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Arab Winter

An anti-government protester displays paintings on her hand in Sanaa, Yemen, during the Arab Spring marches in 2011. Reuters

At the age of 10, Mohamed Bouazizi became the primary breadwinner for his family, and at age 26 he was earning his money by selling fruit and vegetables off a cart in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid.

On December 17, 2010, local police confiscated his produce for the umpteenth time, but this time they also beat and humiliated him. Bouazizi walked to the town hall to try to get his vegetables back, but no one there would talk to him. He then walked outside, doused himself in gasoline, and lit himself on fire.

Satellite television and social media began beaming his story across the Middle East. By the time he died on January 4, 2011, protesters who understood the hopelessness and desperation that drove Bouazizi to suicide had filled Tunisian streets demanding change. Ten days later, strongman President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for 23 years, was forced to resign. The protests spread to Egypt and then across the region.


Decades of dictatorship in the Middle East had left the ground dangerously dry, but it was Mohamed Bouazizi who lit the match that ignited an uprising. We're about to mark the 10-year anniversary of the birth of the Arab Spring protests. What is their legacy?

For the most part, hopes that "people power" revolutions would yield a democratic awakening have been dashed. Only Tunisia, Bouazizi's home, has built a democracy. Demonstrations in Egypt toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, and elections were held, but Egypt's military toppled the elected president after one year in office and restored its control of Egypt's politics.

Syria, Libya, and Yemen were plunged into civil war. Half the people who lived in Syria ten years ago have been killed or driven from their homes, and the resulting refugee crisis upended politics in Europe.

Many of the Arab Spring demonstrators demanded an end to endemic corruption, freedom of expression, and better opportunities for young men and women like Bouazizi. Sadly, the best available evidence shows that, a decade later, there are just as many crooks in power, more unemployed young people, and more journalists in jail.

Perhaps the grimmest news of all is that the tools and technologies that drew attention to Bouazizi's tragedy and boosted hopes for change have contributed to the ensuing destruction.

From Egypt's Tahrir Square, Facebook and other social media platforms helped protesters spread their message, organize demonstrations, and capture the world's attention. Unfortunately, Islamic State militants were soon using these same tools to recruit terrorists to Syria and Iraq, and to coordinate attacks in Europe and beyond.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad, with help from Russian engineers, has also used social media to disseminate disinformation and propaganda to tens of millions of people. The use of bots that didn't exist ten years ago has added to the scale of the problem.

For all these reasons, the Arab Spring has (for now) given way to Arab Winter. The best thing we can say about this story is that it's far from over. This region has been held together for centuries by strongmen backed by outside powers — Ottoman, European, American. With little history of broadly shared power, lasting progress toward individual freedom, if it comes, will take many more decades.

Mohamed Bouazizi's home country, Tunisia, now has a government that, however imperfectly, must answer to voters. For now, that's the most we can say for his legacy.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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