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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal