A wave of revolutions and protests throughout Africa and the Middle East began in December 2010 and many are continuing through April. Countries involved have seen high unemployment and extensive political oppression. With dictators in charge and a lack of access to uncontrolled media outlets, many protesters have used Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to spread the word throughout their countries and beyond. Most protesters are trying to influence the government to work on finding solutions for high unemployment rates and massive food inflation, and many are trying to oust dictators and encourage democracy. Violence has erupted in many areas as leaders try to control the protests. In some countries, the Internet has been shut down and journalists have been kicked out to keep the international community from being informed and to keep protesters from coordinating their actions. As protests and violence continue dictators have fled, given in to demands, and in some cases launched civil war.
As protesters demand democracy the international community has become involved, with NATO performing air strikes in the area. International involvement has also been spurred on due to journalists being arrested throughout the area. Protests have also had other effects on the rest of the world as the price of oil continues to go up as big oil and gas exporters Libya and Algeria remain in turmoil.
Tunisia - Dececmber 18, 2010
Protests started in December 2010 in the region of Sidi Bouzid after local fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building. Bouazizi was pushed to his drastic protest after police confiscated his wares.
Hundreds came out to protest the government after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. With a nationwide ban on covering the protests in the media and a ban on most video sharing websites, protesters took to Facebook to post pictures and videos of the crowds. They also used Facebook as a way to stay in contact with other protesters and organize more demonstrations. Facebook spread the revolution around the country, taking it from isolated Sidi Bouzid to the capital and getting footage and information to various media outlets.
After Bouazizi’s death Jan. 4, the largest protest yet wracked the country culminating in President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing the country to Saudi Arabia, ending his 23-year presidency.
Though the actions of Bouazizi were the spark that ignited the revolution in Tunisia, it was helped along by a high unemployment rate (almost 50 percent among university graduates), food inflation, massive government corruption and widespread media censorship.
Protesters grew more and more persistent as Ben Ali attempted to cut off Internet access and had hundreds of protesters shot and killed by police.
After Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, several interim governments have come and gone in Tunisia as it struggles against the problems that led to its desperate economic situation. The country continues to remove members of the old government who remain.
Yemen - January 24, 2011
Demanding Ali Abdullah Saleh end his 30-year presidency, tens of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated in the capital Sanaa.
Like other countries that have faced protests and revolutions this year, Yemen students, opposition members and youth activists are calling for economic reform and to end government corruption as people face poverty and hold few political freedoms. Protesters are also trying to prevent legislation that will allow Saleh to give his son the presidency when he is ready to step down.
Protests in Yemen against the government have been countered by pro-government protests. Protesters have experienced violence against them during demonstrations with more than 116 people killed since protests started in February. Arrests of opposition leaders have been rampant and with over half the country owning guns it is feared that violence will escalate. Protests in Yemen have included attacks on police stations and roadblocks. Women protesters have been significant during this conflict with women protesters showing a united front in spite of the fact the President has accused them of going against Islam by protesting against him and mixing with men to do so.
Saleh has promised to have elections this year though he says he will stay in power to facilitate a peaceful transition and avoid civil war.
Egypt - January 25, 2011
Protesting poverty, unemployment, government corruption and calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in office, Egyptians took to the streets on Jan. 25. Inspired by successful protests in Tunisia, Egyptian protest coordinators regularly posted updates to Twitter until the website was blocked by the government Jan. 26.
After protests grew larger and protesters branched out to other websites such as Facebook and Youtube, the government worked against protesters by blocking the Internet and cell phone texting capabilities and injuring hundreds with batons, tear gas and cannons.
Initially, Mubarak agreed to not run for re-election but that he would continue his role as president to ensure peaceful transition with the next president. As negotiations between Mubarak and protesters continued, protesters grew increasingly more agitated with Mubarak as he refused to give up his power and numbers of protesters increased throughout February.
Violence escalated between anti- and pro-Mubarak groups, especially in Tahrir Square, the epicenter for the protests. On Feb. 11 Mubarak officially resigned from office. Once Mubarak had officially left office the Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces took over and are still in charge of the country as of April 15, 2011. Still widespread protests continue as Egyptians try to bring widespread reform to the government.
Algeria - February 12, 2011
Though protests had been commonplace in Algeria throughout 2010, the widespread protests and governmental change that has ensued in other countries sparked a huge increase in protests and riots in Algeria from Dec. 28 on. Protesters demanded economic change as already high unemployment rates and food prices were hit with an even sharper rise. January 2011 saw the greatest increase in food prices.
Though the government took action to deal with food inflation, self-immolation in front of government buildings continued. Opposition parties, unions and human rights organizations continued to organize weekly protests though the government had called for a state of emergency, making protesting illegal.
In late February, the government agreed to end the state of emergency and the number of protesters in the streets increased, with oppression, citing unemployment and infrastructure corruption as their biggest concerns.
Protesters and security forces have not been peaceful, as protesters have started to throw Molotov cocktails at police and police have retaliated. Near the end of April, police started to join protesters in demanding the government take some sort of action. Still, violence between police and protesters has continued. Violence has also erupted among protesters as followers of different opposition leaders have started to fight against each other on the streets.
On April 15 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gave a televised address in which he promised to seek constitutional amendments giving more power to a representative democracy. He also proposed more media freedom and changing election laws. He has no plans to leave power.
Libya - February 17, 2011
Civil war continues in Libya as a rebel army attempts to overthrow the long-time leadership of Muammar el-Qaddafi who has been in power since 1969. High unemployment rates, the desire for more democracy and education as well as the influence of other revolutions in the region helped tip the scales towards revolution in February.
Beginning Feb. 15, civil war in Libya started as a series of peaceful protests objecting to the Qaddafi government. Qaddafi’s security forces attempted to suppress early protests by violence and censoring of the media and communication outlets.
As conflict escalates between the rebel forces and Qaddafi’s forces, the UN Security Council and NATO have become involved in trying to draw up peace agreements. The UN Security council has also established a no-fly zone in an attempt to protect the civilians who could potentially become victims in the crossfire. NATO is also controlling limited air strikes on Qaddafi’s forces throughout the country as part of enforcing the no-fly zone and in what NATO claims is an attempt to protect civilians.
Through the push and pull of civil war, both sides have gained and lost ground. The civil war continues in April with NATO air strikes in the pivotal cities of Tripoli and Misrata. Qaddafi continues to attack the small rebel forces that remain.
Syria - March 15, 2011
Protests are ongoing in Syria as government security forces continue to clash with protesters. Syrian security forces have killed and wounded hundreds of protesters with sticks, guns and tear gas. Syrian citizens have claimed that they do not want to completely topple the government but rather begin drastic reform in the government, which current President Bashar al-Assad promises to present next week.
Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, attacks on protesters have continued and protesters who have been arrested are often beaten and tortured by electricical shocks.
Most protesters are trying to force the government to declare the end of the Emergency Law that has been in effect since 1963 and which allows the government’s secret police to arrest people without giving reason and hold them in jail for years without trial as well as completely suspend most constitutional protections.
Syrian protests started small with citizens making use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which were allowed in the countr y for the first time Jan. 1. Protesters called for a “Day of Rage” against the government on Feb. 5. There were also instances of self-immolation, candlelight vigils for protesters in other countries and spontaneous protests breaking out in response to instances of government injustice.
Protests increased throughout March and continued into April. The government responsed with increased violence toward the protesters.
Currently al-Assad remains in power and protests and violence continue to increase. On April 15 tens of thousands of people gathered across the country chanting “Freedom.”