Arab Spring: Update On The Middle East
The historic uprisings currently taking place across the Middle East are now being dubbed “Arab Spring,” a term first used in 2005 by U.S. media to describe how turmoil in the region would be the “flowering of Western-friendly democracies.” Fast forward to today and the change unfolding like a domino effect in various Arab countries is truly unprecedented.
Keeping up with ’round-the-clock news updates can be a little overwhelming, so here’s an update on each of the main countries:
The Tunisian Revolution (or Jasmine Revolution) began on December 17 last year after Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian man, set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office after being beat by police for not having a permit for his street cart. The incident triggered protests across the country from citizens fed up with not only their living standards, but police violence, rampant unemployment and a basic lack of human rights. Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has been in power since 1987 but was ousted as leader earlier this month and replaced with interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, who just announced officials who served in Ben Ali’s party are barred from running or voting in the country’s upcoming July elections; elections that will decide a council responsible for rewriting the constitution and chart the country’s post-revolution transition. According to TV network Al Jazeera, at least 219 people were killed in the uprising against Ben Ali, with another 500 injured.
Egypt’s citizens wasted no time in following their fellow North Africans’ footsteps to freedom. Young men and women answered the call to action with a huge demonstration on January 25, when thousands converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanded President Hosni Mubarak be removed from office after almost 30 years. Unintentional leaders like Google executive Wael Ghonim emerged from the madness, urging a peaceful movement broadcast by social media channels like Facebook. As the world watched closely, Egypt’s population of 12 million people (with Muslims and Christians often united in protest) ousted their longtime leader who’s now been indicted (the trial, however, is being constantly delayed for health or political or other reasons).
The uprising in Libya became violent instantly when the Libyan government reacted harshly towards peaceful protests. On February 18, three days after the protests began, the country erupted into armed conflict when protesters executed policemen and men loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for their savage killing of protesters. Gaddafi has been in power since 1969, making him the longest-serving ruler in Africa and the Middle East. Throughout the recent protests, Gaddafi continues to hold onto power. According to Al Jazeera, “critics dismissed his leadership as a military dictatorship, accusing him of repressing civil society and ruthlessly crushing dissident.” The move to attack civilians has cost Gaddafi many of his close advisors and military, including public rebuking from the U.S. and other countries, and Reuters reports soldiers are defecting to support protesters because they refuse to shoot their own people.
Protests for democracy erupted in Bahrain on February 14. The movement, like many of the others, began online. Almost 30 people have been killed since the beginning of the protests and according to Reuters, “Bahrain has stepped up arrests of cyber activists and Shi’ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since it launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.” The protesters are calling for more political freedom amongst other causes. On April 5, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad butted in and joined the fray, calling for Saudi troops on the ground to leave protesters alone and leave Bahrain altogether, “where they are helping a Sunni monarchy put down a Shi’ite-led protest movement demanding equal rights and a political voice.”
All eyes are currently on Syria, as President Bashar al-Assad fights to stay in power. As CNN reports, “Assad’s tumultuous, 11-year rule—and the political experiment of modernization that it entailed—has proved to be a total failure. With the cycle of ever-increasing protests met by regime violence and then more funerals intensifying in all areas of the country, it is time for Assad to consider his future.” When Assad was voted in as President back in 2000, there were hopes he’d be the catalyst for modernization and democracy in Syria; fast forward over 10 years later and the country has upheld human rights and the rights of minorities, experienced constant political unrest and is now seeing its youth population (counted at 60 percent) dying for their freedom, with hundreds of protesters killed thus far.
Southern Yemen appears to be the hot spot in battles between protesters and the Yemeni military. Demonstrations against a defiant President Ali Abdullah Saleh continue, with soldiers and civilians being killed and wounded daily. An agreement drafted by several Gulf nations for Saleh to step down is now in place; it’s only a matter of time until a new government is assembled in the Gulf nation.