The Arab Spring: A year of change and more to come (29 December 2011)

The year has, without a doubt, flown by but it’s not done so quietly.  Just over a year ago a street vendor in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia set himself alight in protest at the confiscation of his wares.  He was trying to provide for his family and the authorities were making it impossible.  He died a short time later on January 4 2011 but the date for which Mohamad Bouazizi will be remembered is December 17 2010 when he kick-started a revolution.

After Bouazizi’s act of protest Tunisia rose and marched for change.  The people of Tunisia protested into the new year but to little avail.  However, after Bouazizi died the protest changed, an anger rose and ten days later, after 23 years in power President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down and allowed the way for a new Tunisia.

The Arab Spring was then born and for most of the year the world has watched as Egypt ousted Mubarak in a fairly quick revolution that took about 18 days.  Of course, the changes in Egypt are still ongoing with protests taking place throughout the year.  As Egyptians voted in elections crowds in Cairo, Alexandria and in some other cities, rose and protested against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).  Many believe that nothing has changed since Mubarak left power.  They might be right.  People are still dying  at the hands of the SCAF in Egypt just because they’re protesting.  Change doesn’t come easy and Egyptians are finding that out.  The ordinary Egyptian on the street just wants peace and quiet and an income.  They’ll get it, eventually but the area is still volatile.

The other country that has witnessed massive change as a result of the Arab Spring is, of course, Libya.  Assisted by NATO in a purely background role (maintaining a no-fly zone and making strategic air strikes), the rebels, later to become the National Transitional Council (NTC), battled for Libya taking town and city and eventually arriving in Sirte, the birthplace and apparent hiding place of Muammar Gaddafi (he of the surname with many spellings).

The Libyan revolution was inspired by Tunisia and the quest for better living conditions.  A simple protest in Bayda in January 2011  began with a demand for better living conditions.  It did descend into clashes with the police and the attacking of government property but it was the start of Libya’s revolution.   A month later the rebels controlled Benghazi and battled to keep it.  Protests spread through Libya to Tripoli and ordinary Libyan’s found themselves in a battle for their country.  Change was definitely in the air and even with threats from Saif al-Islam Gaddafi of civil war the NTC battled on.  For Libya the Arab Spring turned into Summer and then Autumn.  In October Sirte was captured and the ultimate goal happened on October 20, Muammar Gaddafi was captured…and killed.  

With an interim government in place Libya looks towards 2012 with an air of hope.  All is not quiet in Libya though.  The NTC find themselves involved in sporadic battles with those who still hold a loyalty to Gaddafi and his disposed regime.

Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are not the only countries to rise in the Arab Spring of 2011.  Protests have been seen and are ongoing in many other countries in the region.  Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait are among several countries in the region that have seen protests.  Most want governmental changes and better conditions of living.  They may get it, they may not but some slight changes have been seen in places like Lebanon with an increase in wages for some.  In Yemen, protests have seen President Saleh sign a transition deal to end his 33-year rule.  People are demanding change in Yemen and slowly they’re getting it but to what end? 

Following others in the region the people of Syria have tried to rise against President Bashar al-Assad and his oppressive government but Assad has tried to smother the protests with force.  Snipers picking off ordinary civilians as they try to buy food and go about as normal a life as they can manage.  Civilians killed as they protest in cities such as Homs.  Still they rise.  This week Arab League monitors were sent in to observe the cities.  At first the Syrian army made an effort to look like they weren’t killing civilians by moving their tanks out of Homs as the observers visited.  

As the week wore on they stopped making the effort and just carried on killing and attacking the Syrian people.  What will the Arab League monitors make of this? Who knows but if what is being reported from the flashpoint cities is true then the monitors appear to be unaware of the gunfire and death around them.  As I write this reports come in from Duma that protesters have been fired on as the monitors visit that town.  Eight people reported dead.  Many injured.

The Syrian regimes use of force against its people has received world-wide condemnation but what good is that condemnation if the world stands back and watches while people die at the hands of their own government? At the moment, in cities like Homs, snipers pick people off like it’s a game.  For the snipers it probably is, for the civilians it’s a life of terror.

What next? Most of the minor protests will likely die down in most of the countries in the region with governments placating the people with small changes.  In Libya and in Egypt it’s a waiting game, 2012 will see changes again, perhaps as big as seen in 2011.