10 Years after the Arab Springs

Giovanni Sale, SJ

 Giovanni Sale, SJ / Islam / 7 July 2021

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The Insurrections of the Arab Spring

The uprisings that engulfed the Arab world in the winter and spring of 2011 were some of the most important historical events of recent times. The first began on December 17, 2010, following the protest of a young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in front of the seat of government in Sidi Bouzid, following repeated mistreatment by the local police. The gesture was full of symbolic value and triggered the so-called “Jasmine Revolution.” For several weeks thousands of young people took to the streets in various locations in Tunisia, demonstrating against the government and its abuses and demanding dignity, democracy and work.

In previous years, the same squares had seen the so-called “bread protests,” for religious or nationalistic reasons, with demonstrators shouting anti-American or anti-Israel slogans, protests that were immediately repressed by the police. Within a few months, given the encouraging results obtained in a short time in Tunisia with the deposition of President Ben Ali (January 14, 2011), these protests spread like wildfire to almost half of the 22 countries of the Arab League. Political observers highlighted two core factors in these demonstrations: they were “uprisings,” spontaneous civil protests, initially without a leader organizing them; and at the same time they were “revolutions,” because, unlike previous protests, they aspired to completely change the systems of government and the relations between the State and citizens.[1]

These revolutions took on different forms and courses, depending on the countries involved, to the point that historians no longer speak of “Arab Spring” in the singular, but of “Arab Springs.” However, from Tunisia to Libya, passing through Egypt and Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, the demonstrations, which at the beginning were peaceful and united, later – due to the intervention of internal and foreign factors and political actors who exploited them for their own aims – had disastrous results, giving rise to particularly bloody conflicts, as happened in Syria, Libya and Yemen.[2]

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