5 years post Arab Spring: Where are these 5 countries now?
JAKARTA, Indonesia – 5 years ago, the Arab world was shaken to its core as Egypt’s Tahir Square was practically transformed into a war zone.
Widespread protests marked the moment the Arab Spring spread its wings and flew beyond Tunisia into North Africa and the Middle East – a signal that the uprising was not going to slip by quietly.
Today, Rappler looks at 5 places that has been changed the most by the Arab Spring.
Tunisia: The birthplace of the Arab Spring
On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire protesting confiscation of his fruit and vegetables by police. His suicide sparked hundreds of protesters into days of rioting and looting which quickly became a way for disaffected Tunisian youth to protest high unemployment, corruption and political repression.
On January 15, after weeks of violence and dozens killed, Tunisian President Ben Ali, who had ruled the country since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi became Prime Minister, and dissolved the ruling party. On October 23, 2011, elections were held for the first time, and the moderate Islamist Nahḍah Party won 90 of 217 seats, taking power.
Has Tunisia improved?
Two weeks ago, Ridha Yahyaoui, an unemployed graduate in Kissarine, near Sidi Bouzid, climbed a utility pole and electrocuted himself. Unemployment was around 12% before the revolution – today the World Bank says unemployment is above 15%. It is even worse for young Tunisians, with youth unemployment at 40% and unemployment for university graduates at 32%.
Both Sidi Bouzid and Kissarine still struggle with poverty, and in the wake of Yahyaoui’s death, protests again flared. Over 100 people were reported injured just two weeks ago in violence across the country, and a curfew from 8pm-5am was implemented last week.
Tunisia has also been beset by terrorism attacks over the past 12 months, with 12 members of the Presidential Guard killed by a suicide bomber in November 2015, after which a state of emergency was declared. That attack followed a gunman killing 38 people – including 30 from England – in June last year at a tourist resort in Sousse, and 3 months after 22 were killed at the national museum in Tunis.
Egypt: Where the revolution grew its wings
5 years ago to this day, Egyptian protesters, encouraged by protests in Tunisia, gathered in Tahir Square in Cairo and around the country to disown the 3-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak. A hundred thousand people marched through Cairo calling for regime change, with 2 million reportedly gathering in Tahir Square.
The following two weeks turned Egypt into a “war zone,” as protesters and government supporters clashed around the capital, which included government snipers shooting at the crowd in Tahir Square. Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11, after 18 days of fierce clashes.
The military took over, declared martial law and suspended the constitution “until elections could be held” in late 2011. These elections were not held until June 2012, when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood took power.
However, his government faced fierce opposition, and Morsi was deposed in a military coup in 2013. The military took brutal revenge on the Muslim Brotherhood, stamping down on pro-Morsi demonstrations, including the death of over 800 protesters at the Rabba massacre, and over 1000 in August at the hands of military forces.
Where is the Freedom?
Despite the toil of Egypt’s people, they are still ruled by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the chief of the Egyptian Army, with no sign of democratic elections in sight. Many prominent Egyptians have spoken out, saying the repression is worse than it was in the Mubarak era.
The political opposition in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, had 182 members – including its entire leadership – sentenced to death in June 2014. While the leadership is to be re-trialed this year, over 400 people have died in custody since Sisi took power and CNN reported there were 700 cases of torture in Egypt last year alone.
The bottom of Egypt’s economy has also dropped off in the last 5 years, while inflation is at double digits, growth only at 2.2%, unemployment at 12% and 1 in 4 Egyptians live below the poverty line.
Libya: The first civil war
Two weeks after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, protests began in the eastern city of Benghazi in Libya. Hundreds of people took to the streets to demand the release of a human-rights activist. However, the protests eventually spun into a civil war between rebels and the forces of President Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled for 42 years.
The violence escalated, and NATO forces instigated a no-fly zone over Libya, while rebels called for the international community to assassinate Gaddafi. NATO began air strikes against Gaddafi on 19 March 2011. By August, rebels had taken control of much of the country, and marched in Tripoli, the capital. By the 26th of August, Gaddafi had lost power and the National Transitional Council – the political arm of the rebel group – moved to Tripoli.
The government that wasn’t
Rebel forces continued to hunt for Gaddafi, and he was eventually killed in his home town of Sirte. After Gaddafi’s death, without opposition, the rebels splintered. What then followed was the disintegration of Libya, as warlords and tribes formed factions in the deserts, and the TNC in Tripoli lost control of the country.
Since then, Libya has been split between the democratically elected Council of Deputies controlling the east of the country, based in Tobruk, while the New General National Congress – a bloc formed by politicians who lost the elections in 2014 – control the west. The Islamic State claims territory between the two and operate in the region, recently attacking an oil refinery, and Taureg groups control the east, as well as southern parts of Algeria and northern Mali. Fighting still continues between these groups, and tens of thousands of Libyans are displaced.
Yemen: The forgotten child
On February 25, 2011, as part of the Day of Rage across the Middle East, more than a hundred thousand people protested across Yemen, including 30,000 in the capital Sana’a, against the 32-year reign of President Abdullah Saleh. Protests continue across the country for the next two years, but are widely ignored by the international media in light of the rest of the Arab world.
In 2014 Houthi rebels took control of Sana’a after a dispute over a new constitution, and the President fled to Aden in the south. The country quickly spiraled into chaos, with both al-Qaeda and ISIS starting terrorist attacks, and ISIS killing over 130 people in March.
Iran has been accused of backing the Houthi rebels with funds and munitions (their government denies it), while Saudi Arabia invaded the north of the country, supporting the President. The Saudis have been accused of using cluster bombs on civilians, and nearly 3000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Syria: The second civil war
Uprisings in Syria began in 2011, when protests from the Arab Spring begain in Syrian towns. However, on March 15, the government met these protests with force – arresting, beating and firing on protesters. From there, rebel groups acquired weapons and ammunition, and began fighting against the government. Prominent groups include the Assad government, ISIS, the Turkish Peshmerga, Free Syrian Army and the al-Nursa Front, but many more fight under different guises.
The bloodiest revolution
250,000 people have been killed and more than half of the country has been displaced. 55,000 people were killed in the Syrian conflict last year, and entire cities have been flattened. Russia has been accused of taking out attacks on civilian targets, and chemical weapons have been used in the conflict. – Rappler.com