Doneer aan de Mr. Hans van Mierlo Stichting
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By Adriane Charbon
The most often mentioned reasons for the protests in the Arab World fall into two categories: the lack of political freedom and ‘dignity’ on the one hand, and the lack of economic perspective (unemployment, rising prices, inequality) on the other. With respect to the latter, did the sit-uation improve after the Arab revolution? In the aftermath of the Arab Spring economic recovery is slow. The predicted economic growth for 2013 is only 3,6 percent on average. In the two years before the outbreak of unrest, the respective economies still grew by nearly five percent per year. As the table shows, the people in the Arab countries where a revolution took place, have a more positive view on the economic future. In Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Tunisia more than two-thirds of the population believes that the economic situation will improve. In the other countries this percentage is much smaller. With respect to ‘good governance’, reports show that the prospects of the population can also differ greatly. Apparently, the people have a more positive feeling in countries were the government was overthrown. For instance, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, a large majority of the population believes that they will have good governance in the future. This in comparison to countries like Jordan and Algeria, were protests also occurred, but the government stayed in place. Here only 23 percent and 42 percent respectively has any hope for good governance in the future.
The Arab Spring is a term that refers to a wave of protests within the so-called MENA region. The term MENA stands for ‘North African and Middle East’ and covers an extensive area, form Morocco in the West to Iran in the East. According to the definition of the World Bank the region contains 22 countries, which together possesses 60 percent of the worlds oil reserves. The region has a population of 380 million, about six percent of the world population. The majority of people in the Arab World adheres to Islam which is the only allowed religion in most countries. Shari’a law exists partially in the legal system in some countries, like Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and Morocco. The most widely spoken languages in de MENA region are Arabic and Persian. Other languages that are spoken include Abchazo-Adygeïsche languages, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Beloetsji, Greek, Hebrew, Kurdish, Luri, Syriac, Turkish, Urdu and Yiddish.
After 26-year-old fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself on 17th of December 2010, the world news was dominated by the mass protests in the Arab world. In response to these protests Time Magazine even proclaimed ‘the protester’ the most important person of 2011. According to Time, ‘massive street and effective global protests was oxymoron until – suddenly, shockingly – exactly one year ago. The protester once again became the creator of history’. Although worldwide the impact was considerable, it is debatable if the demonstrations can be called mass protests.
In most countries where protests took place, it was only a small group of often young demonstrators that went to the streets to protest. In Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and Yemen, the percentage of the population that in the last three years has participated in any demonstrations is – despite the Arab Spring – relatively low. This means that a large majority of the population in these countries did not participate in any protests during the Arab Spring.
Although the extent of influence is subject to debate, one can safely say that social media played an important role during the Arab Spring. It made organised demonstrations possible and kept the world up to date on the situation in the Arab world. Nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians said to have used Facebook to set up demonstrations and spread awareness. Additionally, 28 percent of Egyptians and 29 percent of Tunisians from the same survey responded that the blocking of Facebook by the government during the protests greatly hindered or disrupted all communication. During the protests the use of social media more than doubled in the Arab countries. On the 5th of April the amount of Facebook users in the Arab countries went above 27,7 million people. These figures however do not apply to all countries were protests occurred. The table shows that the percentage of the population with access to the internet (and social media) in Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and Yemen is relatively small. It is perhaps a telling observation that the protests in these countries where also smaller and than in Tunisia and Egypt.
On October 23rd, 2011 the first free elections in Tunisia took place. The enthusiasm of Tunisian people was big and the Tunisian voters waited for hours to be able to cast their vote. The elections in this country where the Arab Spring began, were one of the highlights of the revolution. The transition to democracy in the Arab world goes much slower than expected, however. This is also the case in Tunisia. The winner of the elections in Tunisia – the Islamic party Ennahda – continues to limit rights of women and freedom of expression. In addition, the party struggles to keep the radical Salafist opposition party under control. Despite the difficult progress of democratisation the majority of Tunisian people still favours democracy. Research shows that the number of Tunisians that is in favour of a stable democratic government has only grown.
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