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The history of Arab Spring

Arab spring is the democratic uprising that arose and spread in the Arab World since 2010. It began in Tunisia and spread within weeks to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and later to other countries like Jordan, Morocco, and Algeria. The main objective of Arab spring was to challenge some of the region’s rooted dictatorial regimes. It was successful to some extent. Some long-standing autocratic leaders were swept out from power, including Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Muammar al-Quaddafi in Libya. 

This so-called Arab Spring is one of the most significant events in the Arab since the end of world war two. Still, it is doing a more substantial effect on the region. The outset of this article seeks to understand the origin of this spring, then causes and objectives for this unrest, and finally, success and failure. 

Origin and the outbreak

As mentioned before, Arab Spring began in Tunisia and quickly spread to the rest of the Arab world. The following section briefly explains the major countries affected by the Arab spring.


This epic outbreak first took place in Tunisia, and it was also known as the Jasmine revolution. On December 17, 2010, a vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi publicly self-immolated in front of the local government building due to circumstances he had faced. Tunisian municipal Spector has seized him because he did not have a vending license. So he went to the municipal office to file a complaint, and they ignored him. Therefore he set himself on fire. First, small-scale protests arose in his hometown, and later, protests quickly spread throughout the country. The Tunisian government tried to end this unrest using military power, but this was gone until President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali stepped down. 


After Tunisia, Arab spring spread to Egypt, in which massive protests broke out in late January 2011. These protests were against the emergency law, unemployment, poverty, and 30 year Hosni Mubarak’s government. After several clashes between protesters and security forces in Cairo and around the country. While the government was trying to crush protesters, Hosni Mubarak lost the support of the military forces. After the brutal crackdown in Tahir Square, Mubarak left his position on February 11 and surrendered to the council of senior military officers. Later from the parliamentary election on November 29, Mohamed Morsi was elected as the new president. In July 2013, the army overthrew Morsi and took power since violence has spread across the country.  


In Libya, protests were raised against the regime of Muammar al-Quaddafi and his military dictatorship. When the government reacted harshly towards peaceful protesters, these protests were quickly turned into an armed revolt. Later, NATO imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed Quaddafi’s air force. Later, rebel forces take control of the country. Quaddafi was killed in Surt in October 2011. Then TNC (Transitional National Council) took power but struggled to restart the Libyan economy. And also, successive governments failed to prevent crimes of anti-al-Quaddafi fighters. The country has remained deeply divided since May 2014.


In Syria, people raised a massive protest against President Bashar al-Assad. And they asked for the resignation of the president. Unrest was first broken out in southern Syria and spread through the country. The government took a brutal crackdown against protesters. Clashes between protesters and the Syrian army have been ongoing since January 2011. Still, Assad has managed to survive against the revolution, but the country has led to a civil war. And this has created the largest refugee crisis of the 21st century.


When considering Yemen, the first protests appeared in late January 2011 against President Ali Abd Allah Sali when the president tried to change the constitution so that he could stay in power for life. Government forces killed hundreds of protesters. With the time he loosed his base of support and a number of the country’s most potent tribal and military leaders aligned with protesters. Later, Sali fleed from Yemen to get medical treatments and returned four months later. In November 2011, Sali signed an international mediated agreement calling for a phased transfer of power to the vice president, Abu Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. A few months later, in the election held, Hadi became the new president of Yemen.


In mid-February, 2011 people of Bahrain started rallies demanding democracy. Members of Bahrain’s marginalized Shiite majority and the Bahraini human rights activists conducted these protests. Dozens of protest leaders were convicted and imprisoned, hundreds of Shi-ite workers suspected of supporting the protesters were fired, and dozens of Shiite mosques were demolished by the government. 

Causes and Objectives 

The underlying objectives of the Arab spring vary from country to country.  However, the common reasons can be categorized as political, economic, and social reasons.

Political Reasons

The most influential driver for the uprisings in Arab Spring was political issues. Political regimes in most Arab countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, were in power for a few decades. 

  • Tunisia – President Ben Ali was in power for 23 years; the single political party Rassemblement Culturelle et Democratique (RCD) was controlling the country from 1956. 
  • Egypt – Hosni Mubarak was in power for 30 years in power   
  • Libya – Col. Qaddafi was in control since 1969, making him the longest-serving ruler in Africa and the Middle East. 
  • Syria – Assad family, controlled the country since 1971, and Bashar al- Assad in power since 2000. 
  • Yemen – President Ali Abdullah Saleh was in power for 32 years.

So people wanted to suppress these long-lasting powerhouses and see a difference. In other words, people were asking for more freedom against dictatorships. For example, Yemen protesters chanted ‘Enough being in power for 30 years”. In Bahrain, protestors demanded the transition to a constitutional monarchy.

Economic Reasons

There are some underlying economic factors behind the Arab Spring as well. The majority of the people in this region lived near the poverty line. And the average unemployment was around 10 – 20 percent. For instance, in Egypt, 20 percent of the population was living under the poverty line, while unemployment was 13 percent in 2010. In addition, Egypt was one of the unequal countries in the world where the top 10% of the population controlled the 27% percent national wealth. 

In 2010 the situation was the same in Tunisia, where 7.4 percent lived below the poverty line and unemployment 14 percent. The wealthiest 10% controlled 31.5% of the wealth of the state. 

Presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali delivered moderate economic growth during their long period by opening the countries to multi-national companies and Foreign Direct Investment. Yet, the majority of the society did not receive the positive results of economic growth. Hence, a large proportion of the community stayed in poverty. The situation was the same in other countries. 

Social Reasons

The other causes were lack of human dignity, freedom, and social justice. In the mass protest in Egypt in Tahir square, people carried the banners with words’ bread, freedom, and human dignity. With slogans like these, people called for structural changes which can create access to jobs without considering their family or cast.

Many protests demanded justice (adalah), Freedom (hurriyah), dignity (karamah), and respect (ihtiram). Further, their demands were,

  • rulers should respect the rights of the protestors as civilians
  • a life of dignity rather than condescension and oppression by the authorities and military forces
  • equality in access to resources and opportunities
  • rule of law
  • the right to participate in the global trend towards prosperity, progress, education, and democratic participation

This evidence shows all revolutions started from the majority of society, which was frustrated by the rigid rulers. Hence, the educated youth, women, poor, and religious leaders participated in the rebels. 

Social media such as Facebook Twitter played a significant role, as did cell phones. Satellite TV stations such as Al Jazeera and Al- Arabiya rapidly joined in. All these were important in attracting a much broader audience. 

 Successes and Failures

Even a decade later, the success of Arab spring has become a greater controversy. The success has to be measured compared to fulfilling its original objectives. As described earlier, the dreams of the Arab spring were to gain political changes, job opportunities, and improvement in the life of the majority of the citizens. Even from that, the main objective was the democratic transition. Using this perspective, the results of the Arab spring can be divided into three categories. 

  1. Countries with peaceful transitions – Compared with the other Arab countries, Egypt and Tunisia, have tended to experience less violence and successful changes. In both countries, the former leader has been fallen. Within one month, Tunisia was able to overthrow a decades-old authority’s regime. Hence, Tunisia can be considered a stably transformed country compared to other countries in the region. Egypt, however, appears to be less consolidated than that Tunisia. A peaceful transition remained for a shorter period in Egypt. Changing power to army forces has made the situation worsen.
  2. Countries that fall into civil wars – Libya, Syria, and Yemen joined this category. The conflict between protesters and the regime has dropped into civil war. Violence and instability are ongoing in Libya and Syria. In Yemen, more than 2500 people have been killed. In Syria, it is more than 250 000. Approximately seven million people are now refugees. In addition, ongoing conflicts have caused rising tension between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
  3. Countries with little or no change – Most states in the region represented little or no change. From Saudi Arabia to Jordan, the ruling elites have managed the authority. But government changes were observed in Jordan and Bahrain while autocrats in Saudi Arabia and Algeria confirmed social reforms. 

The next objective was improving material well-being and more economic opportunities. Whether this was a success? For that, we have to look at the unemployment and poverty rates in the region. The following graph shows the growth rates and unemployment rates in the Arab before and after the Arab spring. 

When observing the chart, it is clear that after the Arab spring, unemployment has been further increased. That means the objective has not been a success.

Since the Arab Spring, nations have been in the struggle. Many articles conclude that Tunisia is the sole successor of the Arab spring. Even though many countries were able to overthrow the long-lasting rulers, they haven’t been able to achieve the required systematic changes. 

According to most research, the impact of the Arab spring is unpredictable. Many majorities of the Arab dreamed that the Arab Spring would bring new administrations that offered political change and social fairness. Still, the reality is more conflict and brutality and repression of individuals who dare to speak up for a fairer, more open society. Hence, in a way, the Arab spring is a tragedy. According to Berman, many political developments such as the French revolution, the American civil war, and Italian German democracy came with pain. In these, countries have not been able to create a liberal democracy, but it has been crucial in later democratic changes. Even unsuccessful democratic efforts are frequently a turning point in a country’s political growth. As a result, he stated that even the Arab Spring’s mistakes would aid the Arab world’s future prosperity.

The economist magazine supports Berman’s idea. According to the economists’ magazine, the Arab spring was not only a physical revolution; it depicted an urge for social change. Dictatorships that prevailed in the era did not support the progressing Arab society. People quickly adjusted to the internet, social media, and satellite television. Especially Arabian women were looking for freedom. Arab Spring was only the first step to achieve these, yet it may take decades to reach the final object. 

According to these ideas, Arab spring has had both successes and failures. One of the most apparent failures is the emergence of ‘modern Jihadism’ and the expansion of IS as an influential terrorist organization to the world order. 

For a long time, people in these areas lived in unrest, unhappy due to the autocratic political regimes that had eradicated their dignity and freedom. The incident in Tunisia was the first outbreak of this unrest. Thousands of People in different countries came to roads and protests for democracy, political reforms, material well-being, justice, freedom, and dignity. Still, Tunisia has fulfilled these objectives while most other countries are struggling. Countries have led to a civil war. 

Economic growth has stopped. Unemployment and poverty have increased. Therefore to a major extent, Arab spring is a total failure. However, some political reforms were achieved. Long survival regimes were fallen. In that perspective, Arab spring had some success. Even though this was a failure in the future, this will lead to some positive changes in Arab. History has examples of that kind of process. Many democratic countries have started their revolution with unsuccessful battles. Arab spring is still in the process. Therefore, it is hard to tell whether it was a success. After a decade, it is primarily a failure, but it can be changed in the future. 


The Arab spring can be regarded as an event of global significance. From its onset in early 2011, it has been understood as a process of political, economic, and social change in the Middle East. Five years after the outbreak of the bloom is off the rose. Up to a certain level, the main objective of falling the regime was a success. The authorities have fallen, but reforms in constitutions more democracy are still unachievable. Elections have been conducted but not at a stable level. The successive government has not been able to fulfill the protesters’ demands. Tunisia is the only country that has archive a peaceful transition. The above analysis has shown that Arab spring was not as successful as it hoped. It has caused more failures rather success. But it did not means Arab spring was a total failure. The steps among failures and blood can be lead to a better world. 

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