The Arab Revolts: Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East

The Arab Revolts: Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East

The Arab Revolts: Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East

The Arab Revolts: Dispatches on Militant Democracy in the Middle East


The 2011 eruptions of popular discontent across the Arab world, popularly dubbed the Arab Spring, were local manifestations of a regional mass movement for democracy, freedom, and human dignity. Authoritarian regimes were either overthrown or put on notice that the old ways of oppressing their subjects would no longer be tolerated. These essays from Middle East Report-the leading source of timely reporting and insightful analysis of the region-cover events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Written for a broad audience of students, policymakers, media analysts, and general readers, the collection reveals the underlying causes of the revolts by identifying key trends during the last two decades leading up to the recent insurrections.


David McMurray and Amanda Ufheil-Somers

On December 17, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, to protest the humiliation and loss of income visited upon him by the Tunisian police. What Bouazizi experienced was a routine act of petty harassment, the kind of indignity suffered daily by thousands of inhabitants across North Africa and the Middle East. But this time they didn’t take it lying down. Spontaneous outbursts of popular support and action by the Tunisian trade union movement turned the tragic event into an insurrection that brought down the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.

Within days of the fall of Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia, Egyptian protesters were filling public spaces in Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria and smaller cities, energized by the news and images pouring in from Tunis. Wildcat strikes, massive protests and occupations of public space brought down the regine of Husni Mubarak on February 11.

News of events in Tunisia reverberated as far away as Sanaa, Yemen where it helped launch protests in January calling for the removal from power of President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih. Youth kept the movement going. They were eventually joined by oppositional political parties. the regime responded violently to the protests using live ammunition and large amounts of tear gas against demonstrators; fifty unarmed demonstrators were killed in Sanaa on one day in March 2011. This hardened the demands of the protesters and alienated a good share of the Yemeni public. Salih managed to hold onto power for another year but—after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt in June 2011—eventually reached an agreement to resign from the presidency and retire to New York, which he did in January 2012.

By February 14, 2011 the events in North Africa had emboldened large segments of the Shi‘i majority in Bahrain who organized mass protests and the occupation of Pearl Square in the capital of Manama. the protesters demanded the implementation of political reforms by the Sunni monarchy that would guarantee political representation and rights to the majority, ending discrimination against the Shi‘a. in the early morning of February 17, soldiers using live ammunition raided the encampment, killing four. the protests swelled in the aftermath of the attack, as pro-government demonstrations were launched in response. On March 14 the Bahraini king declared a national emergency and invited Saudi troops to enter the country and crush the protest movement. a year later, the movement remained in a state of limbo over a year later with pro-government and anti-government forces refusing to talk while state security and anti-government protesters engaged in periodic street battles.

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