Middle East in turmoil as wave of protest spreads
Anti-government demonstrations have taken place this week across the Arab World. Old regimes are suddenly afraid. A new dawn for democracy?
The Middle East is in turmoil. From Morocco to Iran, protesters have taken to the streets to demand an end to autocratic and corrupt government.
This mass movement has taken the region's leaders by surprise. Already two dictators have fallen. Longstanding authoritarian regimes are suddenly in danger of collapse.
This week, police in Bahrain dispersed demonstrations, killing at least five. Gunshots rang out on the streets of Libya as young people prepared for a 'day of rage' against their dictator. In Yemen, protesters and government supporters fought bloody battles in the streets.
In Iran, 'green revolutionaries' have ventured onto the streets again to object to the repressive regime of the Ayatollahs.
Why this sudden wave of protest? Tension in the region has been building for some time. Most Middle Eastern countries have very young populations, with a low average age, and unemployment among these young people is very high.
Also, young Arabs are much more likely than their parents to use social media like Twitter and Facebook, and to be able to access uncensored news websites like Al Jazeera or the BBC.
The global economic crisis also plays a part. Rising prices, especially for food, had a huge impact on the lives of Arab citizens, many of whom are very poor.
As people found themselves unable to feed their families, anger against governments quickly grew.
One such person was Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable seller. On December 17th 2010, his vegetable cart was taken by local police, who were probably hoping for a bribe. It was his sole livelihood.
Humiliated and desperate, Bouazizi covered himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in front of a local government building. He died in hospital a fortnight later.
This dramatic act of protest provoked a savage outpouring of anger. Ten days after Bouazizi's death, the Tunisian President fled the country and his government was overthrown.
Protests soon spread to Egypt. Millions of ordinary people marched against their President, Hosni Mubarak. On February 11th his government too was toppled after 30 years in power.
Winds of change
Some are calling this the 'Arab Revolution.' They hope that the old order in the Middle East may soon be swept away by a new democratic awakening.
Things may not be so simple. Not all these countries are the same, and a revolution is no guarantee of democracy. But whatever happens now, the Middle East will never be the same again.
- Protesting against dictators can be very dangerous. What would make you take to the streets?
- Should the West support the Middle Eastern revolutionaries? Is it any of our business?
- Imagine living in a dictatorship without political freedom. Write a story or poem expressing how you feel.
- Do some further reading about the unrest in different countries. Then write an intelligence report to the UK government explaining why people are so angry.
Some People Say...
“There's nothing more dangerous than a revolution.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So people really think this could be a new dawn for democracy?
- Some do. Optimists compare the Arab unrest to the series of protests that toppled communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe in 1989. Countries that had suffered decades of dictatorship established democracies that are now beginning to thrive.
- But it might not be so simple?
- In Iran in 1979, the people rose up to overthrow their king. Many thought a new democratic Iran might emerge. But soon after the revolution a hardline Islamist regime took power and destroyed any dream of real democracy.
- So the question is whether the current unrest is like 1979 or 1989?
- Or of course the old regimes might cling on to power. In Egypt and Tunisia dictators were unwilling or unable to use extreme violence to crush protests. Other leaders may have fewer reservations.