The Arab Spring was an eruption of mass protest in several Arab countries that drove regime changes, authoritarian government crackdowns, and sometimes a mix of both. New communications technology, manifested as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, were credited with helping protestors organize, and some contend that the spirit of protest spread to the United States and Europe via the "Occupy" movements.
For many observers, the important questions about the Arab Spring are not about the liberal and democratic image offered up for Western consumption but about the role played by Islamic fundamentalists. Raymond Stock, Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University and Guggenheim Fellow who lived in Cairo from 1990 to 2010, writes that the Arab Spring in Egypt was actually less spontaneous than it was cleverly orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, who "endorsed the uprising before it began, not afterward—and clearly was in communication with its organizers then as well. And thereafter, rather than playing only a minor role, as most accounts claim, it was in fact the MB, more than any other group, that really brought the crowds into Tahrir and elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood was not a sheepish junior partner and Johnny-come-lately, as the media and experts portrayed it, but the most important player as of the second day of demonstrations, right through the end—and beyond."
Reception in the West
With the exceptions of Tunisia and Bahrain, the liberal phase of the Arab Spring was effectively over by Spring 2012. Curiously, however, many in the West refused to recognize that the movements had been largely hijacked by illiberal Sunni Islamists funded by conservative Sunni Arab monarchies. Even today, many US and UK politicians still openly advocate for "no-fly-zones", weapons shipments to rebels, and even a war against the Syrian government.
One factor that was the topic of Western attention was the use of new communications technologies, such as social media, in coordinating the protests, which caused some of the Arab Spring uprisings to be termed the "Twitter Revolution." However, although new communications technologies have created platforms for mass participation, much of the resulting "deliberation" has not taken the form of an open exchange of ideas supportive of liberal democracy. They are more likely to result in intemperate virtual shouting matches or the isolation of the like-minded in spirals of agreement.
Some neoconservative commentators have expressed their dismay at the lack of parallels being drawn between the Arab Spring and the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. Many people failed to see Khomeini's theocratic agenda before it was too late; for example, Richard Falk, writing in The Nation, had this to say of Khomeini at that time:
“”So far, the Khomeini forces have displayed remarkable restraint. Despite' persistent incitement by the Army and provocateur tactics by the Savak in a large number of cities, including unprovoked attacks on peaceful crowds, atrocities against hospitals, and medical, workers and cruel violence that includes using high-technology, weaponry against children, the opposition has not resorted to' arms or violence. The main incidents of destruction of property and terrorism in recent months are generally believed, even by middle-class Iranians suspicious, of Khomeini, to be the work of Savak. The discipline im'posed by the religious leadership has so far restrained a -rising wave of anger among the people.
"The religious core of the Khomeini movement is a call for social justice, fairness in the distribution of wealth, a productive economy organized around national needs and a simplicity of life style and absence of corruption that minimizes differences between rich and poor, rulers and ruled.
|—Richard Falk, 1979 - The Nation|
Western media has also downplayed the extent to which these movements began as labor movements.
In specific countries
The protests began in Tunisia in late 2010 when a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the town hall of Sidi Bouzid to protest being beaten up by the police over not being able to pay bribes so he would be ignored while working as a peddler. Within days the protests spread throughout the country and resulted in Tunisia's dictator Ben Ali fleeing towards Saudi Arabia. The protests spread further to Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Jordan.
Elections were held in Tunisia (for the Constituent Assembly) which the Islamist Ennahda party won the election with 41% of the vote and received 90 of the 217 seats. The largest secular party - Congress for the Republic (CPR) - won 13% of the vote and recieved 30 seats. The leftist Ettakatol party won 10% of the vote, and received 21 seats. Eventually a new constitution was passed in 2014, guaranteeing equality for women and freedom of religion - including the freedom not to have a religion. You can still be jailed for posting anti-islamic cartoons on Facebook though. Also, the police state that existed under Ben Ali does not remain.
- Main article: Egyptian revolution of 2011
In Egypt, which had been under martial law for many years, efforts to repress the mass protests failed, and the generals took power from the dictator (former general) Hosni Mubarak, while continuing to maneuver against their longtime opponents, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, the "Brothers" performed well in the November 28, 2011 to January 11, 2012 parliamentary elections, and their presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won the runoff contest on June 24, 2012. However, immediately thereafter, a military appointed court simply dismissed the elected parliament., effectively neutering the civil government. Early pessimism about the future of liberal democracy in Egypt, the country's mass poverty and illiteracy, its dependence on such sources of funding as fees from the Suez Canal and handouts from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the Islamist regression to popular religiosity, were confirmed by the lack of inclusiveness in Morsi's cabinet. Copts and women were largely excluded. While Islamist males and technocrats landed not only the prestige cabinet posts but most of the 35 cabinet posts, Copts and women were consigned to token positions. Only two women were appointed, one of whom is also a Copt.
The new repression in Egypt picked up pace with the sacking of senior Egyptian Army generals and the clampdown on news media critical of the Muslim Brotherhood. The al-Dostour newspaper and editor, Islam Afifi, was spalled with a travel ban. Seems the new powers that be want to be able to punish him easily if he steps out of line. In another sign of the new repression, female anchors on Egyptian state television appeared in headscarves for the first time on September 2, 2012.
In 2013, amidst the Morsi government's refusal to propose a constitution, the military took over in coup. The martial regime has been brutal, especially to high-level opponents.
In February 2012, after a year of protesting, the people of Yemen managed to oust the Shia president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the country since 1978. In the elections immediately following, they voted in Saleh's Sunni vice president, Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi. From a Western perspective, it ended up not amounting to much regime change, as the current government still supports U.S. drone strikes and the new president still does whatever Obama tells him. Recently, violence has flared up again and Shia Houthi rebels have now deposed the new Sunni government as well. Since then, Yemen has descended into chaos: Saudi Arabia decided it didn't want a Shia state on its border, so they started bombing Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, backed by bottomless US support. They not only bombed legitimate military targets, such as supply depots and fighting positions, but also ceramic factories and civilian neighborhoods. This bombing eventually killed thousands of civilians, although most news does not cover it. This bombing continued into the early days of the Trump administration. Unsurprisingly, Trump quickly took things too far (out of jingoism and ignorance, not over-zealotry about the mission), and Yemen's president forbade the United States from conducting anymore drone strikes in the country.
In short, the Houthi advance was halted, driven out of Aden and other southern Sunni areas, but thousands of Saudi and other foreign troops were sent to the country to militarily conquer it. The Saudis and their allies have besieged the country, stopping anyone from getting in or out, and effectively guaranteeing massive civilian casualties due to food and water shortages.
Libya experienced a civil war that started on February 18 with Gaddafi government forces shooting dead unarmed protesters in the streets, and ended on October 23 2011, after Muammar Gaddafi was captured and killed by a crazed mob on October 20th. Following the initial state terrorism, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 was passed on 26 February 2011 deploring what it called “the gross and systematic violation of human rights” and “rejecting unequivocally the incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population made from the highest level of the Libyan government”. It was also the first time a country was unanimously referred to the International Criminal Court by the council. Similar statements came from the Arab League, African Union and Organisation of the Islamic Conference. Subsequently the Libyan rebels were supported by Western air power and special forces on the ground, under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Victory against Gaddafi left the country with political chaos and security problems posed by the myriads of armed groups that formed to overthrow the Gadaffi government. The country is now governed as a provisional parliamentary republic headed by President Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf and Prime Minister Mustafa A.G. Abushagur. There are still militias and tribes clashing with their rivals in different bases of the country, and are yet to be unified under a common national army.
An often-overlooked aspect of the Libyan civil war is the rebels' killing of African migrants with impunity. In the town of Sirte there was a mass execution of migrants, and in the town of Tawergha migrants were hunted by groups of rebels, one of which proclaims itself the "brigade for the purging of black skins." In spite of ongoing human rights violations, Human Rights Watch has stated that “Libya has made notable advances and has committed itself to promote human rights”.
On September 11, 2012 armed Islamists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. One staffer was killed and several others wounded. It was originally believed that this was the result of the release of an anti-Islamic propaganda film, Innocence of Muslims, produced by an Egyptian-American of Coptic extraction who was later sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court for defamation of religion. However, it was later discovered that this was a planned terrorist attack and that the terrorists in question had just used the protests over the film as cover. Afterwards, a protest was held condemning the violence by those who had killed ambassador Chris Stevens. In early 2013 the Libyan government complained that western media were exaggerating their security problem.
In March 2011, protests erupted against Bashar al-Assad of the Ba'ath Party in response to Syrian security forces arresting a group of children in Daraa for writing slogans against the government. In May, a 13-year-old Syrian boy died in the custody of the Syrian government, his body horribly mutilated. His body bore bruises, burns consistent with the use of electric shock devices, bullet wounds, a broken neck and his penis had been cut off. After his family distributed photos of his body to journalists and activists, protesters were galvanised across the country. Over time, the civil uprising against Assad's rule deteriorated into armed rebellion and eventual full-scale civil war. The rebels have been given a safe haven in the border regions of Turkey, and are furnished with arms by the CIA. Assad cracked down on the insurgents so brutally as to prompt the Arab League to suspend Syria, and the conflict remains ongoing.
The conflict has displaced approximately 11 million people and killed over 400,000 as well. The situation is so bad that some people are even taking refuge in Iraq. Amnesty International stated in its 2013 annual report on Syria that the conflict was marked by gross human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that government forces were responsible for the vast majority of violations. As of October 2016, according to the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria database, Assad's government has been responsible for 90% of civilian casualties. UN investigators concluded in September 2017 that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons more than two dozen times.
There were also protests in Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and Oman. Minor protests broke out in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the Western Sahara. Protests were ruthlessly suppressed in Bahrain with the help of the Saudi military (and its backers in the United States government, like President Obama), but the protestors fought on into the second half of 2013.
Aftermath and effect
- The Egyptian uprising, in particular
- "Arab," n.: A member of an Arabic-speaking people. 
- The Donkey, The Camel, and the facebook Scam: How the Muslim Brotherhood Conquered Egypt and Conned the World Raymond Stock. Foreign Policy Research Institute. July 2012.
- The Arab Spring: The Saudis Hijacked It June 21, 2012.
- Mohammed el-Nawawy and Sahar Khamis. 2009. Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discoureses in Cyberspace. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-230-33815-9; Zizi Papacharissi. "The Virtual Sphere: The Internet as a Public Sphere." Media & Society, Vol. 1, No. 9 (2002): 9-27.
- Richard Falk. "Iran's Home Grown Revolution." The Nation. February 10, 1979. Pp. 135-137.
- Final Results of Tunisian Elections Announced
- Tunisia Finally Passes Progressive Constitution
- Islamist Morsy Wins Egyptian Presidency With 52 percent Yasmine Saleh and Shaimaa Fayed. Reuters. June 24, 2012.
- A decision reaffirmed by the same court on July 9, 2012 Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh. "Egyptian Court Affirms Ruling Cited to Oust Parliament" The New York Times. July 9, 2012.
- Some Heretical Thoughts about the Facebook God, the Arab Spring, and the Egyptian Revolution Avi Isaacharoff. Haaretz. June 25, 2012.
- Women, Christians Among Groups Unhappy With Egypt's New Government Reem Abdellatif. The Los Angeles Times. August 5, 2012.
- Clampdown on Egypt’s Media Raises Fears by Heba Saleh. August 15, 2012.
- Egypt TV Unveils the Headscarf by Scott Sayare. The New York Times. September 4, 2012.
- Resolution 1973
- "Gaddafi opponent elected Libya assembly chief". Al Jazeera English. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/08/201281001045727347.html. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- "Libya’s assembly elects Mustafa A.G. Abushagur as new PM". PressTV. http://presstv.com/detail/2012/09/13/261274/mustafa-ag-abushagur-elected-libya-pm/. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- "Libya's transitional rulers hand over power". Boston.com. http://www.boston.com/news/world/middle-east/2012/08/08/libya-transitional-rulers-hand-over-power/uMPkXd9vTSSHg589mU9ykJ/story.html. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- Libya: The Ongoing Disaster Dan Glazebrook. al-Ahram. May 31-June 6 2012.
- http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9878 http://www.webcitation.org/6EqeZ9oB2
- 'US Consulate Staffer Dies in Libya Mission Clash' The Jerusalem Post September 12, 2012.
- 'This Does Not Represent Us' - The Atlantic
- http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9849 http://www.webcitation.org/6EqevdQDZ
- Syria: Timeline of the civil war and US response. ABC News Australia. April 7, 2017.
- Macleod, Hugh and Flamand, Annasofie. Tortured and killed: Hamza al-Khateeb, age 13. Al Jazeera. May 31, 2011.
- Sunday, Alex. Syrian boy's brutal death rouses protesters. CBS News. May 31, 2011.
- Eric Schmitt. "C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Rebels." The New York Times. June 21, 2012. A1
- MacFarquhar, Neil. Arab League Votes to Suspend Syria. New York Times. November 12, 2011.
- World Report 2017: Syria. Human Rights Watch.
- Annual Report: Syria 2013. Amnesty International.
- Ahmad, Idrees. Russia Today and the post-truth virus. Pulse. December 15, 2016.
- Nebehay, Stephanie. Syrian government forces used chemical weapons more than two dozen times: U.N. Reuters. September 6, 2017.
In their 14th report since 2011, U.N. investigators said they had in all documented 33 chemical weapons attacks to date. Twenty-seven were by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, including seven between March 1 to July 7. Perpetrators had not been identified yet in six attacks, they said.
- Bad Double Standards, Good Double Standards
- Neocons’ New Lie Jordan Michael Smith. Salon.com. April 25, 2012.