The Year in Review 2012: Arab Spring brings revolution, protest, hope

By ED ADAMCZYK, United Press International   |  Dec. 26, 2012 at 4:30 AM
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The wave of revolution in the Middle East known as the "Arab Spring" continued in 2012 with evolving conflicts and realignment of power.

The pro-democracy movement can be said to have begun Dec. 17, 2010, when Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest police harassment and the confiscation of his inventory, leading to massive protest and the overthrow of the Tunisian government by 2011.

In the two years since, rulers in Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been forced from power, a civil uprising erupted in Bahrain and the government of Syria was threatened by organized, and armed, rebels. Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Sudan experienced major protests.

Geopolitical movement of the Arab Spring in 2012 was summed up in a policy paper from the University of Munich's Center for Applied Policy Research thusly: "The impact of the Arab Spring is transcending national systems and affecting the political order of the Middle East as a whole." It added, for 2012, "Turkey gains reputation, Iran loses influence and Israel becomes more isolated."

The Freedom House, the New York publishers of papers dealing with the state of international civil liberties and political rights, identified improvements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, but noted declines in Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Tellingly, the Middle East's oil-rich nations did not see an overthrow of families in power.

In Egypt the Arab Spring continued, with May presidential elections which led to a June runoff election and a narrow victory by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi over Ahmed Shafiq, prime minister under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

Protests began Nov. 22 after Morsi granted himself far-reaching powers to legislate without judicial oversight, a move that his opponents said amounted to a dictatorial power grab.

In a speech Jan. 10, 2012, Syrian president Bashar Assad blamed the country's rebellion on foreign interference and called on citizens to stop the rebels. By February the city of Homs was under siege by government forces, as was Syria's largest city, Aleppo, by July, when the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the uprising a civil war.

Men overwhelmingly dominate the Arab Spring countries but women, enabled by advances in literacy and higher education, can be seen with growing power and confidence. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, women have been on the front lines of revolution. The Arab Spring has taught nascent democracies they will not thrive unless women are involved in political and economic life.

In Libya in November, Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Development Party leader Mohamed Sowan pointed out his party had the second-highest number of female members of any in the Libyan parliament, adding he "looks forward to them having more participation."

After Tunisia's 2011 elections, its parliament had a larger percentage of women representatives than that of the U.S. Congress, the New York Times said, adding the new constitutions are "crucial to protecting and expanding women's rights."

The Arab Spring has brought possibilities to a region typically regarded as repressive and strongman-dominated. Progress has been intermittent but what began in 2010 continued in 2012.

"For young girls to now tell me they want to be the future president, minister of defense, these are things I never imagined," wrote Alaa Mubarit, founder of the non-governmental activist group Voice of Libyan Women.

The year 2013 could reinforce in North Africa and the Middle East what European countries learned in the 19th and 20th centuries: A taste of democracy, or the envy of a democratic neighbor, can lead to demand for reform. This area is home to some of the the world's major oil producers and its most dramatic revolutions, and the Arab Spring is beginning to pass from isolated protest to a frame of mind, encouraging liberation.

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