Documentation:Open Case Studies/GRSJ306/Arab Spring

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What is the "Arab Spring"?

The Arab Spring refers to the uprisings that occurred in the Middle East during the Spring and Summer of 2011. These demonstrations occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Jordan. Democratization usually occurs in geographical clusters, due to the shared culture and language. Grand discusses the transmission of democratic ideals in geographic regions, "When one country overthrows a dictator, citizens in other countries that share a common language—or at least commonalities in language and culture—are more likely to hear about it, view the example provided by their neighbor as relevant to their own condition, and feel empowered to take action because of it. Improvements in communications technologies have only accelerated these effects."

Grand notes "Up until the Arab Spring, not a single Arab regime could be said to be fully democratic." [1] Grand also notes that other Arab nations had begun, as he states a "volatile democratic experiment", such as the Palestinian government in the West Bank calling for a parliamentary election in 2006. [2] Though we must be critical of Grand's perspective as he often promotes the Arab Spring as an imperialist opportunity for America. [3]

According to most sources the Arab Spring began on December 17, 2010 in Tunisia after a fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated as a result of conflict with the police and governmental authorities. His frustrations began when Bouazizi's cart, and his goods were confiscated by police, who then begun to berate and harass him. He went to file a complaint at a government building but was met with many clerical roadblocks and later returned to the building and self-immolated outside in protest.[4] Widespread uprisings heightened and continued into 2011 in other countries in the MENA region. Discontent with politics--particularly social and economic conditions--were a shared, primary source of frustration among protesters. As with many global social movements, disenfranchisement was the catalyst that begun widespread protest and created commonality with people from all walks of life.

Origins and Etymology of "Arab Spring"

The usage of the term "spring" to describe uprisings was reportedly first used to discuss political progressivism to describe the 1848 revolutions in Germany and France.[5] The term "Arab Spring," though some view it as problematic (see for more), has been popularized through its usage by western scholars, journalists and via social media to describe a sudden collective rise in democratic consciousness of people living in the MENA region. The term "Arab Spring" was reportedly first used by American conservative commentators in 2005 to describe flowering movements or what they called the beginning of the 'democracy project' of the Middle East.[6] The earliest reference to the "Arab Spring" in 2011 was from an article written by Marc Lynch for Foreign Policy, who questioned if what we were seeing was the beginnings of the Obama administration's equivalent of the 2005 spring.[7]

Alternate Terms

"Arab Spring" was not necessarily used by demonstrators, choosing stronger language. According to Khouri, many Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, Bahraini and Yemenis used "revolution" (thawra in Arabic) to describe their own political actions and "revolutions" (thawrat) to describe collective Arab actions across the MENA. Nouns "uprising" (infitada), "awakening" (sahwa) and "renaissance" (nahda) were also used--language drawing on the collective action against Ottoman and European rule in the early 20th century.[8]


The Arab Spring was caused by a diverse set of causes including government repression, overseas communication, economic failure (specifically the failure of Arab economies in providing economic opportunities for youth), and changes in information technologies that made it possible and easier for revolutionaries to organize support for the spread of their ideas and protests. The authoritarian governments that had come into power following the decolonization of the MENA region, could be seen as the core of much of the modern discontent. President Gamal Abdel Nasser was the Egyptian president from 1956 until his death in 1970, advocated heavily for Arab sovereignty, and created a centralization of power in Egypt, and created many of the failing social institutions that were ultimately rebelled against. Nasser and his regime structured the government in such a way that power was incredibly centralized. It remained as such until the uprisings set out to challenge the imbalance of power. [9]

Spread of The Movement and Uprisings

Many cite the beginning of the Arab Spring with Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian man, lighting himself on fire in front of a government building. Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation was also emulated by other Tunisians, such as Sidi Bouzid, another young jobless man who shouted "no for misery, no for unemployment" just prior to climbing up an electricity pole.[10] While these instances were key demonstrations to the uprising and spread of the movements under the Arab Spring, the demonstrations were not intended to be strategic in themselves as they were committed out of longstanding frustration.

Strategies Employed

Social Media

Technology, and access to information assisted in the uprisings. Its usages helped facilitate the dissemination of information, including photos, videos and information in real time.

In Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco, groups of predominantly young people launched the uprisings, and their use of social networking media for cyberactivism was an important factor in the success of their mobilizations. One of the most well-known images of the Arab Spring that resonate with us is the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, who resorted to such demonstrations to protest the political repression and bleak economic situation in Tunisia after he had his cart confiscated by the police because he did not have a license to operate. Bouazizi's message was spread nationally and internationally due to the effects of both conventional and social media (i.e. Al Jazeera and Facebook, respectively).[11] The effects of social media are emphasized in a comparison between the extensive awareness of Bouazizi's self-immolation demonstration in Sidi Bouzid and of a very similar case in Monastir three months prior to Bouazizi's protest. Virtually no one was even aware of the self-immolation demonstration in Monastir because it was not filmed or spread around on social media, and because the self-immolation of Bouazizi was posted on Facebook, the demonstration that took place in a small town was circulated beyond its geographical perimeters and triggered mass protests.[12]

The success of social media in the spread of social movements also depends on its usership. Protests in 2008 in Tunisia did not gain much traction despite the employment of social media strategies, and this is arguably atttributed to the low number of Facebook users (only 28,000 at the time in Tunisia), and thus the low media penetration. By the time of the revolution in 2011, however, the number of Facebook users had grown to about two million.[13] With increased social media usership of both Facebook and Twitter, activists were able to publicize their protests. An Egyptian activist during the revolution emphasized the importance of social media as a tool by tweeting, "we use Facebook to schedule protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world," and for this reason, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are sometimes referred to as the "Facebook or Twitter revolutions."[14] The importance and significance of new technology and social media to the spread of the Arab Spring movements is highlighted in activists' efforts to facilitate peoples' access to computers and the Internet. When the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shut down the Internet in Iran for twenty hours and heavily filtered the Internet thereafter once the they realized the widespread use of the Internet by activists in advancing their protests, Iranian activists used whatever means they could to get their message out. People in neighbouring countries set up their computers as proxies so that Iranian citizens could access the Internet through them and get around the security set up by the Iranian goverment, and Internet hacking groups such as Anonymous Iran also helped citizens circumvent Iran's security measures [15]

The employment of social media was not just a phenomenon seen in Tunisia and Egypt during the uprisings of the Arab Spring, as activists in Morocco also used Youtube and Facebook to their advantage. The Moroccan Oppositionist Youth Movement primarily used Facebook to organize public protests and Youtube as a vehicle for political expression, where they pushed for the need of a more democratic and equal society that allows for greater freedom of expression and economic opportunities[16] Some of the videos on such opinions are voiced by members of the Moroccan Oppositionst Youth movement and can still be found on Facebook.

In the face of the widespread excitement about the empowering potential of social media, dissonant academic voices have however questioned the assumptions that underlie this sentiment. Drawing on data-based analysis of social media usage in the Egyptian uprisings contra Mubarak, Hanan Badr puts forward a conceptualization of the Internet as a “Fifth Estate”. From this viewpoint, Internet-based social media “enhance the communicative power of citizens and other institutions”. However, to claim that, on these grounds, their use necessarily and independently leads to democratic improvements–such as inclusion, accessibility of information, deliberation, and orientation towards the public good–risks to precipitate people in a “utopian or dystopian determinism”. From this viewpoint, the empowering potential of social media is thus not a guarantee of democratization. Rather, its revolutionary potential lies in its capacity to provoke "a changing pattern of governance across multiple sectors”.[17]

Mass Protests

The spread of uprisings of the Arab Spring varied in the MENA countries due to the differences in economic, political, and environmental factors, the nature of the ruling regime, and the degree of societal civility in each country. The significance of mass protests, both in terms of the Arab Spring and democracy, lies in the fact that mass protests promote inclusiveness and challenges towards social, political, and/or economic injustices. Mass protests are more often seen in liberal democracies, and rarely in autocratic governments. The protests seen in the movements under what we know as the Arab Spring depict the strategic use of the masses to unseat autocratic strongmen. Whether or not the movements in their respective countries are successful in achieving democracy, they have at least opened the door to the possibility for the emergence of new political elites. Studies also show that when autocratic regimes are ousted by mass-led protests and revolts, there is a greater possibility for a new type of political system following the previous regime than when autocratic leaders exit via insider-led reasons.[18]

In mid-March of 2011, a group of 14 youth in Dara'a, Syria, drew anti-government graffiti saying "the people want the downfall of the regime," and were consequently arrested. In response to the government's actions, local activists participated in public demonstrations in opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and demanded the release of those youth, marking the beginnings of the series of demonstrations that quickly spread across Syria.[19] Syrian activists also marched through Dara'a after Friday prayers on March 18, but their efforts were met with security forces that responded with violence.[20]

In Egypt, protests and demonstrations were taken to the streets by large numbers of people from what seemed to be a social mix that is rarely seen in Egypt. Close to 100,000 people marched into Cairo's Tahrir Square. Protesters of different ages, genders, and social statuses were united by the sense instilled by the revolution [21] These mass protests that represent such a large demographic was a strategic choice as repressive governments are usually prepared to deal with violent insurgencies comprised of young, able-bodied men, but find difficulty in countering such forms of massive uncooperation in the face of individuals of all different ages, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds.[22]

The citizens of Yemen were inspired by the movements that took place in Tunisia and Egypt and organized their own mass protests, which are sometimes referred to as the "Anti-president Protest." About sixteen thousand demonstrators took part in the protest in the streets of Sanaa, and demanded an end to president Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule.[23]

The March of Loyalty to Martyrs was a protest in Bahrain that was held on February 22, 2011, and was one of the biggest protests following the beginnings of the Bahraini uprising. Protesters marched for several miles, from Manama's Bahrain Mall to Pearl Square, carrying large banners that read "The march of loyalty to martyrs" and featured pictures of protesters who were killed during previous protests.[24] The estimated tens of thousands of protesters that were present pressed for political reform and the fall of the government.

Civil Society Structures

"Civil society" generally refers to organizations and social relations independent of the government, and usually entails associations that people belong to for social and political reasons. Although they are independent of the government, they frequently engage in political issues and can help support revolutions or influence governmental decision making. While similar to mass protests in the sense that groups of people are gathered and united by similar, if not the same, values and aims, civil society structures are a more physical manifestation of such voices and can often achieve group goals in a more focused manner.

The creation of civil society structures are seen in Syria, where dissidents created the Syrian National Council. The Syrian National Council aims to address human rights issues in Syria, to defend the Syrian people's demands and rights, and to push for a democratically elected government.[25] Further, the council realizes the aspirations of the Syrian people and aims to support protesters of the Syrian revolution, and worked with representatives from various other groups. Such groups include the Damascus Declaration group, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Local Coordination Committees (a group that helps organize and document protests), various Kurdish factions, and other independent and tribal figures, are examples of other civil society structures that were created to help achieve the aims of the collective nation.[26]

However, it should be noted that the Syrian National Council was not entirely successful as it was subjected to some actions of some executive members that violated its charter. Further, there were some philosophical and political differences pertaining to the rules of religion in future Syria, and discrimination was used against members who had different beliefs and opinions, causing many members to leave the council and pursue their political activities at other Forums.[27]

Inspiring Military Defection & Use of Non-violence

The use of strategic, nonviolent civilian resistance in the uprisings and spread of the Arab Spring are important because it rejects the assumptions of classical theory which argue that violence is often a necessary component of a revolutionary process. Military forces have been seen to either side with the opposition and support the civil resisters during the Arab Spring, or side with the ruling government and repress the people. Therefore, having the military on their side was an effective strategy for civil resisters to advance their protests without being crushed by violence ordered by the government.

Nonviolent revolutionary movements that win the support of the regime's military institution are likely to achieve regime change, as seen in Tunisia and Egypt. For example, during the time of protests, the military in Egypt eventually sided with the opposition, and soldiers refused to fire at protesters and even publicly stated that they would not use violence to crush the movement.[28] On the other hand, however, if the opposition is unable to gain the support of the regime's military institution or if they engage in violent protests, they are not only unlikely to achieve regime change but they are more likely to receive force and violence as well, as seen in Syria.[29]

Some scholars, including Binnendijk and Marovic (2006) argue that the military is more likely to side with the opposition if there is a combination of incentives to defect (e.g. the likelihood for improved status and material wellbeing for the military under a new regime), and deterrents against carrying out these orders of the opposition to repress (e.g. global broadcasting of attacks on civil demonstrators which might induce large political costs to the reputation of the state).[30] Sharon Erickson Nepstad points out that military institutions are more likely to defect if they share the same ethnicity or religion as the civil resisters but not with regime leaders, if they know other troops who are defecting, if they civil resisters remain being nonviolent as it would make brutal repression harder to justify, and if the troops don't receive any incentives from the regime to repress the people.[31] The Al-Azhar University in Cairo emphasized in its "Arab Spring Charter" that the use of violence against peaceful, unarmed citizens "delegitimizes the ruling authority and ends its raison d'être."[32] For example, Syrian Alawite officers did not see such incentives in siding with the opposition and remained loyal to the regime in order to keep their privileges. In Tunisia, the military decided to side with the opposition because the military was comprised of officers from different socio-economic backgrounds (which allowed for more sympathy towards the civil resisters), and many scholars argue that the Tunisian military's decision to side with the civil resisters is in part due to the fact that they have traditionally been apolitical and therefore committed to providing safety to Tunisian citizens.[33]

Occupation of Public Space

Tahrir Square: Cairo, Egypt Protests in Tahrir Square are said to have begun on January 25, 2011. Tahrir Square is a major public town square in downtown Cairo and consists of a large and busy traffic circle. Important monuments surrounding Tahrir Square include the Egyptian Museum, headquarters of the Arab League building and of the NDP, the Nile Hotel, Kasr El Dobara Evangelical church, and the original American University campus.[34] Hundreds and thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square not only to display their popular dissent, but to overthrow the Mubarak regime. The large gatherings in Tahrir Square also provided individual protesters with protection in numbers in the face of violent repression. Prior to the protests, Tahrir Square was but a large traffic circle, and gatherings of a small number of adults would have resulted in an arrest. Mubarak recognized the significance of the Tahrir Square and the power of public spaces as they permitted citizens to come together to meet and share ideas, which then had the possibility of turning into a large protest.[35]

Bourguiba Avenue: Tunis, Tunisia While Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation, the spark of the movements in Tunisia, occurred not in a square but in the middle of the street, avenues such as the Bourguiba Avenue were the epicentres of the protests in Tunisia. Important monuments surrounding Bouguiba Avenue include the Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, the théâtre municipal de Tunis, and the French embassy in Tunisia.[36] Because Bourguiba Avenue is located in the historical political heart of Tunisia, the interior ministry made it a significant public space for activists to protest during the large demonstrations.

Pearl Roundabout: Manama, Bahrain The Pearl Roundabout was originally just a major traffic intersection. Located in the capital city of Bahrain, the Pearl Roundabout is surrounded by the Bahrain Central Market, the Pearl and City roundabout, and the marina.[37] Approximately 150,000-300,000 protesters were present, and many moved in to the roundabout with tents, emulating the protests that were held in Tahrir Square.[38] However, the Pearl Roundabout was destroyed by government forces, including the monumental structures of the Pearl Roundabout, and was sealed off once it was cleared of all the protesters.[39]

Green Square/Martyrs' Square: Tripoli, Libya Protests began in the Green Square on February 23, 2011. Originally named the Green Square, Libyan rebels ended up capturing the space and marked the end of the Qaddafi regime and renamed the space, "Martyrs' Square."[40] Protesters gathered in the Martyrs' Square holding up signs renaming the Green Square and burning images of Qadaffi to show their dissent. However, this was not just a square for anti-regime protesters, as Qadaffi pushed his own supporters to pile into the square and rally against the anti-regime protesters by declaring to 'burn Libya' if the protesters did not stop.[41]

Change Square: Sana'a, Yemen Change Square is located outside the Sana'a University and Yemenis gathered there to protest against Ali Abdallah Saleh. With the help of the Gulf Cooperation Council, protesters rallied to have Saleh removed from power and pushed for increased political stability. The Yemenis' desire for change was so strong that they renamed what was previously known as "Freedom Square" to the current name, "Change Square." Protesters were determined to generate political change, and remained in their tents at the site of protest even after Ali Abdallah Saleh was removed from power.[42]

Dara'a, Syria Syrian's ancient city plazas and older and more traditional Islamic spaces, on the other hand, have been more popular locations for public protests. The ongoing battle between security forces and demonstrators have found a ground zero in Dara'a, a poor agricultural town and home to al-Omari mosque. Many scholars view these older areas as more successful in holding public protests because newer areas are marshaled and tightly controlled by authoritarian governments and often speak to the power of the governments which build them. The most robust protests take place in the ancient cities of old countries, as seen in Alexandria, Egypt, and Homs,Syria, while weak protests were seen in the newer Gulf nations.[43]

The significance of occupying public spaces in each of these countries is that public squares are essentially physical manifestations of democracy. Public squares that allow citizens to gather, share ideas, and plan protests are a threat to regime security, and many autocratic governments end up fencing off their city's monumental public spaces to prevent large crowds from congregating. Many hire urban planners to design public spaces that are broken up into smaller sections so as to avoid the possibility of protests by limiting the number of people that could occupy certain spaces at once.

Global and Democratic Significance of the Arab Spring

Involvement of the International Community

Great powers–notably NATO and the EU–were, for the most part, inactive during the uprising. However, Libya represents a major exception to this approach, which stands out for the controversial linkage it established between the local uprisings and power dynamics in the international system.

In early 2011, violence unfolded in Libya in the midst of protests against Qaddafi and heightened during a protest in Benghazi in response to the arrest of human rights lawyer Fathi Terbil, culminating in armed conflict.[44] The Human Rights Watch identified several instances of governmental use of violence against Libyan protesters as violations of international human rights and claimed that governments with diplomatic ties to Libya should demand their end [45]. While fulfilling the call for the stop of human rights abuses, the international sanction of mass violence against Libyan protesters took on unprecedented forms from a legal standpoint.

Notably, the passing of UNSC Resolution 1973 on March 17th 2011, allowing for military intervention on Libyan sovereign territory on the part of NATO, constituted the first application of the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The doctrine was framed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in December 2001, endorsed unanimously by the 2005 World Summit and then by the UN through GA Resolution 1674 and 1894. It holds that a State's sovereignty entails its responsibility to protect its own people and, should that state be unwilling or unable to halt or avert the suffering of its people from serious harm, that responsibility is taken on by the international community as a whole[46]. Departing from the traditional conception of Sovereign Equality upheld by art.2 of the UN Charter, R2P emphasizes a State's de facto capacity to comply with certain underlying commitments and widens the scope of international action which might constitute a breach of national sovereignty, depending upon contingent circumstances. The employment of R2P in order to address issues of human rights violations in Libya thus raises concerns as to the ways in which the international community may be seeking to exploit local democratic uprisings for the purpose of justifying neocolonial practices of intervention. Noam Chomsky has chiefly warned against this risks, noting that the most powerful States in the international community–i.e. France, Great Britain and the United States–are usually the ones who happen to carry out such practices, in an isolated fashion and in violation of UN legislation. [47]

The degree of US involvement in military operations in Libya has however been seen as ambiguous, being labelled as a strategy of "leading from behind" [48], and intervening powers have been criticized for their failure to prevent rebelling groups from engaging in mutual conflict after the death of Ghadafi and to successfully rebuild Libyan infrastructure and governance. Moreover, when questioned about why NATO operated in Libya but not elsewhere (e.g. Syria), the secretary general of NATO grounded the decision in that NATO enjoyed support from nearby countries, but also connected the security of NATO with their southern neighbours to justify their action in North Africa.[49] Scholar Hamid Dabashi noted that NATO and the EU intervened as violence erupted in Libya, but also that their military and diplomatic action was centered on gaining control of the Mediterranean basin. This is seen as a result of changes and events in Tunisia and Egypt (alongside other nation-states) challenging EU and American influences.[50] The extent to which intervention in Libya was disinterested is thus unclear.

In short, the Arab Spring might been an attempt to set a precedent for international great powers to intervene in politically unstable countries for the purpose of protecting individual rights which are deemed to hold universally. The circumstantial character of the Libyan crisis however suggests that while R2P represents a political opportunity for powerful countries, the effectiveness and impartiality of its exercise, as well as the compatibility of the willingness to intervene and the one to be held responsible for the very act of intervening for the sake of human rights, are debatable.

Sectarianization and radicalization of protest

Originating from the failure of collectivization policies in the spring and summer of 2011, a broad non-violent protest movement inspired by the early events of the Arab Spring spread across Syria, giving rise to claims for democratic reform.

One of the major, if not the most influential, of the divides at the root of Syrian society is religious identity, which makes up a terrain of dispute among different branches of society, as the vast majority (74%) of the Syrian population is composed of Sunni Muslims, who are subject to the rule of a Shia minority–in particular Alawites–who have traditionally enjoyed control of both Government and the Military. In such a divided context, the Assad Government responded to democratic demands by adopting a presentational and repressive strategy: on the one hand, it tried to break the unity of the movement by reducing the conflict to local and sectarian-based demands, portraying the protest movement as a Sunni Arab one; on the other, it implemented a policy of selective violence, subjecting Sunnis to political imprisonment, torture and execution[51]

Consequently, having been targeted on the basis of their religious identity, Sunnis rapidly shifted from pacific protest to armed opposition, resorting to their linkage within their sect as means to unite and overthrow Assad’s dictatorship. This has in particular favored further sectarianization of the conflict, as Alawites have been massacred because of their religious affinity with the regime, and the radicalization of branches of the Sunni opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood for instance operates under the motto "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying for the sake of Allah is our highest hope”, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has taken advantage of civil turmoil in order to further its goal of establishing an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq by means of jihad. Moreover, joining fundamentalist groups is becoming a more and more attractive opportunity for young dissidents, as they face the tradeoff of falling victim to a secular, yet murderous regime, or participating in the creation of a theocratic polity which is suitable to their religious identity.

Far from its original objective of calling for secular democratic reform through nonviolent means, today, the opposition to the Assad government overwhelmingly consists in a fundamentalist armed force, dominated by jihadis who wish to establish an Islamic State, while Syria is still torn apart by a crisis of institutional political power vis-à-vis radical opposition. The stalemate reached in Syria has moreover revived a "cold war between Moscow and the West”, as the US and Russia have taken on opposite stances as to the preservation of the Assad regime on the ground of their respective ties with other regional powers [52].

Interpretations and Portrayals

Many western scholars and politicians have been criticized for their tendency to oversimplify the uprisings, particularly for their coining of the events under the name "Arab Spring" and their tendency to rely on Orientalist perspectives of the MENA and the privileging of western Eurocentric discourse that has generalized the sociopolitical environments and people of the nations through those lenses. However, this is not a new pattern. There has been an active movement by anti-racist and decolonizing scholars (as well as other individuals) to address the issue of western colonial-imperialist imposed binaries--e.g. west/east, progressive/regressive, western saviour/victim of the east, etcetera. They are critical of these binaries for sustaining the spectacle of the 'MENA world' as other, removing 'the west' from its involvement in creating the sociopolitical and economic conditions of the nations and the legacies of colonial and imperial violence, including the power enacted through cartography.

Susser is critical of the usage of the term "Arab Spring" for projecting a 'false universalism,' embedded in western understandings of and the European experience of democracy. He argues that the origins of a inherent reluctance to engage with the 'pre-modern' cultural Otherness of the MENA (particularly with regard to Islamism) can be found in the imposition of Western-Eurocentric modernity.[53] The usage of a narrow definition of democracy based on how it is understood in 'the west,' ignores the potential for an expanded definition. For example, Tariq Ramadan conveys an Islamic connotation by choosing to use the term "Arab Awakening" instead by emphasizing "the compatibility of Islam with democratic pluralism and religious diversity."[54] In his criticism on the usage of "spring" across the western world to describe the revolts, Khouri argues that the passivity of the term affirms Orientalist understandings of people of MENA as passive, "[downplaying] the severity of the challenge to existing regimes and downgrad[ing] the intensity of the courage that [citizens] summon when they . . . take on their well-armed national security services." He notes that the usage of "spring" to describe MENA uprisings parallels its usage in the short-lived Prague Spring of Czechoslovakia that was quickly halted by the Soviet Union and how the term "revolution" is reserved for 'real' changes.[8] This parallel and the general usage of the term "spring" draws attention away from the build up of frustrations and struggle that culminated in a more expansive and region-wide set of uprisings.

An article released in in the 2011 July/August edition of World Affairs claims that it was documents released by WikiLeaks (TuniLeaks) that had been responsible for a global shift in power and stability in the Muslim World.[55] Bachrach, the author of the piece, goes on to argue that even Bouazizi, as a 26-year old university student would have had to have known about the leaks. This reduces the conditions that culminated in the spread of the movement(s) by assuming that an information leak from a western-hosted site may have been more important to Bouazizi than his right to make his livelihood being taken away. The tendency to reduce complex and unique histories and situations down to one event or incident is noted by Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian-American scholar. Dabashi refers to this tendency as "annalist reductionism," seeking to point out a single point of influence. He instead argues that the 'Arab Spring' encompasses many conflicts and tensions--present and historical. He is critical of those who conflate the movement to sectarian-politics, including a Muslim-Christian binary, Shi'a-Sunni, and Arab-Iranian, as it draws attention away from the material effects on people that economic and political conditions have created.[56]

It is important to take issue with how democratization or the need for democracy has been framed and defined by the United States and European (or 'western') nations to justify intervention by promoting them as exemplary, progressive states. The limited understanding of democracy has allowed nations with the means and power to promote their interests in the MENA region and draw attention away from their responsibility in (and direct support for) the rise of harmful rule and socioeconomic problems. The neoliberal restructuring of nations in the MENA region that began due to the oil crisis and debt crises that followed in the 1970s into the 1990s, giving opportunities for the IMF and World Bank, alongside various international financial institutions, to intervene. The involvement of western nations (or nations of the global north) in coercing nations into making adjustments--including dropping trade barriers, lowering wages and the removal of social protections--had important implications on the growth of the protests.[57] Democracy as a proclaimed tenet of progress led by the United States and (western) Europe has been integrated into justifications for intervention, despite the U.S. carrying out the 1953 Iranian coup in response to democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadeq's rejection control over oil reserves by Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.[58] For example, Stephen Grand in a video for Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, DC, devalues the action taken by citizens during the uprisings, privileging the views of the supposedly concerned about "[American] reluctance to move more boldly"--giving Syria as an example--and emphasizing how intervention is an enactment of liberating American values.[59] However, it has gone ignored how much protest is in response to intervention. For example, in the chant "al Sha'b Yurid Isqat al-Nizam" (or people demand the overthrow of the regime) "nizam" has two meanings, referring to both the ruling regime and the regime du savoir--"the regime of knowledge production . . . [that] distorts reality by making it understandable in form of tired and old cliches - a mode of knowledge that is conducive to domination, namely 'the West over the East'."[60] The justification of intervention obfuscates neocolonialism and imperialism as well as the effects of their histories, despite all of our living in a colonial world.

Although mainstream western news outlets brought attention to poverty and unemployment as a primary reason for the uprisings, much coverage had centered (and continues to center on) political conflict and the corruption of the MENA. Moreover, it is not uncommon for these outlets to define nations that overthrew their leaders as entering a stage of "post-revolution," including with regard to Tunisia after Ben Ali was sentenced to prison and the overthrowing of Mubarak in Egypt and the death of Libyan dictator Gadhafi.[61] What these news sources fail to do is contextualize the uprisings, privileging perspectives that emphasize a western notion of progress without discussing the demands for socioeconomic structural changes. For example, although a CBC article references Rami Khouri who rejects the seasonal analogies that garnered much debate in western media and by scholars about the predicted short-lived status of the 'spring', the events in the 'Arab world' are described as "a historical process that most [w]estern democracies have gone through."[62] Such descriptions rely on a Eurocentric (or 'west-centric') worldview, at the cost of further marginalizing perspectives that have been made subaltern and obfuscates the power--connected to direct/indirect imposition/intervention that is part of our globalization--involved in defining 'progress'.

The portrayal of the "Arab Spring," as a single event that had risen and has now dissipated--invoking the seasonal analogy--similarly erases the marginalized voices of those who had begun the protests and supported the movements and erases the number of local uprisings that were taking place before becoming more widespread in 2011. Gilbert Achcar, a professor of developmental studies and international relations, in an interview with Al Jazeera he argues that although political crisis and a desire for political freedom was an important dimension of the uprising, the deepest roots of the explosion were socioeconomic. Achcar goes further to state that we must consider the how a political explosion of the magnitude--reaching across MENA--must necessarily be triggered by a convergence of factors, the one commonality throughout the region being a structural socioeconomic crisis. He notes that there were multiple local, regional uprisings in Tunisia before the one that became nationwide. With regard to the development of widespread uprisings throughout the MENA, the Tunisian Workers' Union and relative stability as a movement and Egypt for its wave of workers' strikes from 2006 onwards, as an initial reaction served as an important basis for the growth of protest due to an accumulation of anger and struggles.[63] By centralizing the histories of 'western democracies,' in the process, coverage of the uprisings have been dehistoricized through the installment of the idea that what is occuring in the MENA is a natural process. This view dangerously displaces the actors of the uprisings and obfuscates the effects of imperialism through the coerced implementation of neoliberalism, relying on binary understandings that view the MENA and its histories as having occurred in a vacuum despite the growing (forced) interconnectedness as a result of globalization.

Some have also been critical about referring to Tunisia (and occasionally Egypt) as success stories. Mather notes that official events celebrating the uprisings have been organized by military, "keen to portray themselves as the saviours of the nation[, when] in reality they are the saviours of the ruling elite" and despite their involvement in suppressing protests to maintain their influence.[64]


The Arab Spring has impacted the world immensely. The Arab Spring resulted in an explosion of political activity in countries which their authoritarian leaders were over thrown in the Middle East. There was an increase in TV stations, online media usage, increase in the number of political parties and civil societies. [65]. It also resulted in the people fighting over whether Islam played a role in politics and drafting new constitutions or not. It brought to light a lot of the issues the public was divided over, such as social, religious and political ones. There were also many rising tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, which resulted in outbursts of violence. Armed conflict was also a result of the revolution; where old regimes did not want to submit easily to the opposition. Unemployment and poor living conditions were on the rise, especially in war torn areas. [66] Here are some images which show where the Middle East is today five years after the Arab Spring begun The Arab Spring, Five Years on


While the Egyptians successfully overthrew President Mubarak as part of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, statistics show that issues such as poverty remain a challenge, and it was one of the main causes of the uprisings that resulted in a revolution.[67] The Muslim Brotherhood came to power after the overthrow of President Mubarak, but was ousted in a 2013 coup, and Egypt is now led by Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, a former military officer.[68]. There is still fear of military rule, and the charges against Hosni Mubarak, of corruption and the deaths during the Arab Spring are acquitted in 2015. This causes anger from the people and protests. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood however is sentenced to 20 years in prison, and in a separate trial he is sentenced to death. Currently in Egypt there are still protests, but now over a proposed sale of two islands to Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea. The government is claiming a bridge over the Red Sea will help support export between Egypt and Saudia Arabia. However, many of the citizens fear this will make them a colony to Saudi Arabia [69].


Western-backed opposition forces captured Muammar Gaddafi, but Libya today is now an uncertain, anarchic state controlled by warring militias in different cities after a revolution which was led and supported by NATO.[70] The National Transition Council (NTC) declared Libya officially liberated, and promised a democractic state[71]. Since the Islamic State has gained a foothold in Libya it has become a major departure point for many migrants trying to reach Europe. There are an estimated 2.5 million people who are in need of humanitarian assistance, and 435,000 displaced peoples [72]. There is current chaos through out Libya after Gaffafi was overthrown, and there is a lack of government transparency, unemployments rates are not going down, and uneven regional development [73]. Currently their legal system is barely functioning and courts have been shut down because of the dangers. Also many judges and lawyers have been the target of hate crimes and abductions [74]


Tunisia is generally the most stable and successful country to come out of the Arab Spring. They have a new constitution, which guarantees many fundamental rights and freedoms. According to Amnesty International the constitution now includes rights to citizenship, bodily intergrity and freedom of movement, stronger protection for women's rights, and also protects rights to health, education and work [75] Tunisia is still in the works of building its fragile democracy in the aftermath of the revolution in 2011. Five years after the revolution, suicide protests persist, with another young Tunisian, Ridha Yahyaoui, electrocuting himself by climbing up a utility pole in frustration after being refused yet another job.[76] There have been increases discussions about topics such as LGBT rights, political and religious orders, artistic expression an national reform, where as topics like this were not discussed very openly [77]. There are still moments of unrest, like when there was the assination of two leftists politicians: Chokri Belaid and Mhuammad Brahmi in 2013 [78]. In 2015 Tunisia was awarded with the Nobel Peace prize to commemorate how far they have come as a nation, and to congratulate them on their successes of getting through a political crisis [79].


Following protests and governmental repression in response ti wanting greater freedoms and improvements in living standards, Syria has become the site of a civil war between governmental authorities and opposing armed groups with different political aims. It has that has shattered the original democratic ambitions of protesters and caused a refugee crisis which has been credited as the gravest global humanitarian crisis since War World II [80]. In 2011, the political power long held by the Alawite (Shia Muslim) elite, has been challenged and a civil conflict initially sparked by the Arab Spring. This also led to over 11 million people to be displaced from their homes [81]. Heading into 2013 the rise of the Al-Nursa front, a radcial Islamist militia allied to Al Qaeda, led to a a period of cool, and international and regional support for their oppostion. This resulted in Hezbollah (Iranian backed Lebanese troops), to form and commit a counter offence with the new support. Other countries then became involved, such as Russia in 2015, saying it was seeking to combat the Islamic State, but others like the West and opposition say they are just trying to attack Assad rebels hardest [82]. Today in 2016 you still see immense conflict and is uncertain if it will eventually calm down.


Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced out of office in 2012 in the aftermath of large protests, but the political transition and development since then has faced several challenges. Recently, the country has been caught up in the violence between Houthi rebels backed by Iran and Al-Qaeda-associated militants.[83] After President Saleh's rule of 33 years, in 2011 his General People's Congress agreed to work with the Gulf Co-operation Council to negotiate a deal to hand over his power, but he refused o sign [84]. After numerous pressures it was signed and Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi took power and formed a unity government. Under his rule there was even more poverty and malnutrition. Two groups started to lead movements through out Yemen such as the al-Qaeda in the south, and the Zaidi Shia rebels in the north [85]. The process of transition of power between President Saleh and President Saleh was disrupted in 2015 by the Huthi whom are loyal to the Zaidi Shia Islam; they strongly support Saleh [86]. Eventually in 2015 President Hadi steps down, and a Saudi Arabia led military coalition of ten states deploy air strikes, and put in place air strikes and sea blockades against the Huthis. Both groups, the Anti-Houthi's and Houthis have committed serious war crimes and attacks, such as attacking hospitals, using lethal force against protesters, and shelling civilian areas [87].


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