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The Arab Uprisings: Inspired by the Success of Tunisia Madeline Field 7 December 2013 Loyola University Chicago: HONR 212

THE ARAB UPRISINGS The Arab Uprisings: Inspired by the Success of Tunisia The winter of 2010 marked the beginning of a movement that would significantly alter the political atmosphere of nations throughout the Middle East. Starting in Tunisia and spreading over the northern most countries of Africa, into the Arabian Peninsula, Arabs took to the streets and protested the rule of authoritarian governments. The Arab Spring, or what is

referred to more accurately as the Arab Uprisings, shook the Arab world, freeing it of many long ruling regimes. However, the Arab Uprisings were not a single movement. Each nations revolt, while inspired by the acts of other protests, looked to gain different goals, by different means. The Arab Uprisings were not strictly an urban movement, nor were they strictly for the youth. Not all protests resulted in the respective leaders leaving as quickly and effectively as Tunisias Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali or remain in power with as much persistence as Libyas Muammar alQaddafi. The uprisings did not uniformly use a non-violent approach, nor was each revolt met with the same degree of violence in response. Westerners often lump the revolutions of the Arab Uprisings into a single movement of citizens springing from their passive submissions of corrupt rule. Such generalizations are only modern applications of orientalism. The initial revolts of the Arab Uprisings were not a sudden awakening of Middle Eastern conscience, and were not, in fact, the first of their kind (nor the last as proven by the events of the past year). To understand the real implications and motivations of the Arab Uprisings, one must consider nations individually, as well as the region as a whole. Only by recognizing both the differences between each nations revolts and the similarities of their struggles, can one fully understand how each compared, inspired, and contributed to the greater picture of the Arab Uprisings. More importantly, a study of the region and specific countries will reveal the differences between uprisings that succeeded, and uprisings that did not.

THE ARAB UPRISINGS Before the Uprisings: A Modern History While Middle Eastern nations have their differences, which led to different demands during their revolts, it would be nave to ignore their shared conditions that called for uprisings and allowed the protests to spread across the region. Arab states share a language, religion, culture, and economic trends. While these factors should not lump all Arabs into a single category, they contribute to an indisputable larger collectivism, often referred to as the Arab identity. Political and Social State Prior to the Uprisings To understand the revolts of the early 2010s it is important to consider the social and political atmosphere of the Middle East at that time. While the Arab States had experienced substantial increases in human development throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there was rising dissent among the respective populations, resulting from both the afflictions of the regime and a number of social, political, and economic factors. In his article Human Development in the Arab Spring, Randall Kuhn (2012) presents his research on the state of human development progress leading up to and during the Arab Uprisings. Kuhns study reveals improved conditions in health, schooling, and longevity among the vast majority of citizens throughout the Arab states (p. 674). In fact, the Human

Development Index (HDI) for the Middle East improved from 0.425 in 1980 to 0.630 in 2010, with only Asia showing more accelerated growth (Kuhn, pg. 655). Additionally, the Arab states low Gross Domestic Product growth, which determines one third of the HDI and was less than one percent per year, was compensated for by a significant increase in life expectancy at birth, which determines another third of the HDI and showed a substantial 13 year gain (Kuhn, pg. 655). Kuhn reports that while educational developments did not excel in comparison to other


regions, they kept up with the rapid global pace of improvement, determining the final third of the HDI (pg. 656). Thus, based on the HDI, the human condition of Arab citizens, outside of sociopolitical factors, made significant advances prior to the Arab Uprisings. Kuhn suggests these advances may have played a role in the mobilization of Arabs into protests (as I will discuss further later on), and contributed to the oppressive sociopolitical factors experienced during this time as improvements in early-life human development are often followed by increasing physical and social needs and expectations that are more difficult for governments to meet (pg. 660). Despite their rising human condition, Arab citizens were inflicted by the unjust rule of their authoritarian regimes, causing a significant decrease in their quality of life. The substantial lag between Arab countries and other regions in terms of participatory governance was so significant that the Regional Bureau for Arab States of the United Nations Development Programme described the region as suffering from a freedom deficit (Gelvin, 2012, pg. 4). In his book, The Arab Uprisings, James Gelvin uses the bureaus series of Arab Human Development Reports from 2002 to display the oppressive sociopolitical conditions of the Arab world leading into the uprisings. The report goes so far as to categorize the majority of Arab states as black-hole states whose executive branch of government is so powerful that it converts the surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes (Gelvin, pg. 5). The implications of such a state can be seen in the reports findings, which include the following facts: Arab civil liberties, political rights, and independence of media rank below international average in all counties except Jordan and Kuwait, ten out of seventeen Arab states surveyed rank above the international mean for public perceptions of corruption, most states prohibit or restrict the formation or existence of

THE ARAB UPRISINGS oppositional parties, and ten states regularly [torture] interned prisoners (Gelvin, pg. 5-6). These limitations on personal and public life contributed to the rising distress that erupted into the social contention expressed in the uprisings. In addition to the oppressive sociopolitical factors, the Middle East was afflicted with a number of economic misfortunes on the eve of the Arab Uprisings. Although the economies of Arab states greatly differ a number of economic trends were shared in the region at this time.

The Middle Easts average GDP (as previously mentioned) significantly lags behind those of the rest of the developing world (Gelvin, pg. 11). The failed GDP growth is due, in part, to a relatively homogeneous market of both products and consumers. The economy of the Middle East is fueled on the production of oil and gas. Even Arab states that are not typically associated with oil production have an inordinate dependence on rent, as shown in 2010 when rent accounted for 40 percent of Egypts revenue and 50 percent of Syrias (Gelvin, pg. 8). With oil and gas exports having remained flat in recent decades, the regions GDP has remained nearly stagnant as the global economy progresses (Gelvin, pg. 11). Additionally, Gelvin reports that the region is one of the least globalized in the world exporting 60 percent of its production to Europe alone (pg. 11). In an increasingly globalized world, such isolation leaves the Middle East in a vulnerable position. The Middle Easts nearly stagnant economy could not meet the demands of the growing labor force it encountered in late 1990s and early 2000s. Largely to blame for the influx of workers was a youth bulge created by the rising life expectancy and decreased infant mortality rates of the late 1900s. Approximately 60 percent of the population of the Arab world in the early 2000s was under the age of thirty (Gelvin, pg. 19). When the youth bulge matured and sought entry into the job market, the demand for employment rose and became significantly


greater than the supple of job opportunities. Gelvin reports that unemployment rates of the Arab states, hovered between 10 and 12 percent leading into the uprisings (Gelvin, pg. 12). The frustrations of the unemployment crisis were increased by the rising availability of education. Many Arabs attempting to enter the job market had graduated from universities expecting better employment opportunities. However, the rapid growth in higher education [resulted] in a mismatch between labor force skills and employment opportunities, leaving graduated students abilities unneeded, and with no greater advantage in the market (Kuhn, pg. 662). The economic struggles of Arab states in the early 2000s were increased by a global food crisis. Early in their independence, authoritarian regimes of the Middle East controlled significant portions of the economy to better maintain their power. With the control of major industries and economic development, regimes installed a wide array of social benefits for their populations that contributed to their rising GDI, including state subsidies on consumer goods (Gelvin, pg. 12). In the 1980s, however, these regimes switched to the hands-off economic approach encouraged by neoliberalism, ending the food subsidies that protected Arabs from price fluctuations. Middle Eastern states that are immensely reliant on food imports, bulked as the price of food doubled on the international markets between 2007 and 2011, leading citizens to call for their governments to reinstate these former subsidies (Gelvin, pg. 22). The food crisis led to a higher cost of living, and further increased the challenges faced by Arabs leading up to the revolts. Before the uprisings of the 2010s, Arabs had taken to the streets a number of times before, protesting regional conflicts, neoliberal reforms, and desired electoral reform. In Egypt demonstrations of all three of these factors occurred. The neoliberal reforms of the 1980s triggered bread riots in Egypt multiple times in the late 1900s and up to the food crisis of 2007.

THE ARAB UPRISINGS The Egyptian government was able to settle these riots by reintroducing a large number of subsidies (Gelvin, pg. 22). Egyptians began a new style of demonstrations in support of the Palestinian intifada in 2000 and against the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. These protests were symbolic, only expressing opinions on international disputes. Therefore, the

Egyptian government was unable to stop them with any form of concession, and allowed them to continue, reasoning that they would more than likely turn against them if they tried to intervene (Gelvin, pg. 48). The most political of Egypts more recent revolts, occurred in 2004 when protests groups formed to demonstrate against a government referendum to confirm the fifth term for Mubarak (Gelvin, pg. 48). The protests prior to the Arab Uprisings did not contribute to the Arabs contention, but demonstrated the citizens political discontent, and helped lay foundations for the later uprisings. No Time Like the Present The Arab Uprisings caught the world by surprise and scholars debate whether the protests could have been predicted. In his essay The Arab Spring and its Surprises, Asef Bayat (2013) suggests that while every revolution is a surprise, the revolutions of the Arab Spring were surprising not for their unexpectedness but their character, their ideological make-up and political trajectories (pg. 587). In other words, while the eventual revolt of Arab states might have been predicted by a number of factors, the nature and ability of the uprisings to gain popular support was largely unpredictable. Any number of factors might have contributed to the mobilization of citizens into the Arab uprising. The discontent of populations against their governments developed over time, but certain events around the turn of the century, amplified this dissatisfaction. The culmination of Arabs discontent, affected by events including the continued brutality of ruling regimes, the


food and unemployment crises, and the poorly advancing economy were all predominant factors that could have motivated the people into action. However, as Gelvin states in The Arab Uprisings, unemployment and bread prices are objective categories that are quantifiable; the sense of deprivation or injusticenot to mention the compulsion to translate that sense into actionis not (pg. 25). Other, more socially based theories have been assigned to the mobilization of the uprisings as well. Kuhn, in his study of the human development of the Middle East, suggests that the improving human conditions, in terms of health and education, led to increased political involvement, thus motivating the peoples mobilization and revolt (pg. 667-677). A rather popularized, though often exaggerated theory points to the use of social media throughout the Arab states as a tool of mobilization, allowing easy coordination and mass participation. Katerina Dalacoura (2012), in her article The 2011 Uprisings in the Arab Middle East, credits social media as well as pre-existing civil society and political opposition groups as the main contributors of the uprisings (pg. 67). The political and social parties, she suggests, prepared the ground for the rebellions and were able, when the time came, to coordinate them (Dalacoura, pg. 67). For example, Egyptian protest groups that formed in 2004 provided experienced civic leaders that were able to promote and organize demonstrations during the uprising against Mubarak in 2011. Previous protests in the Arab states helped set the stage for the uprisings in other ways as well. For example, Egyptians, having demonstrated during the intifada and invasion of Iraq, were familiar with the methods of organizing public protests, and were endowed with the belief that they had the right to occupy public space, after having been previously tolerated by the government.


While previous protests helped set the stage, they did not grow to the size and impact that the Arab Uprisings attained, in part because they involved demands that were easily negotiated by the regimes. On one hand, bread riots and dissent caused by neoliberal reforms were subdued by the reinstallation of certain subsidies. Regimes were able to settle the protests because the demands the demonstrators called for were within the regimes power, and even slight concessions could convince the population that they had been given what they called for. The Arab Uprisings, on the other hand, united under the chant the people demand the fall of the regime. The complete dismantling of their own rule was not a demand that regimes could offer even slight concessions towards, and the regimes were therefore incapable of settling the revolts by any degree of reform or policy. As Jean-Pierre Filiu (2011) states, the Arab Uprisings were about getting rid of the leader, once and for all (pg.58). Earlier protests in Arab states didnt gain the popular support the Arab Uprisings did, despite their similar anti-authoritarian sentiments, largely because many Arabs lacked optimism that the regimes could be toppled. All that changed, however, when Tunisian protestors forced their leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali out of the country, ending his 23-year authoritarian rule. Tunisias success instilled a new hope in Egyptian citizens, and they took to the streets once again, aspiring to gain the same fortune. Egypt furthered the trend and Arabs throughout the Middle East became increasingly optimistic that they too could push aside their oppressive authoritarian regimes. Arab states modeled their protests after Tunisia and Egypt, even renaming centers of protest after the famous Egyptian Tahrir Square and borrowing slogans of the initial uprisings, in hopes that they too might gain the leading countries success. However, the unfortunate reality of the uprisings was that no Arab state was exactly like Tunisia. Ignoring the



differences between their states and the states of successful uprisings was a significant factor in the failing of certain Arab protests.

How the Uprisings Played Out The Arab Uprisings began in the small Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid where a fruit cart vender, Mohamed Bouazizi ignited himself on fire in front of a government building on December 17, 2010. Bouazizi self-immolated to protest his mistreatment by the government, after an incident were he was slapped by a policewoman (Bix, 2011, pg. 332). This abuse by public authority offended Bouazizi not only because it was an infliction against his civic rights, but also was humiliating because the womans abuse broke cultural morals. Shortly after Bouazizis act of protest, Tunisian citizens rallied in his support. Eventually, these protests grew into a larger agenda against Ben Alis rule, and demonstrations spread throughout the country. Tunisia has had only two rulers since its independence from France in 1956. The first, Habib Bourguiba established the states republic but progressively slid further from democratic ideals, adopting authoritarian practices and changing the constitution to grant himself presidency for life (Gelvin, pg. 37). Ben Ali forced Bourguiba from power in 1987 and abolished the presidency-for-life, amending the constitution to limit a president to three terms in office. At first Tunisians were encouraged by their new presidents reforms, but soon Ben Ali was, too, corrupted by power and repealed [these] amendments, making him eligible for more terms (Gelvin, pg. 38). Although Ben Ali continually won elections back into office, Gelvin suggests the elections were more the result of fraud than actual public opinion (pg. 38). Ben Alis rule was criticized largely for its severe [level] of control over the media and economic corruption (Lynch, 2012, pg. 74). The switch to a neoliberal economy led to a highly corrupt distribution of

THE ARAB UPRISINGS previously state run trades, leaving the family and friends of Ben Ali the recipients of a significant portion of the countries economy. The most flamboyant and criticized of these recipients was Ben Alis wife, Leila Trabelsi, whom the press called the Marie Antoinette of Tunisia (Gelvin, pg. 40). In all, Ben Alis regime led Human Rights Watch to declare Tunisia one of the most repressive states in the world (Gelvin, pg. 58). The protest that followed Bouazizis self-immolation, were met in the traditional authoritarian fashion as security forces fired into the crowd and sealed off the city with blockades (Lynch, pg. 75). Despite these counter actions the crowds of protestors grew,


infuriated by the gunfire, and similar protests spread throughout southern Tunisia. In an attempt to settle the early protests, Ben Ali promised protestors fifty thousand new jobs, and added, as the protests grew into a full uprising, promises of reduced censorship, parliamentary elections, and reviving a constitutional mandate that would prohibit him from running in the next election due to his age (Gelvin, pg. 43). However, after twenty-one died at the hands of government snipers at a protest in Thala, protestors stopped calling for reforms and demanded the immediate departure of President Ben Ali (Gelvin, pg. 43). Leading the protests were educated students, lawyers belonging to the Tunisian Bar Association, and small progressive parties (Bix, pg. 332). When the protests reached the capital, Tunis, Ben Ali ordered the army to fire into the crowds, and the chief of staff of the Tunisian armed forces told the army to stand down, leading Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on the 14th of January (Gelvin, pg. 43). In a matter of weeks, Tunisia had become the first Arab state to overthrow a modern ruler. While Tunisias uprising was a success many problems still remained. After Ben Alis resignation, the speaker of the parliament stepped in as a transitional president, but his position was threatened by Ben Alis former prime minister and political crony, Mohamed Ghannouchi

THE ARAB UPRISINGS (Gelvin, pg. 63). Afraid of their success lapsing into another regime, Tunisians took to the


streets in a second wave of protests. These later protests appeared to secure promises that most of their demands would be realized, and the beginnings of a new government emerged over the next year (Bix, pg. 333). On July 4th Ben Ali was tried and convicted, absentia, for a number of criminal offences (Dalacoura, pg. 64). Despite its victory Tunisia has yet to solve many of its problems, and some demonstrations continue as the new foundations are laid. The deciding factor in Tunisias victory was the decision of the military to not fire against their fellow Tunisians. Unable to maintain his rule with physical strength, Ben Ali was forced to step down. From its independence, Tunisias government has been kept separate of its military. Unlike other nations of the Middle East, Tunisia even achieved its independence from France peacefully (Bix, pg. 332). Bourguiba had kept the army small and out of politics to discourage a military coup, and Ben Ali followed in his footsteps (Gelvin, pg. 61). Having little ties to Tunisian politics, the Army identified more with the people and chose to side with them after Ben Ali ordered the army against the citizens. It is for this reason that Tunisias uprisings succeed, as well as others whose military backed the people, while other Arab states uprisings struggled and failed. Egypt: Military Support Yields Relative Success Tunisias revolution was emulated first in Egypt. Under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians experienced a similar oppression that was inflicted by Ben Ali, including corruption, censorship, and invasion of human rights. The Leila Trabelsis of Egypt were Mubaraks son Gamal Mubarak and a few of Gamals close friends that came to control the majority of Egypts industry (Gelvin, pg. 41). Sparked by Tunisias success, Egyptian protestors took to the streets against Mubarak.



Nonviolent protests at Cairos Tahrir Square came to be the face of the Egyptian revolt. As crowds of over ten thousand gathered in the square for the famous January 25th protest, police attempted to disperse the crowds with tear gas (Gelvin, pg. 45). Despite Cairos famous nonviolent protest, much of the revolution outside of Cairo did not refrain from violence and neither did Mubarak. When Cairos protests grew in intensity he tried to scare protestors back into silence. However, when Mubarak order the military to use live ammunition into the crowds, the ministers deputy refused the order, tipping the army in favor of the protestors (Gelvin, pg. 46-47). With the military now backing protestors Mubaraks many attempts to remain in power failed, and on February 14th the army force him to resign and transfer his powers to the military (Dalacoura, pg. 64-65). Egypt and Tunisias militaries couldnt be more different. Immensely large in size, and substantially funded by both its own government and America, Egypts army is largely entwined with its government (Gelvin, pg. 61). So much so, in fact, that the Egyptian military controls a large sector of the economy and all three presidents came from its ranks (Gelvin, pg. 61). Afraid of losing the significant benefits they received under Mubarak, military leaders were more than willing to sacrifice the man at the top if they played the transitional role (Gelvin, pg. 62). Ridding Egypt of Mubarak would only increase the militarys power while pleasing the people and earning their favor. Because the Egyptian military did not have strong ties to Mubaraks regime, they were able to side with the people and enforce the protestors demands, removing Mubarak from power. Thus, the Egyptian uprising was initially a success. Labeling the Egyptian revolutions as a success, however, must be taken with a grain salt. After the resignation of Mubarak Egypt has continued to experience conflict. Protestors learned soon after the takeover that the military was not the resolution they had aspired. Preferring



stability to reform the military overlook many of the Egyptians demands and continued using torture against those who disturbed the peace and subjected women protestors to virginity tests in an attempt to scare them away from protesting (Gelvin, pg. 64). As Bix states, the militaryin firm control of the transition but without Mubarakis not the solution (pg. 334). Therefore, while Egypt did succeed because their military backed the uprisings, the continued military control makes their success lesser than the success of Tunisia. Libya: The Militarys Attack Yields a Relative Failure Days after the fall of Mubarak, protests against Muammar Qaddhafi broke out in Benghazi, Libya (Dalacaura, pg. 66). Qaddhafi had came to power in 1969 in a coup detat that overthrew a monarchy and had since established a regime whose chief characteristics were megalomania, repression, and corruption (Gelvin, pg. 70). Under Qaddhafi, Libya faced even greater oppression than that of its neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. Qaddhafi, through the enforcement of his Third Universal Theory as dictated in his Green Book, banned all trade unions, political parties, independent media, and privately owned enterprises (Gelvin, pg. 71). Libyans, seeing Tunisia and Egypt oust their authoritarian rulers, planned their protests in hopes of being the third of the Arab states to rise above their corrupt rule. Libyan coalition groups, led by the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition, called for Libyans to protest political and economic conditions in a Day of Rage, on February 17th (Gelvin, pg. 81). However, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Libyan protestors were met with Qaddafis regime, which had a far lower threshold for the kind of public activism it was willing to tolerate (Lynch, pg. 112). From early on in the uprising, protestors were met with an appalling level of violence, where police forces forswore teargas for live fire, and the government deployed helicopter gunships to put down the revolts that began in the capital city,



Tripoli (Gelvin, pg. 81-82). Not long after the uprising began, the protests turned into full civil war, dividing the nation into the rebel held east and the Qaddafi-loyal west. With the military remaining loyal to Qaddafi and the death toll rising, NATO sanctioned a military intervention in March (Dalacoura, pg. 65). Even with foreign aid the fighting continued until October when the rebels killed Qaddafi. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi was in control of the Libyan military. However, the Libyan militarys loyalty came at no surprise. The Libyan Military was under the command of four of Qaddafis seven sons, and largely made up of mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and Niger who had no Libyan allegiance, other members of Qaddafis family, and the bought loyalty of certain tribes (Gelvin, pg. 82). The militarys loyalty and quick response resulted in a greater number of deaths than either of the previous protests and divided the population, leaving the nations stability in question. The rebels killed Qaddafi, but they didnt kill all of his supporters. The military, having lost the war, played a significantly lesser role in the foundation of the new government than Tunisia and Egypts had. Without the military, the new government is less protected from further uprisings and remains vulnerable to a military coup. Additionally, Libya remains plagued with violence. As conflicts continue in Libya, it would be a stretch to consider the uprisings a success, even though Qaddhafi is no longer in power. The uprisings that Libya attempted to emulate succeeded in dislodging autocrats because the army acted as a unit [and] declared its commitment to nonviolence (Gelvin, pg. 84). Thus Libyas uprising where the military acted opposite the people, resulting in mass violence, failed to deliver the desired results. Unlike Tunisia, whose army was able to usher in a new stage of governance, Libya was left with no military support to ensure the stability of the new democracy.

THE ARAB UPRISINGS Successful Uprisings are backed by Sound Militaries


Tunisia remains the golden example of the Arab Uprisings. Although in no way was the Tunisian revolution perfect, the relationship between its government and military provided a stable balance for the deposing of its leader Ben Ali resulting in a successful uprising. Unlike Libya and Egypt, the Tunisian military was able to support the people both during and after the revolution with out stepping on the citizens toes. Egypt is an example of a successful uprising because its military supported the protestors. However, Egypts success is tainted by the armys continued interference after Mubaraks resignation, putting this success largely into question. Libyas uprising was resisted by the regime loyal military, resulting in a civil war and forced international interference. Although Libya, like Egypt and Tunisia, rid itself of a corrupt autocrat, the violence that persisted through the war and into the new political era, leaves Libya a relatively failed uprisings. The most successful of the Arab Uprisings therefore, were those in which the military backed its population and limited its political involvement. Conclusion The Arab Uprisings resulted in a few nations overthrowing authoritarian rule and others that were struck down by their governments or continue in violent conflict. Tunisias success was the spark of revolt for the other nations, instilling a sense of optimism in Arab citizens. Yet by ignoring the difference between Tunisia and their own states, specifically in the allegiance of their militaries, others states were not able to attain the same success as Tunisia. A successful revolt in the Arab Uprisings was backed by the military, as with the case of Tunisia and Egypt. A politicized military, like that of Libya, turns uprisings into war, and cannot help usher in a new politicized era leading to continued strife. Thus, while some Arab states with the help of their military were able to achieve Tunisias inspiring success, other Arab uprisings failed.



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