The protests and uprising in much of the Arab world have been in the news for sometime now. What happened there? Why did the people suddenly rise up to take a stand and fight?
Tahrir Square in Cairo (Egypt), Benghazi in Libya, the Pearl Square in Bahrain are some place names that many of us are familiar with by now. We read about them in news reports, heard them on television … and how what happened in these places has influenced the world.
… since mid-December 2010, much of the Arab world/West Asia and North Africa have been in the grip of chain wave-like protests. Driven by the young, they have shaken kings, Presidents and leaders. In some instances, governments have been overthrown, most often the result of large and peaceful protests. The causes for this disenchantment have been dictatorships, human rights violations, corruption, economic problems, unemployment and poverty. The people have reacted strongly by resorting to civil disobedience, demonstrations, protest camps, uprisings, strikes, online campaigns and, in some instances, even attempting self-immolation.
Let's take a close look at what has happened and continues to happen even now.
In much of where the protests and uprisings have taken place, educated but unhappy youth have fuelled the events. In large parts of North Africa and the Gulf countries, wealth and power has been in the hands of a few leaders for years on end. Corruption and increasing food prices have played a role as well. As a result, a lot of palpable tension and resentment has been growing among the young. The youth feel their rulers have not been able to meet rising expectations and have failed to govern well. As many of them are educated and remain connected via the internet, it helped spread the deep anger and resentment. A university professor in Oman called it “youthquake”. They were joined by intellectuals, academicians, lawyers and other educated professionals.
When the leaders and rulers attempted to strike back at the protestors by using the police and the army and by censoring the internet, it only succeeded in hastening change.
The protests first began in Tunisia, where a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire protesting “police corruption and ill-treatment”. (The 26-year-old lived in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, and was unemployed though he had a university degree. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he set himself on fire, protesting the alleged harassment and humiliation by municipal officials.) His death, and a few other incidents that followed, led to a chain of mass uprisings that quickly engulfed Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen. The world saw what the people there called “a day of rage”. So far two heads of government have been overthrown. The first to fall was Tunisia's President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali while the second was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. After almost 18 days of dramatic protest at Tahrir Square, the Egyptian people won. Mubarak resigned.
This shook the rest of the region and the kings, in particular, were quick to announce reforms and allowances to the people. The kings have managed to stay while it's the Presidents who have been forced out.
The way the protests were held, their many forms, and their meaning and influence on the rest of the world are what have fascinated the rest of the world.
What happened and where from 2010-2011
Tunisia: Country-wide protests after Mohamed Bouazizi's act of setting himself on fire and his death eventually led to the fall of President Ben Ali and the way ahead for political reforms.
Egypt: Attacks, protests and immolations led to President Hosni Mubarak resigning and major changes in the way the country is ruled. Events here were perhaps the most dramatic of the revolutions.
Algeria: Self-immolations, riots and protests led to the state of emergency being lifted.
Lebanon: Protests and clashes with the police.
Jordan: King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein announced reforms after protests and demonstrations.
Sudan: Protests have led to President Omar al-Bashir announcing that he will not seek a new term in 2015.
Oman: Violence and protests led to the ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, granting economic concessions and making changes in the government.
Yemen: Riots and protests have led to President Ali Abdullah Saleh introducing changes in the government. He may not stand for elections in 2013.
Saudi Arabia: Protests and demonstrations led to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz bin Saud announcing concessions, grants and changes.
Syria: Demonstrations have led to the release of political prisoners and changes in the government.
Morocco: Protests led to King Mohammed VI announcing changes.
Iraq: Riots and protests have led to political changes with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indicating that he may not be running for another term.
Djibouti, Iran, Kuwait, Mauritania, Sahara: Protests have led to minor changes in the governments.
United Arab Emirates: Some intellectuals have asked for reforms including free elections.
Bahrain: Major protests led to King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa announcing some economic and political changes.
Libya: Large-scale revolt and a developing civil war have led to its leader Muammar Qadhafi and his family backed by loyal forces battling rebels. Many of the fierce battles are around the oil- rich centres of the country. The West and some Arab nations are in the process of supporting the rebels.
In almost all these cases, especially in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain, there have been a major loss of lives.
How it affected the world
It showed the world how peaceful and mass protests, especially those by young people, can bring about change. It also showed us the power of Twitter, Facebook, other forms of social media and the internet. In many instances, these helped plan protests and register anger against the way rulers and leaders were trying to suppress uprising.
Most of the world's oil reserves and fields are in the area. The unrest has sent oil prices climbing. There were also worries that the crucial Suez Canal would be affected, which in turn sent crude oil prices soaring. There is also criticism that the West is interested only because of the oil fields. Arab news channel Al Jazeera drew attention for the way it covered the protests. Many Arab governments were unhappy with its coverage. But it helped record change.
Many of these regions employ people from across the world. As unrest grew, especially in Egypt, Libya and West Asia, countries had to arrange for the evacuation of their citizens. India too had to fly out its citizens from these areas. In Libya for instance, almost 15,000 Indian workers, nurses, teachers and professionals were flown back to India. In some instances, the unrest has led to youth fleeing to Europe by boat. In the case of Tunisia and Egypt, many of them left by boat for Italy leading to fears and concern in Europe of a refugee/immigrant crisis. It even led Italy to ask the European Commission for £85 million in aid to help manage the situation. Italy has asked other European countries to help.