The first to undergo a political change in the Arab world since 2011 was Tunisia, a small country located at the center of the Maghreb countries. Although being considered the most democratized regime in the region, Tunisia was also known for strict control and oversight of political activities through the secret police network.
Tunisia’s Ben Ali government abruptly collapsed after 23 years, which began as it took over the power in 1987 from the nation’s first president Bourguiba (in office from 1957 to 1987). As widely known, the collapse was initiated by an incident that took place on December 17, 2010, in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid, in which a street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death in protest against the humiliation inflicted by a female police officer.
Since then, protests were mounted almost every day by young people mobilized by Facebook and other social networks. The government collapsed easily when President Ben Ali fled the country on January 14 next year. Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia made an impact on the world and spread to several other Arab countries, including Egypt, shaking their regimes.
Still, the North African nation hasn’t been without its challenges. While widespread violence remains relatively rare there, more than 3,000 Tunisians are thought to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight as jihadists, more than any other country.
This speaks to major economic challenges such as uneven income distribution and high youth unemployment, including for educated women and men.
Egyptian activists got their inspiration from Tunisia. In Egypt, the first major protests were staged on January 25, 2011, in places such as Tahrir Square in Cairo. Some Egyptian security forces hit back. But that only invigorated the movement challenging the government of President Hosni Mubarak. President Mubarak was ousted as early as February 11, bringing an end to his 30-year-old regime.
The first round of presidential elections was held on May 28, 2012, and the leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party’, Mursī, and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafīk, who was popular among the supporters of the old regime, went to the final round of election. Immediately afterward (June 2), a verdict of life sentence was issued for former President Mubārak, followed by the outbreak of protests to demand the death penalty.
On June 14, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court acknowledged flaws in last November’s election, and based on this ruling, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ordered the People’s
Assembly to dissolve. Some assumed this to be a blow to presidential candidate Mursī. Nevertheless, in the runoff on June 24, Mursī was elected new President by a slim margin.
But it could not last longer, in July 2013, the North African nation’s military toppled Morsy and put him under house arrest. Morsy’s supporters called it a “coup;” his opponents called it a “correction.”
Morsy “did not achieve the goals of the people” and failed to meet the generals’ demands that he share power with his opposition, Egypt’s top military officer, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This was followed by a broader crackdown on Morsy’s backers and the military — long a powerful force in Egypt — taking more and more control.
In the last year elections El-Sisi became presidential candidate and became president after garnering more than 96% of the vote.
In Libya, the first anti-government protests broke out in the eastern city of Benghazi on February 15, 2011. The Gaddāfī administration’s fierce suppression of this movement triggered the launch of air strikes by multinational forces led by France, Britain, and the U.S. on March 19. The war situation thereafter seesawed back and forth for a while until Col. Gaddafi and others were killed by opposing forces on October 20. On October 23, Chairman Abdel-Jalīl pronounced the nation’s liberation. However, unrest continued in Libya.
The North African nation has been largely leaderless. Gadhafi’s Libya didn’t have institutions to build off of, meaning everything had to be built from scratch. Rebels united in their fight to get rid of Gadhafi don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to cooperating in government formation. On top of all this, a power struggle ensued as multiple groups — from tribes to terrorist organizations — wrestled for the upper hand.
Many tribal militias trying to hold their ground and protect their people and interests. Then there are groups like al Qaeda and, more recently, ISIS. Recently fighters loyal to the militant group ISIS had complete control of Derna, a city of about 100,000 near the Egyptian border.
In Syria, It started with children writing on a wall. Specifically, it was anti-government graffiti sprayed on the walls of a Daraa school in March 2011. At least 15 children in that southern Syrian city were arrested.
Anti-government protests had been staged in rural cities since mid-March 2011. President Basshār Al-Assad fiercely quashed them by mobilizing troops, secret police and a militia called the shabbiha. The government suppression did not end after the entry of an observer mission of the League of Arab States in Damascus on December 26 in the same year.
More than 220,000 Syrians have been killed and over 800,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations. More than 4 million have become refugees in countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, while 7.6 million more are displaced within Syria. And some 75% of those still in the country are living in poverty.