Three years after the first spark, has the flame of revolution gone out?
(Image from Google Images)
It has been three years since we first heard that a fruit vendor named Muhammad Bouazizi set himself alight in front of his local police station in the small rural Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, symbolically sparking the flame in what was then to be called the Arab Spring.
From that small town came protests for better treatment. Followed by protest for better rights. Finally, an outpour for a better government and equal rights poured into the capital city of Tunis. And they weren't imply protesting; they were demanding.
What followed was a change of government and a sensation so contagious that it caught on fast like the bubonic plague in Medieval Europe. Only this plague didn’t kill the Middle East – it transformed it.
Soon after, Egyptians caught on and protested in the large plaza of Tahrir Square to demand the removal of then President Hosni Mubarack. The world watched as the protesters grew larger in mass and their one voice that was generated by a thousand mouths managed to shake the administration to its core. There was nothing the outside could do except watch in awe as the Egyptian people managed to push aside a dictator from his seat of power and have him trialed for corruption charges.
Libya followed suite but their peaceful demonstrations, which mimicked Egypt’s revolution, turned onto itself to generate a bloody civil war with countless casualties. It was government troops versus revolutionaries from various regions within the country. As the revolutionaries made advances, government dignitaries representing the Libyan government from abroad under Gaddafi began stepping down one by one and exiling themselves, revealing the fragility of the regime. In the end, the revolutionaries won and Gaddafi was dragged through his hometown, dead and butchered.
Like roses in a field coming alive under the spring skies, revolutions bloomed throughout the Middle East; Bahrain, Yemen, and finally Syria. Many were anxious to see what would come out of these sparkling revolutions, demanding rights that many foreigners had no idea (though naïve of them) to think that citizens of these countries would want; free speech, free press, freedom of religion. What these revolutions showed to the world was that these citizens were just like everyone else. They wanted to speak their mind and do what they want, without government or clerical censors. Like a rebellious child, they unleashed fury against their authoritarian figure and the world wanted to watch. Above all, the world wanted know what would happen and if this Arab spring would bloom into something bigger than anticipated.
Over these past three years, the hope and aspiration of these citizens, which sparked the revolutions during those fateful days in 2011, took a sour turn.
(Image from Google Images)
Bahrain’s protests were blanketed out by the powerful ruling family which quickly hushed any mass gathering with Formula One races to appease the world’s appetite. The Yemeni government went back and forth, promising change while waiting for the right moment for the people to forget about what they had even been protesting for.
Worst of all, Syria found itself in a civil war that dominated current headlines. As I write this, UN dignitaries are meeting in Geneva to discuss what exactly to do with Syria. The country’s revolution began peaceful, just as it was in Egypt. But when the Assad administration began targeting children and torturing them as a means to hush the protesters, it was a clear sign of cruel episodes and dark days ahead.
A few months ago, it was believed that the government, against its own people, used chemical weapons. Syrian refugees are scattered throughout Syria’s border countries, from Turkey to Lebanon. Children are going hungry as they suffer during cold winters in refugee camps with inadequate shelter provided to them. The city of Homs, famous for its role during the Crusades, became synonymous with massacre and death due to the incessant fighting that occurred there. Images of doctors without proper medical supplies surfaced throughout the internet and across televisions throughout the world.
As for the original blooms of the Arab Spring, it’s hard to tell if progress honestly took place. Egypt’s elected president, Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted from power and put in jail, accused of centralizing too much power for himself. He was replaced by a military leader, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and throughout the streets of Cairo, images of the al-Sisi cover the city proper with a vast league of supporters behind him. Many of those who fought during the days of the revolution feel it has only brought them back to square one.
Tunisia is still battling to establish its own government. Right wing conservatives versus left wing liberals find themselves head to head for power in Tunis. Some are demanding for Tunisia to be the new Turkey of the Middle East, which has been always been hailed as the beacon of democracy and freedom in the Muslim world. Others are calling for an Islamic Republic to be established in Tunis, with shaaria law as the only law of the land.
So what can we make of this Arab Spring? Has it been of any success? What can we possibly say after three years?
Many Egyptians, Libyans, and Tunisians I know (between both London and Paris) have stated that the spring is far from over. They try to convince me that the fight goes on for democracy in the Middle East. But with escalation of the civil war in Syria (not the revolution) continuing and Egypt bracing for a new elections, which might actually take it right back to the days of Mubarak-style rule, it’s hard to say if any real change has come.
Was the Arab Spring really an electrifying God-sent event for citizens of these nations to rise up and defend their rights? Or was it a disorganized messed which led to the collapse of many regimes but no real fundamental change to the lives of its people as previously hoped?
Only history can confirm this for us.
For the BBC Video Report “The Arab Spring: three years on”, click here.
Discover more about the conflict in Syria through an entire coverage by the BBC if you just click here.UNICEF is devoted to supporting and providing aid for the children affected by the conflict in Syria. Believed to be the “Lost Generation” by many, the crisis is creating a legion of disenfranchised youths whom are rendered hopeless due to the desperation of the war. To find out more about UNICEF’s efforts in helping these children and in making sure no child is loss, click here.