The Arab Spring Two Years Later

on December 17 2012 6:50 PM
  • Protest In Tahrir Square, Cairo
    Anti-Mursi protesters chant slogans in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Reuters
  • Arab Spring
    Libyans protest the rule of Moammar Gadhafi Reuters
  • Women Arab Spring
    A woman rebel fighter supporter shoots an AK-47 rifle as she reacts to the news of the withdrawal of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces from Benghazi March 19, 2011. A rebel spokesman said on Saturday anti-government troops had driven out forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi who had entered the eastern city of Benghazi. REUTERS
1 of 3

It's been two years, as of Monday, since a Tunisian fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself, and subsequently the rest of the Middle East, on fire. Since then, the leadership and temperament of some Middle Eastern and North African countries have been reassembled, sometimes peaceably, sometimes violently, into the burgeoning, aspiring democracies we see today. Other countries have barely seen any change, despite continuous protests. And some have devolved into states of constant war. Here's a round-up of the changes we've seen, two years later.

The Major Leagues: These countries experienced the greatest amounts of upheaval -- from the biggest protests to the complete overhaul of the government.

1. Tunisia

• How long did the revolution take?

Three weeks and six days. It all began on Dec. 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor who dropped out of school to support his family, self-immolated in desperation after repeated harassment by the authorities in his hometown of Sidi Bouzid. For many Tunisians, his death symbolized the struggle against the poverty, unemployment and government corruption they were all facing. The day after Bouazizi died, anti-government protests began all over the country and grew increasingly violent. On Jan. 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia and resigned after 23 years in power.

• Who was toppled? 

The Ben Ali government, which had been in power for more than two decades. The president fled the country and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi resigned on Feb. 27. The political police were disbanded. Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally Party (RCD) ceased to exist and its assets were liquidated. Political prisoners were scheduled to be released. Then, on Oct. 23, 2011, Tunisia held its first post-revolution elections.

• How many died/were injured? 

More than 300 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured. In addition, in February 2011, some 4,000 Tunisian refugees attempted to flee the country by landing on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. The island quickly became overcrowded, and Italy had to declare a state of emergency. Some refugees were sent to Sicily, while others were quarantined on the island. Back in Tunisia, several bloggers were also arrested.

• Who's in power now?

After Ben Ali fled, a new "unity government" involving members of Ben Ali's RCD was formed, but it quickly disbanded as more members of the former majority party fled the country. The Oct. 23 elections saw the Islamist Ennahda party win with 40 percent of the vote.

• What's the U.S. relationship with the new guys?

Tunisia still suffers from a 13 percent unemployment rate and bad credit ratings.  At the time of the revolution, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the transition, despite former U.S. support for the Ben Ali government. The State Department now says that "helping Tunisia lay a foundation for political stability and economic prosperity … is a key priority for the United States." As of Dec. 14, 2012, the U.S. has committed $350 million in aid to Tunisia.

2. Egypt

• How long did the revolution take?

Two weeks and three days. What began on Jan. 25, 2011, as a peaceful demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo quickly escalated into a million-man and woman, Muslim and Christian, march against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians gathered in Tahrir and at Egyptian consulates around the world to protest the president and the state of emergency that had been declared in Egypt since he took office, corruption in the government, high unemployment and low wages, and police brutality.

• Who was toppled?

Protests escalated after Mubarak made a televised broadcast on Feb. 10, in which he was expected to announce his resignation, but in fact did exactly the opposite. On Feb. 11, Mubarak and his family evacuated the presidential palace by helicopter as protesters bore down upon it. That evening, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had decided to step down, and that the armed forces would take over control of the country.

• How many died/were injured?

More than 800 people were killed and more than 6,000 were injured. Reports of the sexual harassment of women were also widespread; the most high-profile of these was the assault CBS correspondent Lara Logan suffered while covering the celebrations the night Mubarak resigned.

• Who's in power now?

A political party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi, who has the distinction of being the first democratically elected leader in 5,000 years of Egyptian history. Despite the toppling of the regime, protests continued against the authority of the army, and they continue today under the new Muslim Brotherhood-led administration. Since Mubarak's ousting, more than 70 more people have died in protests, and thousands more have been injured and arrested. 

• What's the U.S. relationship with the new guys?

The U.S. urged Mubarak to step down, and the State Department says that it will continue to support Egypt through its transition, despite the Muslim Brotherhood having once been considered an extremist radical group. Relations between the two countries became strained during the early fall's "Innocence of Muslims" protests and during the late-November bombings in Israel and Gaza.

3. Libya

• How long did the revolution take?

Eight months and six days. What started on Feb. 17, 2011, as peaceful protests in Benghazi escalated into the Arab Spring's first all-out civil war, with foreign military intervention from countries including the U.S., Canada, France, Britain, former colonial power Italy, other NATO allies and Arab countries. Despite claims in June 2011 by then-leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his son -- and would-be successor Saif al-Islam --  that they would be willing to hold elections, the fighting continued until Oct. 20, 2011, when Gadhafi was discovered hiding in a hole in the ground and unceremoniously shot.

• Who was toppled?

Gadhafi seized power in the 1969 in the "One September Revolution," a coup d'etat that ousted King Idris. Gadhafi, at the time a captain and the leader of the Free Officers Movement, promoted himself to colonel and consolidated power for himself and his followers. After 42 years of rather bizarre rule marked by an eccentric fashion sense and a moody ruling style -- as well as suspicions of sponsoring of terrorist groups -- he was summarily executed and his five sons were either captured or killed.

• How many died/were injured?

Between civilians, the opposition, and the regime loyalists, an estimated 30,000 people died, 50,000 were injured, and 4,000 went missing.

• Who's in power now?

The National Transitional Council, a coalition of opposition groups, took control for 10 months following Gadhafi's death. General elections were held on July 7, 2012, and the NTC officially handed power over to the new General National Congress on Aug. 8. The center-left National Forces Alliance party gained the majority of seats, and the oldest member of the GNC, Mohammed Ali Salim, became the president of the GNC. In August 2012, the head of the National Front Party, Mohammed Magarif, took over.

• What's the U.S. relationship with the new guys?

The U.S. openly supported the opposition and the NTC during and after the war, despite taking longer than some of its allies to recognize the NTC as Libya's legitimate government. Bilateral relations were going well until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, when Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, along with three other Americans. Magarif apologized to the U.S. a day later.

4. Yemen

• How long did the revolution take?

One year and one month. The protests began on Jan. 27, 2011, in the capital Sana'a, when 16,000 protesters gathered, calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign. A "Day of Rage" in February drew 20,000 protesters and police tear gas. Protests continued to escalate in violence as Saleh refused both to step aside and any mediation attempts. In May, it looked as though the situation was about to deteriorate into a civil war as fighting began raging in the streets between protestors and police. In June 2011, the presidential palace was bombed, and Saleh fled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He returned in September, and on Nov. 23, after many battles between police and protesters, signed the Gulf Co-operation Council plan for political transition, in which he agreed to hand over his powers and fully step aside by the times elections were held at the end of the next February. 

• Who was toppled?

Saleh became president of the Yemen Arab Republic in 1978, despite never graduating from elementary school. He ruled what was then North Yemen, which was unified with South Yemen in 1990, and he kept the post after the merger. During the uprisings, his party began hemorrhaging members of parliament, as they began resigning en masse to protest police violence against the unarmed demonstrators. In total, more than 100 MPs, ambassadors and military leaders resigned. After handing over power and a brief stint in New York for medical treatment, Saleh returned to Yemen and pledged to help "rebuild" the country. 

• How many died/were injured?

The official number put out by the Yemeni government stands at 2,000 dead and 22,000 injured. Another 1,000 were arrested and "likely tortured."

• Who's in power now?

Saleh's deputy, Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, was elected president on Feb. 27, 2012, after serving as interim President since Nov. 23, 2011, when Saleh agreed to step down. Hadi was the only candidate. 

• What's the U.S. relationship with the new guys?

The U.S. pushed for a "negotiated exit" for Saleh during the protests. Relations between the new government and the U.S. government remain strained, especially since Yemen continues to be a haven for al Qaeda. In May 2012, after Hadi's election, the U.S. announced it was freezing all Yemeni assets in the U.S. 

The Minor Leagues: The people of these countries may not have completely upended the establishment, but some were able to get concessions out of their leaders. For others, not much changed.

5. Algeria

• How long did protests last?

A little over a year. Protests began on Dec. 28, 2010, about two weeks after Tunisians began demonstrating, when reports surfaced of clashes between civilians and police in Algiers over inadequate housing. At the beginning of 2011, as food prices worldwide went up, protests reignited on Jan. 3. On Jan. 12 and 13, two men attempted to self-immolate, sparking a string of copycats across the country. In February 2011, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would be lifting Algeria's 19-year state of emergency "very very soon." By late February the government ended emergency rules. In April, the president announced he would seek to pass new laws "reinforcing democracy," but protests continued on and off through February 2012, often resulting in police intervention and violence against the protesters. 

• How many died/were injured?

Eight people were killed in clashes with police, and over 400 were injured.

• What did/has changed?

Not much, it seems. In September 2012, the U.S. issued a fresh warning to Americans looking to travel to Algeria during the anti-"Innocence of Muslims" protests.

6. Iraq

• How long did the protests last?

Ten months. At the beginning of 2011, seeing the rest of the Arab world rising against their leaders, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attempted to pre-empt any demonstrations by announcing he would not run for a third term in 2014. That didn't stop protests beginning on Feb. 12 and continuing through that December. They reached a peak on April 9, 2011, on the eighth anniversary of Saddam Hussein's fall, when thousands of people gathered in Baghdad.

• How many died/were injured?

34 people died.

• What did/has changed?

The Maliki government is still in place, but the premier says he will not run for re-election, and he called for constitutional term limits. Maliki also said that any ministers who do not show improvement in their areas face dismissal.

7. Morocco

• How long did the protests last?

One year, from February 2011 to 2012. The protests were originally arranged by the 20 February Youth Movement student group, and the first protests took place in Rabat, the capital. The protests mostly called for an end to the reign of King Mohammed VI, who has been in power since 1999, but were also protesting high unemployment and government corruption. Protests continued nearly every Sunday in most of the major Moroccan cities. On March 9, 2011, the king verbally acknowledged the protests, and the next June he presented his proposal for constitutional reforms, which were passed by constitutional referendum but rejected by leaders of the 20 February Movement. 

• How many died/were injured?

Six people were killed, all allegedly in riots. More than 100 people were injured. 

• What did/has changed?

The reforms made Berber, Arabic and the Arab-Hassani spoken by the Saharawi tribes the official languages of Morocco. They also gave the prime minister and parliament more authority, including the ability to dissolve parliament and appoint government officials. 

Ongoing: These countries have been in a constant state of demonstration, protests, or war since the Arab Spring began.

8. Syria

• When did the protests begin?

Things began in Syria slowly. On Jan. 26, 2011, protesters called for the release of a man who had been assaulted by a police officer. On March 6, 2011, 15 children were arrested and disappeared for drawing anti-government graffiti. On March 15, 2011, mass protests against the government began in earnest, and in April, the Syrian Army was dispatched to "deal with" the ever-present demonstrators, beginning the current 21-month conflict known to many as the Syrian Civil War. Protests began as part of the Arab Spring, demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been in power since 2000, when he succeeded his father, Hafez, whose Ba'athist Party regime had ruled with an iron fist for three decades. 

• How many died/were injured?

Estimates put the numbers at 20,000-30,000 killed. Approximately half a million have fled the country, and another 2 million are internally displaced.

• What's the status of the government?

Assad is still in power, although his grip is slipping. At the beginning of November the opposition Syrian National Coalition won recognition from France, Britain, the U.S. and the U.N.-affiliated "Friends of Syria" group as the sole legitimate government of Syria. Many world leaders are beginning to talk about the end being nigh for Assad and his regime. 

9. Jordan

• When did the protests begin?

January 14, 2011. A depressed economy and high unemployment, as in many other Arab Spring countries, were the initial reasons for the protests. At first demonstrators merely demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, but spurred on by the Muslim Brotherhood (considered an opposition group in Jordan) protests escalated to the level where stones were being thrown at King Abdullah II's motorcade. On February 4, Rifai was replaced, and Abdullah met with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in an attempt to mitigate growing tensions, but despite this, protests continued. They have been mostly peaceful since and even subsided for a few months in 2012 in response to the worsening situation in Syria, but after fuel prices increased in November 2012, protests reignited.

• How many died/were injured?

One civilian and two police officers have been killed. Around 80 people have been injured and 150 arrested.

• What's the status of the government?

The prime minister has been replaced twice by the King, who is still in power. One of the grievances is that the king has not made enough political concessions and has not taken enough action toward true political reform.

10. Bahrain

• When did the protests begin?

Feb. 14, 2011. Initially protesters were calling for human rights and political freedoms, and protests were peaceful until Feb. 17, when police killed four protesters in a raid in the capital Manama. After the raid, protesters began to call for toppling the monarchy. Protests continued to grow in size, and in March the king declared a state of emergency and called for military control of the masses. Police crackdowns since then have been reported as brutal, especially against Shia Muslims living in the Sunni-controlled country. The state of emergency has since been lifted but protests against the monarchy continue, as do crackdowns and arrests by the police.

• How many died/were injured?

At least 86 people have died, close to were 3,000 wounded, and another 3,000 were arrested.

• What's the status of the government?

The monarchy is still in power, and has established an official "Bahrain National Dialogue" to discuss reforms, and the Bassiouni Commission to investigate the protests in February and March of 2011.

11. Kuwait

• When did the protests begin?

On Feb. 19, 2011, after Bedouins living in Kuwait did not receive a government handout, they began to demonstrate against their second-class citizen status. The protests quickly won the support of opposition parties, which began calling for then-Prime Minister Nasser Al-Sabah to resign. Unlike other Arab leaders, Al-Sabah had been in power only since 2006, but he is a member of the roysl family. In April 2011, the Cabinet resigned, and he was reappointed to head the new government, but the Emir of Kuwait named Jaber al-Sabah as the next prime minister, who took office as of Dec. 4, 2011. Nevertheless, protests continued to flare up during 2012, even after the December 1 elections.

• How many died/were injured?

No deaths were reported. At least three MPs and one prominent lawmaker have been arrested during the protests.

• What's the status of the old government?

The government did actually resign and a new one was elected, but protests continue against perceived government corruption.

12. Sudan

• When did the protests begin?

Almost two years ago, on Jan. 30, 2011, when police clashed with demonstrators in the capital of Khartoum. Student protests continued through 2011, pausing over the summer when South Sudan seceded, and resuming in November and December. The following summer, protesters were reinvigorated when President Omar al-Bashir proposed deeply unpopular austerity cuts. 

• How many died/were injured?

The dead number 14, at least eight of whom were high school students. Over 2,000 people were arrested, and the Committee to Protect Journalists said that journalists were being harassed, beaten and arrested. 

• What's the status of the government?

In February 2011, Bashir announced he would not run in the next presidential election in 2015, but he is still in power, as he has been since 1989.

13. Egypt, again

Despite a democratic transition that initially seemed successful and peaceful, protests re-flared in Tahrir Square and around the country in November 2012 after Morsi declared himself immune from judicial oversight and pushed through a constitution that many in the opposition felt was unrepresentative and unfair. Egypt began voting on the constitution Saturday. As of Monday, Dec. 17, protests against the referendum continue.

More News from IBT MEDIA