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Middle East

The ‘Arab Spring’ a decade on

December 17, 2020

The 10 years of the uprisings sparked in 2010 have brought many Arab countries to the edge of the abyss. The worst may be yet to come if the Biden administration takes expected steps in the interests of of Iran.

(December 17, 2020 / BESA Center) On Dec. 17, 2010, in a small provincial town in Tunisia, a young man named Muhammad Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against a slap he had received from a policewoman for running an unauthorized vegetable stand in an effort to make a living. His friends launched demonstrations against the corrupt government of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, and those protests spread rapidly to Tunis, the capital.

Al Jazeera beamed the demonstrations across the airwaves nonstop, prompting more and more Tunisians to join them in a mounting tide. After about a month of massive protests, the president fled with his wife and children to political exile in Saudi Arabia.

Starting in Jan. 2011, the demonstrations spread to Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania and even Saudi Arabia and Oman. In most of these states, they subsided, or were suppressed, through foreign intervention like that of Saudi Arabia in Bahrain. In Syria, Libya and Yemen, however, the bloody domestic strife has continued to this day, while drawing armed foreign intervention.

Egypt has undergone major regime changes—including a year of Muslim Brotherhood rule—and these changes further afflicted the already ailing economy. Tunisia has vacillated between opposing civic forces, from political Islam to liberalism of a European hue.

At the outset, the demonstrators’ main goal was to do away with the oppression and corruption of the reigning regimes, unemployment, poverty, ignorance, social marginalization and the general contempt state authorities showed their citizens. The bitter reality in most Arab states contrasted starkly with the situation in the Gulf monarchies, Europe and America, to which the masses were now exposed, thanks to the media, satellite channels and social media, most of all Facebook.

Al Jazeera, which was launched at the end of 1996, had become a media jihad outlet representing the Muslim Brotherhood, and it spread the fervor of the demonstrations and the revolt against the authorities from country to country. The Arab world at the end of 2010 was like a powder keg with Al Jazeera lighting sparks all around it. Bouazizi was the spark that ignited the masses.

Countries that had been at the forefront of pan-Arabism for many years—Syria, Libya and Iraq (where the turmoil began in 2003)—descended into civil war, and their heterogeneous populations are still struggling for survival to this day. The Arab League, the organization that used to represent the “Arab nation” to the world, while playing a conciliating and mediating role within the Arab domain, has fallen into total paralysis.

When regimes cease to be effective and anarchy prevails, whoever is able to flee does so as quickly as possible. Millions of Arabs have emigrated to whatever country in the world will take them in. College-educated people, academics, engineers, doctors and those in the liberal professions went abroad to find quiet, safe environments for themselves and their families. Millions of emigrants went to Turkey, Europe and elsewhere, leaving their native countries without the ability to rebuild themselves.

At the same time, the most dangerous actors, those who had been subjugated but were awaiting an opportunity to rise to the surface, now emerged into full view: namely, the radical Islamic organizations spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood madrassas, particularly al-Qaeda and its offshoots. They gained legitimacy for themselves by remorselessly battling—that is, waging jihad against—the cruel, corrupt regimes.

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