Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Roots and Causes of the 2011 Arab Uprisings

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Roots and Causes of the 2011 Arab Uprisings

Article excerpt


This research article attempts to scrutinize the nature and causes of the Arab uprisings which took people by surprise globally throughout 2011 and into 2012. The article argues that the repressive, violent nature of the Arab regimes and their suppression of individual liberties against a backdrop of ongoing corruption and deterioration of the economy have been among the major factors leading to the Arab revolts. In addition, the article attempts to answer the query: why were the two repressive regimes of Tunisia and Egypt so quick to come undone, whereas dismantling the Libyan regime took much longer? Finally, the article tries to develop a causation analysis as to why the Arab regimes of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman, and Sudan have not faced major political protest.

Keywords: Arab uprisings, security apparatus, liberal democracy, NATO, Muslim Brotherhood, protests

Nature and Character of the 2011 Arab Uprisings

The Arab uprisings represent a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that swept the Arab world.1 The Uprisings were sparked by the first protests that occurred in Tunisia on December 18, 2010 following Mohammed Bouazizi's selfimmolation in protest of police corruption and ill-treatment. Within a year, this wave left major changes in its wake: revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that culminated in the downfall of these two regimes; a civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of its regime; civil uprisings in Syria and Yemen; major protests in Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Iraq, and minor protests in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. In all of these Arab countries, the protests have taken the form of sustained campaigns involving thousands of ordinary citizens using the same techniques of civil resistance: strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies. Particularly pivotal to the protest process as well has been the use of social media to organize, communicate, raise awareness, and issue danger alerts among the thousands of protestors in the face of state attempts at repression, internet censorship, crowd control, and even physical attack to the point of protestors being beaten or shot point blank.2 Many of the demonstrations in the Arab Spring have met violent responses from authorities, as well as from pro-government militias and counter-demonstrators.3

Amajor slogan of the demonstrators in these uprisings has been Ash-sha 'byurid isqat an-nizam: "The people want to bring down the regime."4 With the success of protests in Tunisia, a wave of unrest struck Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and then spread to other countries. The largest, most organized demonstrations occurred on appointed "days of rage," most commonly on Fridays, following afternoon prayers.5

By October 2011, the Arab uprisings which had begun eleven months earlier in Tunisia had resulted in the dramatic overthrow of three heads of state. After 24 years in power, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 following revolutionary protests.6 In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak resigned7 on February 11, 2011 after 18 days of massive protests, ending his 30-year presidency. Long-standing Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi was killed on October 20, 2011 after his last stronghold, Serrt was stormed by the National Transitional Council's army8

During this period of regional unrest several leaders dealt with demands that they depart by initially announcing their willingness to step down, not immediately, but at the end of their current term. Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir announced that he would not seek re-election in 20 15,9 as did Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose term ends in 20 14,10 although there have been increasingly violent demonstrations demanding the latter's immediate resignation. Protests in Jordan have also caused the resignation of the government resulting in Aoun Al-Kasawneh being appointed prime minister and tasked with forming a new government by King Abdullah. …

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