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date: 22 October 2019

Arab Spring

A Dictionary of Politics in the Middle East

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen

Arab Spring (2011) 

Series of uprisings in 2011 that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen and contributed to the start of the Syrian Civil War. The catalyst for the outbreak of the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of a vegetable seller in Tunisia whose wares were confiscated by the police in December 2010. News of Mohammed Bouazizi’s plight spread rapidly on social media and tapped into feelings of economic insecurity and social injustice felt by many across the Middle East and North Africa. As the protests gained momentum they acquired a political dimension and led to the ousting of Tunisian President Zine el Abidene Ben Ali in January 2011. The focus of the protests shifted to Egypt, where eighteen days of demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo and across the country culminated in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in February. Within days, large-scale demonstrations erupted in Bahrain against the ruling Al Khalifa family and in Libya against the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Bahraini uprising was quelled in March 2011 by the intervention of forces from other Gulf Cooperation Council states, led by Saudi Arabia, that assisted the government to restore order. External intervention occurred also in Libya as the Arab League worked with the United Nations to establish a No-Fly Zone to protect the eastern city of Benghazi from Gaddafi’s forces, and a NATO-led coalition commenced seven months of air strikes that culminated in Gaddafi’s ousting and death in October 2011. Nationwide protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen were resolved by a political transition to Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi that was brokered by Gulf Cooperation Council states in February 2012. In Syria, the use of force by government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad gradually militarized the demonstrations, which escalated into the Syrian Civil War in 2012.