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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Arab Spring

Whatever happened to the Arab Spring?

It promised widespread change in the Middle East, but has fallen off the radar. Why?


IN DECEMBER 2010, protests began in Tunisia following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi.

Bouazizi was reportedly angered by the confiscation of his fruit cart and, when he was refused an audience with the governor of Ben Arous, he set himself on fire.

He died in hospital 18 days later.

Mideast Tunisia Revolution Revisited AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

His actions and his death sparked a wave of protest in Tunisia, where Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had ruled for 22 years.

Within 10 days of Bouazizi’s death, Ben Ali had fled Tunisia and the government was overthrown.

Protests spread to Algeria, Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Morocco. In each, protesters demanded reform, economic growth and, in many cases, democracy.

By the end of 2011, Hosni Mubarak had been overthrown in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi was gone in Libya and Yemen’s government was on the verge of falling.

The protests and violence would carry on until 2013 in most cases, though violence continues in Syria, Egypt, Sudan and Bahrain.

But now, four years later, the most widespread show of public outcry in the Arab world is a mere afterthought.

Away from the view of the world, though, what happened?


Tunisa Presidental Election AP / Press Association Images A cameraman stands on a podium during a campaign meeting of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In the country that saw the start of the revolution, there was the most drastic change.

Ben Ali and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi both resigned, the political police were dissolved, the ruling RCD party were dissolved, political prisoners released and a new constitution adopted.

Last week, a top security official of Ben Ali was named as prime minister designate. Habib Essid will be formally tasked with forming a government by President Beji Caid Essebsi, who is of the anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party.


Egypt Uprising AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In Egypt, violence continues as successive governments have been overthrown.

After Mubarak was overthrown, Mohammed Morsi became the country’s first democratically elected president. However, he favoured an Islamist-backed constitution and reinstated the parliament which had been dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court. He then opposed a constitutional limit on presidential terms, fired judges and made a declaration giving himself immunity from legal challenges.

In 2013, millions rallied and called for his resignation. Eventually, the Egyptian army gave him 48-hours to resign.

Adly Mansour was made President before Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won an election in 2014.

The Arab Spring also saw the rendering of a new constitution, the lifting of the 31-year-old state of emergency which granted security forces martial powers and the disbanding of the internal police.


Syria has seen the highest body count in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Whereas just over 4,000 people died in Egypt, Syria’s nearly four-year-long civil war has claimed over 191,000 lives.

Early 2011 saw civil unrest and protest which escalated by year end.

Defections from the national army, the end of emergency laws and large-scale defections from government did nothing to calm outrage and the country toppled into a lengthy civil war.

Since the Islamic State joined fighting, this is how the country looks:



The second highest death toll came in Libya, where dictator Muammar Gadafi was ousted and killed by rebels.

The country elected a new government in 2012, but has since slid into a second civil war. This week, all sides in that conflict agreed a roadmap to peace. The talks in Geneva had been called the last chance to avoid anarchy.

Over 30,000 people have been killed in the violence.


Mideast Yemen AP / Press Association Images Yemeni chant slogans during a rally against the Shiite insurgency in Sanaa. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

In Yemen, high unemployment, poor economic conditions and a plan to change the constitution led to mass protest in early 2011.

This, coupled with mass defections from the army, led to President Ali Abdullah Saleh announcing he would not seek re-election. After months of  demonstrations and violence, an assassination attempt left Saleh injured.

He would sign a deal in November to transfer power.

Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi was elected President and will seek re-election this year. After 2,000 deaths, Yemen restructured much of its political system, overthrew its government and reworked its government.

However, al-Hadi has said that Yemen is currently fighting three wars with al Qaeda, pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and Houthi rebels in the north.

Governmental changes

Across the Arab world, protests in Jordan, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco and Lebanon led to an assortment of governmental changes.

In Jordan, King Abdullah dismissed three governments and held early elections.

Oman’s Sultan handed lawmaking powers to the elected legislature, Iraq saw a wave of political resignations but has since fallen into a war with ISIS and Kuwait dissolved its parliament.

Morocco’s King Abdullah made concessions including recognising the Berber language and devolving power to the government on political appointments.

In Bahrain, 120 people have been killed and more imprisoned. Protesters have demanded the end of the monarchy. The protests were initially met with force, but Bahrain has opened up a dialogue with protesters since.

Israel, Sudan and Algeria saw widespread protests, but these achieved little outside the lifting of the state of emergency in Algeria.

The aftermath

While some countries have experienced the benefit of the Arab Spring, the ensuing violence and instability has been dubbed the Arab Winter. HSBC estimated last year that the violence had cost around $800 billion.

“As a result, per capita income will be nearly 68 percent lower than they would have been without the effects of the Arab Spring/Winter. This is equal to at least $6,000 per person. If Yemen is added to this list, then a further $10 billion or more of GDP was lost and an additional 1.75 million people were added to the population between 2011 and 2014.”

Read: Amal Clooney threatened with arrest in Egypt

Read: Court drops murder charges against ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak

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