November 18, 2011 • In web :: Features
The Arab Spring
Writer Sima Sahar Zerehi spent much of her time tracking the Middle Eastern and North African revolutions on Twitter. She put together a primer on what happened over the past few months in these regions.
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What is now being termed as the Arab Spring all begun in the dead of winter with the desperate act of a fruit vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire. No one would believe that the actions of a single man in a small Arab country nestled in North Africa could give birth to one of the most profound movements of our time.
The Tunisian protests were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17. Mohamed Bouazizi's action in response to the confiscation of his equipment as well as the harassment and humiliation he endured at the hands of municipal officials incited a wave of national demonstrations throughout Tunisia. His brutal death became a symbol of the oppression, high unemployment, food inflation, corruption, and poor living conditions in the country.
These protests largely aided by the role of labour unions in Tunisia were seen as the most dramatic wave of social and political mobilizations in three decades in the country. The demonstrations were met by a severe backlash from police and security forces resulting in numerous injuries and deaths.
Regardless of the attempts of the state to quash these waves of resistance, within the expanse of 28 days, the protestors succeeded in ousting President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Finally on January 14, 2011 Ben Ali officially resigned after fleeing to Saudi Arabia, ending 23 years of despotic rule.
The Tunisian protests incited similar actions across the Arab world resulting in numerous popular uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Libya to name a few.
Social Media and the Arab Spring
The world of social media had made it possible to simultaneously share videos, photos and commentary documenting the Tunisian revolution. Youth all over world, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa were transfixed by the expediency of the Tunisian uprising. The people of this small sometimes-overlooked country had managed to oust their despotic ruler after only 28 days of unrest.
Images of street rallies and resolute protestors facing up against violent police and security forces were being shared all across the Arab world.
The lessons of how to use social media as a tool for change were learned by the example of the Iranian uprising in 2009--following the fraudulent election that had announced President Ahmadinejad’s re-election too quickly for even the votes to be counted.
In 2009, Iranian youth had used Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to organize their actions and broadcast their mobilizations to the rest of the world--playing the role of traditional media in the context of a country that had shut its doors to journalists and reporters.
The success of the 2009 Iranian campaign to garner global support as well as attract media attention showed organizers across the world that in the absence of traditional media--social media could be a powerful organizing tool.
Armed with the lessons of the 2009 Iranian uprising--young organizers in the Middle East and North Africa were equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to turn their national liberation struggles into the Arab Spring.