12. Arab Spring
Our most final famous protest is our most recent and, arguably, is still ongoing. The revolutions that broke out in the Arab World in late 2010 have defined the last decade or so of history, with regime changes and the fallout from the mass protests still being felt in the region and beyond.
Like so many of our protests, the Arab Spring began with the actions of just one individual and ballooned into mass movements that changed the face of society. The small individual that sparked the revolutions – quite literally, in this case – was Mohamed Bouazizi. A Tunisian street vendor who had been targetted by police and unable to sell his wares, he burned himself to death in front of the local governor’s office in the town of Sidi Bouzid. Protests against his treatment were instant and after weeks of solid demonstrations, the autocratic President of Tunisia was forced to flee after 23 years in power.
It was just the beginning. Demonstrations in neighboring Egypt began, with hundreds of thousands filling Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak. Within three weeks, the power of the streets had spoken and Mubarak, who had been in charge of the North African nation for 30 years, had left the country. Nearly 900 people were killed in clashes between protesters and government forces, but eventually, the regime fell.
No sooner was Mubarak forced into exile than protests had begun in Libya, where strongman Muammar Gaddafi had been dictator since 1969. His hold on power weakened but was not totally overthrown: a civil war began between the opposition and government forces that would result in Gaddafi’s eventual demise in August of 2011 when he was killed by rebels in the city of Sirte.
As the war raged in Libya, a similar conflagration had begun in Syria, where President Bashar Al-Assad and his Ba’ath Party had held power since the early 1960s. Again, the war in Syria had begun as street protests demanding more democracy, economic reform and anti-corruption reforms, but in Syria, the waters would become murkier and murkier. The government reacted violently to protests and sparked the war, but after 6 and a half years, the situation has deteriorated and diversified into a conflict with multiple parties and no end in sight, not to mention a huge refugee crisis and untold misery.
The biggest political issues of our time – refugees, terrorism, lack of democracy, energy economics – do not stem from the Arab Spring, but the injection of local protests into the autocracies of the region has completely transfigured the way that we see the Middle East and North African region and cannot be underestimated.
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