The Significance of the ‘Arab Spring’ Phenomenon

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The Significance of the 'Arab Spring' Phenomenon


Arguably, the Arab uprising in northern Africa was a result of distinct causes and social media platforms that partly acted as catalysts. In fact, the causes and methods of revolution in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt vary widely. However, they share common threads, including a government reform, personal freedom, unemployment, and an economic reform. Tunisia triggered the Arab Spring and since then the country has experienced a rise in Islamist militancy. Egypt and Libya followed the suit. In Egypt, the uprising started in cities and involved mostly young people. In Egypt’s case, the government must be restructured from the ground up. The Tunisian revolt began in the rural areas. It was attributed to unemployment and class division. The uprising there was initiated by armed rebels in the East. In that regard, the impact or significance of the uprising was constrained in each region. Subsequently, each country faces different hurdles, moving forward. Therefore, it is important to comprehend these distinctions and recognize that these uprisings were distinctive acts of civil disobedience and not a unified Arab revolt. To that end, this paper explores the significance of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Libya.

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The Arab Spring in Tunisia and Libya

According to Jones (para. 1), the Arab Spring is among the major events in the Arab World since the end of the Second World War. It is continuing to open up and likely to reshape all countries within the region. Tunisia has stood out among the countries that witnessed the Arab Spring because it was the first country in which the incumbent leader was evicted. The Arab Uprising began in Tunisia in 2010. The 2010-2011 revolt overthrew the administration of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (BBC para. 1). It was triggered by the a young university graduate who could find work only as a fruit seller and burnt himself to death in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid to protest against unemployment, police harassment . and limited human rights (BBC para. 1).The personal protest and death of Mohamed Bouazizi had huge repercussions not only for the country but also the entire North Africa and Middle East. This unwarranted incident that prompted the protests and violence from Tunisia to Libya and beyond. This was the commencement of the Arab Spring. Following the death of Bouazizi, a series of violence, looting, protests, and revolution followed across North Africa and later in the Middle East (BBC para. 1). As a consequence, the incumbent administrations were brought down and thousands of lives were lost.

In February 2011, the arrest of a human rights advocate sparked angry protest and demonstrations in the Eastern city of Benghazi, then rapidly spread to other major cities. Libyan authorities used elevated force to quell protestors (Great Britain Parliament 39). Gaddafi refused to quit and insisted on maintaining the control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. By March 2011, NATO had aligned itself with the rebels. Unlike the Tunisian revolt, the Libyan situation had little to do with the economic performance of the country. As noted by Inbar (111), Libyan economy had prospered due to the high oil prices in the global market. However, there was rampant nepotism and corruption. At least 30% of the citizens languished in poverty. Additionally, there was a significant income gap between the rich and the poor. These factors fuelled the resistance to Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. The killing of Muammar Gaddafi sent a strong message to autocrats in the Arab world. Nevertheless, his death had an immediate impact on the transformation of the country itself. Evidently, the killing of a long-serving leader came with its problems. The information of Saddam Hussein’s execution has aided in rallying his loyal supporters, amplifying the sectarian-based violence that plagues Iraq to this time. On the other hand, Tunisia has moved past the sectarian violence and held an election. Libya is not an exception and the killing of Gaddafi induced and augmented sectarianism that continues to ail the country today. According to another viewpoint, the killing of Gaddafi meant that one of the causes that united the opposition was gone. Consequently, internal strife and struggle were eminent.

According to BBC (para. 1), the ousting of President Ben Ali in Tunisia inspired pro-democracy advocates across the Arab world. The widespread displeasure at economic hardships, rampant corruption, and autocratic rule exploded into continuous mass demonstrations in Tunisia. Following the protest and violence, approximately 300 people lost their lives during the subsequent arrests, forcing Ben Ali to resign after 23 years in power. In October 2011, the first parliamentary election was conducted in Tunisia (BBC para. 2). Since the July 2013, there has been a disagreement between the Ennahda Party and its secular competitors, brought about by the assassination of a leftist politician. In the same line, violence blamed on Salafists has limited the effort to promulgate the new constitution (BBC para. 3). After the completion of the new constitution, a fresh election was held in December 2013.

Tunisia is not only in the epicentre of the Arab Spring but also in the frontline of democratic development in North Africa and Middle East. In fact, Tunisia can be highlighted as one of the countries that handled the aftermath of the Arab Spring in a superior way to any other country in North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, for example, the incumbent military-backed administration is comparatively more authoritarian than the leadership of President Hosni Mubarak (Inbar 110). In Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the protests resulted in chaos and civil war. Elsewhere, particularly the Middle East, the Arab Spring never catapulted. For example, Bahrain’s monarchies resisted the Spring-induced demand for change due to the rationale that the country was not prepared for democracy (Bennett-Jones para. 12). Tunisia’s sound democratic environment is attributed to various reasons. These include a cautious approach, minority hardliners, and concerns over national stability.

In contrast to Egypt, Libya, and other Middle East countries, Tunisia’s army is independent of politics (Bennett-Jones para. 14). In addition, the religious population also creates a relatively stable democratic environment. Noteworthy, hardline Salafists exist but they are small in number. Tunisia is overwhelmingly Sunni, hence avoids destabilizing, sectarian division, and ethnic differences. In Egypt and Libya, the use of sectarianism to further interests serves as a threat to the stability and prosperity of these countries. Many Tunisians leaving along the coastline have a high affinity for the Western culture and democracy. To that end, they are opposed to the idea of the state and religion as being one thing. Despite Ennahda win in the post-Arab spring election, the party has incorporated divergent views proving the sceptics wrong. Having noted Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership executed for the misuse of power, Ennahda Party played safe (Bennett-Jones para. 26). In other words, the party is more concerned with economic empowerment and welfare of Tunisians than politics. Ben Ali had failed to provide employment for Tunisia’s highly educated youth. There are a number of reasons to be take care of regading Tunisia’s stability. Central to the concerns is the infiltration of Salafists from the neighbouring Libya.

The divergent sides of the Arab spring are becoming more visible than ever. In Libya, the dictatorial and violent government fought the revolt to the fatal end. Syria and Yemen also staggered down the same path. However, in Tunisia, the positive side of the revolt is continuing to unfold with time. Tunisia has an informed population, a secular tradition and no ethnic and tribal fissures (Bennett-Jones para. 17). On the other hand, Libya is behind the mission of the uprising due to the ethnic and class division. One of the deepest social cleavages that ail Libya is the gap between the products of Libya’s corrupt education system. Tunisia’s newly elected parliament formed a coalition government led by a secular party that incorporated its Islamist competitors who were democratically removed from power. The new Tunisian government, which is a result of the historic presidential election, first democratic elections, and a new constitution, promulgated, following the Arab Spring marks, the development of a distinct form of democracy.

Having highlighted the two sides of the Arab Spring, it is arguable that Spring was a success in Tunisia but failed in Libya. This is in concurrence with the observation that post-Arab Spring Tunisia is more developed than post-Arab Spring Libya in terms of democracy, national stability, and prosperity (Hashemi). The variance is linked to the fact that the causes of the revolts varied from nation to nation. It is worth mentioning that there was not a uniform approach to initiating the desired changes in the preferred manner. The the coinage of the term Arab Spring became possible not only because the Arabs in these countries revolted against long decades of dictatorship, but also because the was a resemblance in the thread and patterns of demonstrations in the same countries. In other words, the term does not impose collectiveness or regional unity. However, it considers the social and economic realities of all the countries and their impact on their post-Arab spring ventures (Hashemi). For instance, Libya was ailing from class, sectarian, and ethnic divisions, hence, had to address these issues to register the benefits of the uprising. However, as long as these fissures exist, the country is likely to sink into chaos and civil unrest. Evidently, the level of social heterogeneity and homogeneity in Syria and Egypt respectively have significantly affected the outcome of the Arab Spring.

To avoid redundancy of highlighting the causes of uprising in Libya and Tunisia, it seems reasonable to generalize the causes with relevant facts and statistics of each country. In North Africa, the Arab spring was a provoked response to a number of factors that had been docile for long. These include lack of human rights like freedom of expression and speech, use of brutal force, repressive political laws, socio-economic injustice, patronage; high level of corruption, nepotism, restrictions on communication, misuse of power, and denial of information. Unemployment in Libya stood at 30% and 14% in Tunisia (Rafi para. 5). Inflation rates were high; in Egypt, families spent 40% of their income on food. In Tunisia, President Ben Ali and his family, the Trabelsis, owned the largest companies and a significant portion of the real estate industry (Inbar 110). According to Inbar (110), the Trabelsis controlled approximately 30-40% of the economy. Levels and cases of corruption in Tunisia and Egypt were endless. These were some of the many factors that motivated the people Tunisians and Libyans to revolt against their governments.

To advance the comprehension of the implication of the Arab Spring, it is worth mentioning what made the changes possible. Specifically, the changes that emerged after the Arab spring have been regarded as the impacts or significant turning points of the movement. In agreement with Osha (78), the Arab Spring helped the Arab world and other autocratic regimes to draw the essence and importance of good governance as well as the promotion or protection of human rings, especially socioeconomic rights. The pillar of success of the Arab Spring in both Tunisia and Libya is attributed to the people’s will to organize mass protests and demonstration, using public utilities and overcoming the fear of being persecuted. Factually, for any change to unfold and succeed, a significant portion of the population covering various religious and ethnics groups or entities must be mobilized. The special feature of the Arab Spring is that it brought women and the youth together. The active role played by young people in the revolts illustrated that the increase in the youth population is likely to trigger social turbulence, especially if their numbers increases un-proportionally to the available employment opportunities (Rafi para. 6). Another special feature of the Arab Spring was the role played by social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. A noteworthy variable behind the success of these uprisings was the critical role played by their army. As noted above, the Tunisian army was disjointed from the politics of the movement, while in Libya the military was used to suppress the protest. In Egypt, the military supported the protests. Without the armies, the revolts might have resulted in massive causalities and more brutal suppression. In Libya’s scenario, foreign intervention became the central pillar toppling Gaddafi’s leadership (Great Britain Parliament 39). According to Rafi (para. 6), the same strategy is also being implemented in Syria. In summary, the rapid spread of the Arab Spring in the Arab world demonstrated that ideologies, in the contemporary world, spread faster and surpass boundaries. However, ideas are somehow difficult to imitate or replicate as in the case of Tunisian democracy. This is attributed to variations in social and political systems.

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The Arab Spring refers to the violent and non-violent activism and democratic protest-based wave that caused civil unrest in the Arab world. The Arab Spring marked a period of protest and revolutions that began in North Africa in 2010 and spread into Middle East in 2011. In North Africa, the Arab Spring had some common attributes, such as unemployment and the call for an economic reform, a government reform, and personal freedom. Its mission was to overrun the incumbent governments and get rid of the monarchies. In addition, the revolution was meant to address democracy and domestic development in the Arab world. The Arab Spring took many forms including peaceful demonstrations, strikes, protest, rallies, and social media advocacy. Debatably, the Arab Spring has dealt with various issues in the Arab world, including political corruption, human rights, dictatorship, and absolute monarchy. Observably, the uprising was not a unified Arab revolt due to a number of distinctions. In reference to Tunisia, the revolt began in rural areas and then moved to the cities. In addition, the uprising was aggravated by the powerful labour movement in Tunisia. So, the country must address class division to avoid such revolts. On the other hand, the Libyan revolt was started by armed rebels in eastern Libya. It was aggravated by the wrecked country identity due to tribal varieties. Subsequently, the country will have to repair the divide and broken national identity. In summary, the implications of the Arab Spring will continue to unfold and reshape the political, social, and economic environment of the Arab world over the next couple of years.