The Arab spring refers to demonstrations and rebellions that were witnessed in the Arab world in the spring of 2011, hence the name. It involved a series of anarchistic protests, organized oppositions to authority, and armed revolts across the Middle East as a response to oppressive regimes and low living standards (Sadiki 12). Characterized by pro-democracy uprisings, the Arab spring enveloped several Arab countries that included Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Morocco, Egypt, and Bahrain. It started with protests in Tunisia, which were widely spread and shared across the Arab world through social media. Reports indicate that the intensity and success of the Tunisian revolution triggered similar uprisings in countries across North Africa and the Middle East that were experiencing challenges similar to those the Tunisians were dealing with (Sadiki 21). The first countries to respond to the effect of the Tunisian revolution were Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. The advent of the Arab spring in these countries was characterized by sustained street demonstrations, social violence, riots, civil wars, and insurgencies that resulted in regimes being toppled (Sadiki 25). At the time, minor protests were reported in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Algeria. Demonstrators involved in the Arab spring were guided by a slogan that said, “The people want to bring down the regime.” The Arab spring was a necessary intervention that allowed the countries involved to have a chance at experiencing democracy and a second chance at bettering their living standards.
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Reports indicate that apart from the low quality of life and oppressive regimes, the Arab spring was influenced by several other factors. Some of the notable causes include political corruption, inflation, poverty, unemployment, human rights violations, authoritarianism, and sectarianism (Sadiki 41). People in all the countries that were involved had gotten to a point where they no longer felt the willingness and commitment by their respective governments to improve their quality of life. They had a number of goals, which they hoped to achieve. Some of the main ones were regime change, promotion of democracy, achieving economic freedom, human rights advocacy, adherence to the doctrines of Islamism, as well as conducting free elections (Sadiki 49).
Reports indicate that the Arab spring had more that 60,000 casualties (Mokhtari 56). In Tunisia, it resulted in the government of President Zine El Abidine being overthrown. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, and his government overthrown. He was arrested and charged. In the case of Libya, its leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed and his government overthrown following a civil war that required foreign military intervention to reach a conclusion (Sadiki 84). The situation in Yemen was characterized by the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with power being handed over to a national unity government. In Kuwait, Lebanon, and Oman, the situation was different as the respective governments implemented the necessary changes following relentless protests. In Morocco, Jordan, and Palestine, the Arab spring was managed in a relatively calm manner too as the necessary constitutional reforms were implemented in response to protests (Salamey 66).
Arab Spring Tunisia
Tunisia was involved in the Arab spring in the last few months of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011. Reports indicate that the advent of the Arab spring was in this country on December 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside the offices of the local government (Masri 113). He was acting in protest of his arrest by police officers for operating a vegetable stall without a permit. His death triggered street protests across the country as people felt it was time to demand the attention of the government. The protests continued to intensify over the next three weeks, and on January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia. Some of the problems that created a desire for regime change in their country include corruption, poor living standards, lack of freedom of speech, and high rates of unemployment (Salamey 87).
Scores of deaths were recorded following the protests, which were described as the biggest the country had ever witnessed in over three decades. They were caused by the action of law enforcement agencies against those that were engaging in demonstrations. A coalition government took over as soon as President Zine went to exile. The coalition government had to deal with a number of challenges, both internal and external. However, on October 23, 2011, it led the country to the first election after the revolution, where Tunisians voted 217 members into the assembly in order to spearhead the process of creating a new constitution (Masri 137).
The country elected a new constitution on January 26, 2014. To date, it is considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the country’s history owing to the fact that it supports more human rights, gender equality, promotes democracy, stipulates the duties of the government towards the citizens, as well as introducing a new parliamentary system that decentralizes the government (Mokhtari 122). Tunisia also managed to hold its first parliamentary and presidential elections in October and November 2014 respectively. This was a special moment for Tunisians because it marked the country’s transition into a democracy, which meant that the leading Islamic party, Ennahda that had been in power for decades had lost its popularity.
However, more than six years after the Arab spring revolt, the future of millions of Tunisians is still in doubt. The country’s economy is still shaky, as evidenced by an incident last year where a mother of five who was unemployed set her self ablaze after she stopped getting her welfare checks. This was a clear indication that the struggle for most Tunisians has not ended. This challenge is heightened by the fact that the government is struggling to secure developmental loans due to its failure to make adequate progress in managing state finances (Mokhtari 238).
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The Arab spring was a good thing for all the countries that were involved because it helped them make crucial governance changes that were long over due. With the regime changes that were witnessed, these countries got an opportunity to make a fresh start with regard to stabilizing their economies, embracing democracy, improving the living conditions of its people, and promoting human rights among other changes. However, these countries are slowly coming to terms with the cost of embracing, upholding, and promoting democracy as they continue to learn the hard way. For a country like Tunisia, the Arab spring was a welcome distraction and a necessary intervention that is taking too long to bear the desired fruits. The country’s fledging democracy is struggling to match the demands and expectations of its citizens almost a decade after the revolt that created a lot of optimism in many. The leaders believe that it is important for Tunisians to give the authorities a little more time to make the necessary reforms.
Masri, Safwan. Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly. Columbia University Press, 2017.
Mokhtari, Abdelmadjid. Perceptions of Tunisian Educators of the Effects of the Arab Spring on Tunisia’s Educational Policies and Reforms Related to Corruption, Job Preparation, and English Language. University of Louisiana, 2017.
Sadiki, Larbi. Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring: Rethinking Democratization. Routledge, 2014.
Salamey, Imad. The Decline of Nation-States after the Arab Spring: The Rise of Communitocracy. Taylor & Francis, 2016.