It has been a year since a young vegetable vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after his cart and dignity were confiscated by police in the provincial Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. Since the death of the 26 year old, millions of similarly disenfranchised, poor and prospect-less Arabs have risen in revolt across North Africa and the Middle East in a phenomenon widely dubbed the “Arab Spring”.
On January 14 2011, less than a month after Bouazizi’s death, Tunisia’s dictator, Ben Ali – who had ruled the country for 23 years – fled to exile in Saudi Arabia. Nine months later, on October 23, Tunisians went to the polls to elect a new constituent assembly which will draw up a new constitution. Tunisia's formerly banned Islamist party, Hizb al-Nahda (the “Renaissance Party”) won the first generally free and fair elections to emerge from the "Arab Spring".
In Egypt, after only 18 days of mass protests, Hosni Mubarak handed over power to the military on February 11 – ending the pharaoh’s 30 year reign as president. Jubilant crowds poured into Tahrir square to celebrate and demand a swift transition to civilian rule. The very next day the Egyptian army suspended the country’s constitution and said it will rule by martial law until elections.
Elsewhere in the region – in Bahrain, Jordan, Iran, Morocco, Syria and Yemen – “day of rage” protests flared up in the aftermath of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. They were typically accompanied by the sporadic killing of demonstrators by state security forces and the arrest of opposition leaders. In Saudi Arabia demonstrations were quelled before crowds could gather in the streets. Oil revenues were then lavishly used to bolster the salaries of Saudi policemen, teachers and clerics.
By contrast, between late February and his lynching to death on October 20 2011, the world’s longest ruling dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, lost Libya to a motley coalition of tribal militia, backed by NATO air strikes. In Syria, a minority Alawite regime is fighting for survival with extraordinary brutality, edging the country towards a full-blown civil war. Yemen too slips in and out of civil war. In July, Sudan split along ethnic-religious lines into two separate states. Kurdish national aspirations are resurgent in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Al-Qaeda leaders in the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb and the Sahel are urging their adherents to seize the numerous new opportunities presented by chaos in Libya, Sinai, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, to advance the cause of global Jihad...