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.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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Listen: India's latest COVID explosion hits home as one Delhi-based journalist speaks with Ian Bremmer about her own father's death from the virus. Barkha Dutt has been reporting on the pandemic in India since it began, but nothing could prepare her for the catastrophic second wave that has hit her country in the last few weeks—and that has now shattered her own family. Would her father have survived if the oxygen tank in his ambulance had been working, or if the ambulance hadn't gotten stuck in Delhi traffic?She asks similar questions of her national government. Why was it caught so unprepared by this second wave, well over a year into the pandemic? Why has India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, been so slow to vaccinate its own citizens? And how much of the blame falls at the feet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

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.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's going on between the United Kingdom and France over fishing rights?

Yes, good question. Why on earth are they sending the Royal Navy to chase away some French fishermen from the island of Jersey? Fishing rights is very controversial. It was one of the key issues in the Brexit negotiations. Extremely divisive. Fishermen are fairly determined people but sending the Royal Navy to handle the French fishermen was somewhat excessive. I guess it played rather well with the English nationalists for Boris Johnson in the local elections, though.

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COVID has officially killed almost 3.5 million people around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. But some public health experts believe that the real number could be more than twice as high, because of challenges to accurately reporting the death toll in many countries around the world. A new study from the University of Washington contends, for example, that actual deaths are nearly 60 percent higher than reported in the US, twice as high in India, more than four times as high in Russia... and a staggering ten times higher than the official tally in Japan. Here's a look at how official figures compare to actual estimated deaths in the 20 countries where COVID has claimed the most lives.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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