Beginning of Arab uprising

February 24, 2013 | By More

Beginning of Arab uprising: When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in rural Tunisia on
December 17, 2010, he set in motion a dynamic that goes far beyond the overthrow of
individual dictators. We are witnessing nothing less than the awakening, throughout the
Arab world, of several phenomena that are critical for stable statehood: the citizen, the
citizenry, legitimacy of authority, a commitment to social justice, genuine politics, national
self-determination and, ultimately, true sovereignty. It took hundreds of years for the United
States and Western Europe to develop governance and civil society systems that affirmed those
principles, even if incompletely or erratically, so we should be realistic in our expectations of
how long it will take Arab societies to do so.

The countries where citizens are more actively agitating or fighting for their rights—Libya,
Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen are the most advanced to date—have very different
local conditions and forms of governance, with ruling elites displaying a wide range of
legitimacy in the eyes of their people. Governments have responded to the challenge in a
variety of ways, from the flight of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaderships to violent military
repression in Syria, Libya and Bahrain, to the attempt to negotiate limited constitutional
transformations in Jordan, Morocco and Oman. A few countries that have not experienced
major demonstrations—Algeria and Sudan are the most significant—are likely to experience
domestic effervescence in due course. Only the handful of wealthy oil producers (like Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) seem largely exempt, for now, from this
wave of citizen demands.

Two words capture every important dimension of the Arab Awakening: “humiliation” and
“legitimacy.” They explain why the Arab region is erupting, and what needs to be done to
satisfy popular demands. The typical Arab citizen, with few exceptions, has felt humiliated in
recent decades by his or her government. Hundreds of millions of Arabs feel they have been
denied their human rights and their citizenship rights, the result of decades of socioeconomic
stresses and political deprivations. These include petty and large-scale corruption; police
brutality; abuse of power; favoritism; unemployment; poor wages; unequal opportunities;
inefficient or nonexistent public services; lack of freedom of expression and association; state
control of media, culture and education; and many other dimensions of the modern Arab
security state. At the same time, ordinary men and women in countries across the region have
seen small groups of families in the ruling elite grow fabulously rich simply because of their
connections.

Young people sparked the revolt because they are generally the ones who suffer the most
grievous consequences of the failed political order. They are unable to enjoy life’s full
opportunities and rewards, in terms of education, work, income and material well-being.
Millions of young Arabs took to the streets this year because they refused to acquiesce in either
the legacy of stunted citizenship or the prospect of limited life opportunities. Their increasingly
mediocre and irrelevant educations meant they had difficulty finding jobs that pay enough
to live decently get married and start a family. They saw in front of them an entire lifetime
of restricted opportunities and stolen rights. When they tried to speak out against unfair and
corrupt practices, they were prevented from doing so by police and security agencies.

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