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Democracy (Un)chained: Arab Spring Today

The Arab Spring began eleven years ago, rattling many regimes in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Its effects are still felt in many countries, and the actions of the era had consequences far beyond their day or location. Some protestors even emphasized implementing the “Turkish model” which included a Muslim-majority country with a secular constitution and a Western liberal democracy, yet almost no one in Turkey is interested in the Arab Spring or Arab politics. Turkey was clearly an inspiration despite its problems, so why don’t we take a look into why this was the case and what can we do to be a beacon of democracy and freedom for the region? This is a tricky question that we will try to answer in the coming months, but we can start by looking at the countries that were on the receiving end of the said inspiration. This month, we will be examining Tunisia and Libya, the two countries that were changed forever by the Arab Spring in very different ways.



The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia was the uprising that had protested against corruption, poverty, and political repression, which later resulted in the resignation of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The protests began after a young fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside of the municipal office in the town of Sidi Bouzid, after local officials’ constant demand of bribes and confiscations. This act became the symbol of injustice and economic struggle the people of Tunisia suffered from and triggered nationwide protests against poverty, high unemployment, and political repression. 


International criticism was made to the response of the Government of Tunisia because of their reactions to the unrest after many protesters lost their lives clashing with the police. President Ben Ali dismissed the minister of the interior Rafik Belhaj Kacem after accusations of excessive force and vowed to create an investigation committee. Still, protests continued and spread to the capital. The government deployed troops to get the protest under control. Since the unrest was still ongoing, President Ben Ali gave promises; that he will not be seeking the presidency for another term, that food prices will be reduced, and internet restrictions will be lowered, and that he will stop the police from using live fire except self-defense. Still, the protestors were not satisfied and continued clashing with the police, resulting in deaths. The government was dissolved, and President Ben Ali resigned, leaving the country. After Ben Ali’s resignation, a new cabinet was formed, and all activities of his political party, RCD, were suspended. This sparked an inspiration all over Northern Africa and the Middle East that turned into more uprisings.


The protests in Libya started with the arrest of Fethi Tarbel, a human rights lawyer. The protesters wanted President Muammar al-Qaddafi to resign, but the response they got was injuries caused by rubber bullets and water cannons and pro-government rallies. As protests developed, the answer became harsher. The government started to use lethal force; protesters were attacked with real bullets, tanks, and artillery. Internet service and telecommunications were cut countrywide. 

These acts of violence drew international condemnations, and some high-level officials and diplomats, including the minister of justice and the Libyan ambassador to the UN, resigned to protest. As clashes continued, more and more military units switched to the side of protestors, making the anti-Qaddafi movement an armed revolution. The new armed forces were able to push government forces from east of Libya, including Benghazi.

As the battles continue, the UN Security Council unanimously decided to implement sanctions against the Qaddafi regime. However, anti-Qaddafi forces were still unable to take control of Tripoli, the city where Qaddafi was stationed. The rebels found a leadership council called the Transitional National Council (TNC) in the city of Benghazi. The conflicts continued, and the situation in Libya got worse. Later on, the UN Security Council authorized military action, including imposing a no-fly zone and a coalition of US and European forces attacked Libyan targets, including air force and air-defense systems so the no-fly zone can be enforced. On March 30, Moussa Koussa, Libyan foreign minister, fled to the UK, and this act was seen as the decrease of support for Qaddafi among senior Libyan officers.

After months of stalemate, rebels started to gain the upper hand. Advancing into Tripoli, rebel forces conflicted with pro-Qaddafi forces, but the whereabouts of Qaddafi were unknown. In September, rebels gained control of Tripoli and TNC started to move its operations to Tripoli while Qaddafi stayed hidden. Rebels tried negotiations to capture remaining loyalist cities, but rebels attacked and engaged in heavy conflicts with loyalists when negotiations failed. On September 15, TNC gained legitimacy, and on October 20, Qaddafi was found and killed by rebels in Sirte.

by Alp Ünal AYHAN & Zühtü Anıl TUTAR

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