The Arab revolt began in Tunisia when a young man, educated but jobless, set himself on fire to protest confiscation of fruit and vegetables he sold at a street stand without a permit. Fueled by resentment of a harsh regime and high unemployment, riots in the streets grew. On January 14, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for the past 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia.
Uprisings spread to Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, and beyond. The “Arab Spring” flowered in the Middle East and North Africa — and took hold on the Web, where lookups of the term quickly rose to one of the most searched of the year. Social media tools were in full effect: One Egyptian activist tweeted, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”
A fall, and the rise of Egypt
The citizens of Egypt rose up against the authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since 1981. The protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square began January 25, and Mubarak was ousted 18 days later. Protesters were enraged by the lack of free elections and freedom of speech, police brutality, corruption, as well as the country’s dismal economy. The ousted Egyptian leader was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of protesters.
Libya’s eccentric dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed after rebels took over his hometown. Tunisia pulled off its first democratic election after the uprisings. But the story of Arab democracy is still being written. In November, the Arab League suspended Syria for killing its own protesting citizens, while Libya and Egypt are early in the rebuilding process.
The women of the Middle East
Women also played an important role: They marched with their children and husbands in Tunisia; in Yemen, columns of veiled women forced their autocratic leader from office. And in Syria, women blocked roads to demand the release of their husbands and sons from prison. The Nobel Peace Price was awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
While Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya are the “success stories” of the Arab Spring, other countries — such as Bahrain and Syria — are still unstable.
As we go to press, the landmark parliamentary elections, the first since Mubarak’s ouster, are holding forth. The Arab Spring may live to see another season yet.
Alina Seagal from Yahoo! Canada, Faye Valencia from Yahoo! Philippines, and Claudine Zap from Yahoo! (U.S.) contributed to this report.