2014. It is the first country to have gotten a peaceful transfer of power from one democratic government to another in 2019 due to the Arab Spring protests, making it the most successful story of the Arab Spring yet. 

The Egyptian Revolution of 2011

Also known popularly as the 25 January Revolution, for that was a day on which various youth groups decided to revolt against the Egyptian government of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak. This was done on the ‘police holiday’ because of the increasing instances of police brutality in Egypt. It invoked demonstrations, marches, occupancies, civil resistance, acts of civil disobedience and strikes throughout the country. There were millions of protestors from different socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds united to demand an overthrow of President Mubarak. By January 28, Tahrir Square (also known as the Liberation Square) became the crucible of relentless demands for Egypt. Within two weeks of all the demonstrations, it set the bed for Mubarak's end. The then US President Barack Obama withdrew his support from the Egyptian leader and showed solidarity with the revolutionaries who were forgoing their lives to end Mubarak's 30-year-long rule. 

Military forces sparked violent clashes against the protestors and resulted in the death of 846 people and injured around 6,000 people! The protestors in retaliation burned down 90 police stations across the country! On February 11, the day Mubarak resigned, an Egyptian activist Nancy Okail exclaimed that the days to come would be a pedestal for a seamless transition to democracy. During the uprising, Cairo was described as a "war zone". After the revolution resulting in Mubarak stepping down, Egypt saw a period of rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and then it saw the Muslim Brotherhood take power through a series of popular elections. Eventually, Egyptians elected Islamist Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in June 2012.

The Non-Domino Effect

An overly difficult yet successful revolution in two predominantly ruled-upon states led to protest movements in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria in the first three months of 2011. However, as we now know it, their protests turned bloody and insurmountably gory as dictatorial regimes overpowered opposition groups. This only strengthened its dictators as authoritarianism has a tighter grip on its people than ever, and its people have been traumatised by their struggles for too long now. Bashar al-Assad and his brutal retaliation have turned Syria into a human slaughterhouse. 

Even after a decade of civil unrest overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, it is a state whose struggle with authority precipitated the outbreak of a civil war in 2014. In Yemen, when Ali Abdullah Saleh was protested out of the state, he returned after four months unexpectedly and stirred the country with increased confusion about the political future of Yemen. Even after Hadi took over control in Yemen after being the sole candidate in the February 2012 elections, he was unable to maintain a stable state. As increasing state opposition and armed rebellion took over, Yemen devolved into a civil war. Today it is the victim of the largest humanitarian crisis in history, and still suffers as a nation overruled by foreign powers like Saudi Arabia. 

Bahrain, at the end of March 2011, demanded political and economic reforms by human rights activists. Aftermath of which saw protest leaders being imprisoned for being allies to anti-government activities, hundreds of suspected Shi’i workers being fired from their jobs and their mosques being demolished. In various other countries like Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Oman, rulers offered a myriad of concessions to pro-democratic movements in order to not emulate the results of all the other bloodied movements in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring ignited an interconnected yet unique democratic movement throughout these countries to end authoritarian corruption and reinstate a democratic civil life. A decade after a spark, these demonstrations and people’s voices are still being perpetuated even after challenges like the coronavirus pandemic. In February of 2019, Algerian protests toppled the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In April 2019, Sudan’s military halted the 30-year-long rule of President Omar al-Bashir. Countries like Iraq and Lebanon, so deeply divided, put up massive demonstrations demanding the government’s accountability towards major national crises in 2019-2020.  Observers have also come to refer to this phase of protests as the second Arab Spring. While tyranny has little to no end, the Arab Spring made these small dictatorial states believe in the power of unison and its effects in turning around their countries’ fates.


Saachi Gupta Ghosh

A keen Journalism undergraduate from Delhi University, continually striving to learn and explore. I like to read, write, and contribute to the society in a way that leaves a profound and lasting impression. Provoke thought, and incite change!

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