Hamza Shad ’13
Although the season of spring has passed, the “Arab Spring” continues to spread and bring change in the Arab World. Many even cite it as the source of inspiration for other protests occurring all over the world, including recent movements in the USA. People’s demands and protests against their governments are not dying down, even if the media does not focus on them as much as it did at first. Significant movements are taking place throughout the whole Middle East, as people continue to hope for change.
In Tunisia, the country where it all began, elections for the Constituent Assembly, the body that will draft their new constitution, are scheduled for October 23. Following these elections, the new Constituent Assembly will have the power to decide whether or not to keep the current government. Although a trial in absentia sentenced ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife to 35 years in prison for theft and other charges, they still have not been extradited from Saudi Arabia to serve their sentence.
In Egypt, some citizens fear that the military junta currently in power will stay indefinitely. Thousands gathered again at Tahrir Square on September 9 to demand political reform from their government. Waving Palestinian flags, the enraged protesters stormed the Israeli embassy and forced the Israeli ambassador to flee. Although things currently seem chaotic, three stages of parliamentary elections have been scheduled to begin on November 28. Presidential elections are expected to be in March or April. Interestingly, this will only be the second truly democratic presidential election Egypt has ever had. Hopefully, whoever wins the election will put Egypt on a path of peaceful democracy.
Libya’s situation is more complex. Tens of thousands of people have died in the ongoing civil war, and many have fled the country as refugees. In August, the rebels stormed Tripoli and captured Muammar Gaddafi’s compound, but it was reportedly empty. Some members of his family fled to Algeria, but it is unclear whether or not he is with them. Both Interpol and the International Criminal Court have issued warrants of arrest for him. Although he himself fled, Gaddafi has ordered his followers to continue fighting to the death. Most of the world has recognized the National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, especially since it has taken Libya’s seat at the United Nations.
Concurrently, the people of Syria are engaged in a long, painful struggle against their president, Bashar al-Assad. There have been riots, strikes, and marches aimed at achieving more freedom and democracy; Syria’s government is notorious for political censorship and oppression. The country has been under emergency law, which restricts civil rights, since 1963. Assad, who has been president for 11 years and is the son of the previous president who ruled for 29 years, has not hesitated in using violence against his own people. The government ordered tanks and snipers to stop these demonstrations, resulting in the killing of over three thousand civilians. Still, the fearless Syrians have continued protests, and it is unclear how successful they will be in fighting for freedom.
Even the absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia has felt the winds of the Arab Spring. Although it is unlikely that a democratic revolution will take place there because of the financial benefits the government provides for its citizens, the rulers have thought it best to try to appease the people before major events occur. Women’s rights is an area that needs development in the country, which is why many of the protests that have taken place focused on it. As a result, King Abdullah announced in September that women will be allowed to vote and run for office in elections. In Saudi Arabia, women are also forbidden from driving. Recently, however, some women have started to drive illegally to make a statement, not fearing the possibility of being arrested. It will be a positive step if the movements for gender equality and justice in general grow there.
Palestine, a tattered and impoverished nation, is beginning to gain momentum. Inspired by other Arab movements, Palestinians have shown a revival in continuing their journey to gain the right of self-determination. After giving a speech that received tremendous applause at the United Nations in September, President Mahmoud Abbas officially submitted Palestine’s request for statehood. Although most news organizations report that it will be overwhelmingly approved in the General Assembly because of increasing global support for Palestine, the USA has officially stated that it will use its veto power in the Security Council to block any recognition of Palestinian statehood. Because of how the UN functions, one country alone can stop the majority of the whole world. Although deliberations on this topic began in the UN on September 26, it is undecided when the vote will actually take place.
It is not just the countries mentioned above that have been affected by the Arab Spring. Bahrain, Yemen, Qatar, and other Middle Eastern countries are also experiencing mass-movements and uprisings. Their governments have remained stagnant, oppressive, and insignificant for years, and now these people are rising up for democratic principles. One of the most extraordinary things about the Arab Spring is its use of modern technology and media to spread its message, which has continuously worked well. As of now, the whole story is incomplete, and one can only wait to see what happens next.