The Arab Spring began in late 2010 and has engulfed the Middle East. This movement was a series of progressively larger events that started out small and grew into something much larger. Arabs had felt repressed by brutal dictators and monarchies for decades and this may have been the precursor. The anger at police and government corruption spilled out onto the streets and led to extreme reforms and entirely new governments. Many believe the flashpoint was in Tunisia when street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 after having his goods stolen by police and being humiliated by a government official for refusing to pay a bribe. This led to the Tunisian Revolution, after which President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to step down from power after 23 years holding the rein. He and his family faced many criminal charges and subsequently fled the nation.
After Ben Ali stepped down, the fervor had already spread elsewhere. Egypt now found itself in the midst of a full on revolution. After 18 days of huge protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down February 11, 2011 and was later put on trial for past crimes. The beloved military of Egypt stepped in to temporarily fill this power vacuum. This only further emboldened Arab’s in the region, many of whom had only dreamed of freedom before and now they saw their chance for real reform. The emotions on the streets and the expressions were truly remarkable for the Middle East. Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood would end up winning a democratic election, only to later be expelled by the military once again and eventually Abdel Fattah el-Sisi would become president.
Due to these events, there was a civil war in Libya. There was fierce fighting in and around the capitol city of Tripoli and Benghazi. This war too started with protests, on or around February 15, 2011. Muammar Gaddafi had ruled with an iron fist for 41 years. He quickly tried to violently crush the insurrection. He was later forced to withdraw to Bani Walid, his birthplace Sirte, and other strongholds around Libya where he still had loyal supporters. The United States, along with the United Nations and the international community quickly condemned the actions of Gaddafi and imposed sanctions. Eventually even UN warplanes and missiles were used to aid the rebel forces in battling pro Gaddafi forces. The rebels set up the National Transitional Council and were recognized by most foreign nations as the legitimate Libyan government. Muammar Gaddafi was eventually killed near Sirte. Many weapons caches were lost during this civil war, including radioactive material, and heat seeking shoulder fired missile launchers. These materials could have wound up in the hands of terrorists. There is still unrest in Libya with ISIS/ISIL trying to expand.
Bahrain saw an uprising in 2011 as well. There were massive student and civilian demonstrations demanding government reforms and more freedom. Yemen also saw an uprising of its own. These two uprisings did not lead to a government overthrow but led to vast changes. Possibly the most controversial consequences of all this came out of Syria. Protests started in Damascus and then spread to other regions. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violently fought back against the protesters and many were killed. The international community did not come to the aid of the protesters in this nation like they had in Libya and elsewhere. Many viewed this as a double-standard and hypocritical. This may be due to the fact that al-Assad has the backing of the United States and most Western governments as being a strategic balance in the region and helping in the War on Terror against al-Qaeda.
Israel, who was used to being able to deal with only one ruler in these nations, now has to deal with all of the people of these nations who now have democratic reform. This could have good and bad consequences and long lasting effects. Not long after this uprising, Israel was responding to a terrorist rocket attack from Hamas that had originated in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Israel attack aircraft accidentally killed a group of Egyptian soldiers. This sort of thing had happened many times in the past, with very few repercussions. However, this time things were different. The people in Cairo literally stormed the Israeli Embassy and set fire to it. Not long after this, the Palestinian National Authority made a bid for statehood at the United Nations. The United States and Israel strongly condemned the move, saying that long last peace agreements must first be made before such a move could be considered. Israel even made a deal with Hamas to return kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. He had been held prisoner since 2006 in the Gaza Strip or possibly South Lebanon through Hezbollah. Israel was pressured into releasing over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for his safe return, many of whom had previously been convicted of murdering Israeli citizens. There were also clashes between Muslim and Christian groups throughout Egypt during the transition of power. The security law that had been in place under Hosni Mubarak was at times reinstated. No one knew how the nation would transition from a now military state to a full-fledged democracy. Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist or extreme groups could now openly and actively operate or run for office, but were later banned again. Some analysts worried about the danger of Islamic states cropping up throughout the region, or the establishment of a Caliphate.
Many other Arab nations gave into protesters concessions in order to appease the people and prevent an all-out revolution. In Saudi Arabia, long lasting women’s rights were promised. Women will now be able to vote and run for political office in Saudi Arabia in 2015 (although as of 2012 they still cannot drive cars). Almost all Arab nations changed some of their strict policies. Some believe that these revolutions even inspired protests in England. Huge riots broke out in London from August 6, to August 10, 2011. Many of the protesters were Arab immigrants and were demanding better treatment from law enforcement and increased equality. They felt disenfranchised by the majority population in the UK. After these protests there were even protests in America and throughout Europe demanding fair wages and better income equality. They felt the gap between the rich and the poor was too much and the middle class was shrinking and disappearing. They started out labeled Occupy Wall Street and they grew from there. Even China was worried about the occurrences of the Arab Spring. They were worried about a Tiananmen Square style demonstration happening again. Iran was also worried because they had a similar style of uprising sprout up in Tehran and throughout Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected back into office in 2009. The protesters were mostly in favor of opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. They felt that the elections were unfairly rigged in favor of the status quo in Iran. The current Islamic Republic in Iran itself is the result of a revolution that occurred in 1979.
1) What are the implications for the region because of the Arab Spring? How is it likely to shape and balance the political landscape for years to come? Explain.
2) How can and will the Arab Spring affect the rest of the world for the foreseeable future? Explain.
3) List and explain some of the positive influences to derive from the Arab Spring. (Give at least 3)
4) List and explain some of the negative outcomes of the Arab Spring. Feel free to list even hypothetical outcomes that could possibly crop up in the future. (Give at least 3)
5) What were the long-term causes of the Arab Spring? Did the causes immediately precede the events of the Arab Spring, or alternatively, had the causes been occurring over a very long period of time? Explain.
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