A year to the day, Mohamed - Basboosa – Bouazizi’s self-immolation in the sleepy Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid kicked off a year of global revolt, the convulsions have spread further than Basboosa could ever have been imagined. The Arab Spring was born. A simple street seller, Basboosa had his vegetable cart confiscated by local officials and in protest set himself on fire. His actions ignited a string of anti-government demonstrations that have transformed the Arab world.
Within days of Basboosa‘s tragic protest, thousands of Tunisians lined the streets with a new found instant courage, demanding an end to the 23-year dictatorship of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
The protests sparked a chain of events, and despite an offer to step down at the end of his term along with sweeping concessions, the unrest persisted. The demonstrations continued and by mid-January Ben Ali fled the country. A few days later protests erupted in nearby Egypt.
In Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere, massive crowds turned out to complain of the poverty and repression they had endured for 30 years under Hosni Mubarak. Eighteen days later they too were celebrating the demise of a dictator – with Mubarak gone and an interim military regime in its place. Very soon the uprisings had spread across the Arab world – to Libya, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain and Syria – with mixed results.
Libya’s dictator Moamar Gaddafi was killed, but not before a bloody civil war that has left tens of thousands of Libyans dead.
In Yemen, president Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally signed a deal to hand power to his deputy, with presidential elections planned in February. But protests continue against an amnesty that would spare him from prosecution.
In Bahrain the Sunni-led regime has maintained power despite months of unrest that killed around 30 people, although King Hamad has vowed sweeping reforms.
The biggest unknown is still Syria where nine months of anti-government protest are slowly giving way to armed conflict between security forces and defected soldiers who have joined the opposition. But president Bashar al-Assad earlier this month denied any responsibility for his government’s actions and still refuses to step down.
In Egypt, voters still have another round of elections to install a new democratic government, with early signs that Islamist parties will take the biggest share of power.
And a year after Mohamad Bouazizi took his fateful stand, only Tunisia has so far made the transition to democracy.
Voters there elected a new government in October, dominated by moderate Islamist party, in a ballot most observers say was largely free and fair.
The turmoil started by Basboosa has spread to each corner of the globe, The Occupy Movement, Chinese Land Dissidents and most recently, civil unrest in Russia’s post election landscape . . .
12 months on, and the Arab Spring is still ongoing . . .
UPDATE: Tunisia. December 18,2011. Thousands of Tunisians rallied on Saturday to commemorate a young fruit seller’s desperate gesture a year ago which unleashed the pioneering revolution of the Arab Spring.
Newly-elected president Moncef Marzouki joined the crowds in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi’s altercation with a policewoman and his subsequent self-immolation set off a wave of protests that toppled long-standing dictators and dramatically changed the Arab world.
“Thank you to this land, which has been marginalised for centuries, for bringing dignity to the entire Tunisian people,” said Mr Marzouki, who was sworn in as president this week after the country’s first post-revolution election.
“Our role is to bring back the joy of living which had been stolen by despots,” he said.
From daybreak on Saturday, Tunisians swarmed into Sidi Bouzid, where the streets were decked with Tunisian flags, pictures of “victims of the revolution” and a giant photograph of Mr Bouazizi.
“I look around me and see many young people in the crowd who braved the bullets of Ben Ali’s police last year to defend the values of freedom and dignity,” human rights activist Sabrine Ammari said.
A monument representing Mr Bouazizi’s street stall surrounded by wheelchairs symbolising ousted Arab dictators was unveiled to applause, while union leaders, rights activists and members of the new constituent assembly took to the microphone.
Ben Ali Ousted: The popular uprisings that spread from Tunisia across the Arab world in 2011 led to the ouster of Ben Ali as well as the leaders of Egypt, Libya and Yemen, while deadly anti-regime protests continue to convulse Syria.
Ben Ali was ousted on January 14 and went into exile in Saudi Arabia but is the subject of 18 trials in Tunisia on a string of charges including murder and destabilising the state, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of power. He has already been sentenced to 66 years in prison in total, and also has an international warrant out on his head.
Tunisia’s newly-elected constituent assembly – dominated by the moderate Islamists of Ennahda – on Monday elected former opposition leader Mr Marzouki as president. Prime minister-designate Hamadi Jebali, Ennahda’s number two is preparing to form a government which faces the challenge of creating jobs and developing the long-neglected interior regions of the country.
In Sidi Bouzid, demonstrators voiced their pride at Tunisia’s pioneering role in the Arab Spring but also their frustration that the promise of the revolution has yet to bear fruit.
“Nothing has been achieved yet. No jobs have been created and there has been no social or economic development,” unemployed 28-year-old Moncef Dridi said.
“The young people who understood Bouazizi’s gesture are impatient.”
UPDATE: Cairo. 18 December 2011. Violence raged for a second day in Egypt as troops and police deployed in force after clashes with protesters against continued military rule left 10 people dead.
Smoke billowed over Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the iconic focus of the protest movement that overthrew veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February, after two nearby government offices caught fire, an AFP correspondent said on Saturday (local time). Demonstrators pelted security forces with rocks and petrol bombs as they fought running battles in the streets around the square and an adjacent bridge across the River Nile.
Prime minister Kamal al-Ganzuri raised tensions by accusing the protesters of being counter-revolutionaries and denying security forces had opened fire as they broke up a sit-in against his nomination last month outside the nearby cabinet office. Troops and police moved to retake control of the area around the office early on Saturday, erecting razor-wire barriers.
After several hours of calm, new clashes erupted, overshadowing the count in the second phase of the first general election since Mubarak’s ouster. Abul Ela Madi, the vice-president of a civilian advisory council to the military set up in November after days of anti-army protests, said 11 of the council’s 30 members had resigned in protest by Saturday.
“Eleven people, including me, have resigned,” said Mr Madi, who heads the moderate Islamist Wasat party.
“We made recommendations yesterday (Friday) but today we were surprised that not only were they not implemented, but there were further casualties.”
By the afternoon, soldiers withdrew to the cabinet offices and began constructing a wall of concrete blocks, witnesses said. Following the resignations, the ruling military council expressed its “regret for the events that took place (on Saturday),” in a statement published by the official MENA news agency.
It added it was implementing the advisory council’s recommendations to stop the clashes by building a wall, and it would compensate the families of the dead and treat the wounded. The ruling military council had earlier said it had come under attack at dawn and its soldiers were shot at, causing injuries, forcing the military “to stop those outlaws”, in a statement published by MENA.
UPDATE: Syria. 18 December, 2011. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Syrian soldiers were given orders to “shoot to kill” in the crackdown against anti-government protesters.
HRW says it has interviewed dozens of soldiers who have defected from the Syrian army to join the opposition forces. They reported their commanders had told them to use all means necessary to stop the anti-government uprising that began in March. The organisation says defectors gave names, ranks and positions of those who gave orders to shoot to kill.
“Normally we’re supposed to save bullets, but this time he said, ‘use as many bullets as you want.’,” one soldier is quoted as saying.
A sniper in the city of Homs said his commanders ordered that a specific percentage of demonstrators should die.
“For 5,000 protesters, for example, the target would be 15 to 20 people,” he told HRW.
The organisation identified 74 commanders who had ordered, authorised or condoned killings, torture and unlawful arrests during the anti-government protests.
“These abuses constitute crimes against humanity,” it said, calling on the United Nations Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has said most of the thousands killed since March were government forces, and that armed insurgent gangs are behind the violence. The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Mr Assad’s crackdown on protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. Assad has denied any orders were issued to kill demonstrators and says gunmen have killed 1,100 of his forces.
Mr Assad, 46, whose family is from the minority Alawite sect that has held power in majority Sunni Muslim Syria for four decades, faces the most serious challenge to his 11-year rule. As evidence of the regime’s brutal tactics emerged, army deserters killed 27 soldiers in southern Syria, in some of the deadliest attacks on government forces since the start of an uprising nine months ago.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes flared in Deraa, where protests against Mr Assad first erupted in March, and at a checkpoint east of the city where all 15 personnel manning it were killed. It did not say how they broke out, but the high casualties among security forces suggested coordinated strikes by the army rebels who have escalated attacks in recent weeks, raising the spectre of slippage towards civil war in Syria.
Army rebels have stepped up their campaign against security forces in the last month, ambushing military convoys, opening fire on an intelligence centre on the outskirts of Damascus and killing six pilots at an air base. Recent bloodshed has prompted the head of the main Syrian opposition group to call on the rebel forces’ Free Syrian Army to restrict operations against Assad’s military to defending protests.
“We want to avoid a civil war at all costs,” Burhan Ghalioun of the Syrian National Council said last week.
But his influence over the insurgents appears limited. One Free Syrian Army officer, speaking before Thursday’s clashes, said the rebels were justified in targeting Mr Assad’s forces and said Mr Ghalioun’s comments betrayed “a lack of knowledge of the military basis of this regime”.
“Anyone who bears arms against civilians, either army, security or shabbiha (pro-Assad militia), and kills civilians – we will respond and inflict whatever damage we can,” Major Maher Ismail al-Naimi said.
“In our view, that does not mean the revolution is abandoning its peaceful nature,” Major Naimi said, who deserted from the Republican Guards. He is now the spokesman for the Free Syrian Army but said he was giving his personal opinion.
UPDATE: Cairo, December 19, 2011. In the second straight day of clashes military leaders escalated the bloody crackdown on street protesters, chasing down and beating unarmed civilians, even while the prime minister was denying in a televised news conference that security forces were using any force. Read the full article »»»»