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.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

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.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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