2011: The Year of the People

This time last year, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, sparking a popular uprising in Tunisia that spread to countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The uprisings have come to be known throughout the world as the "Arab Spring" and have caused more change in one year than the region has seen in decades. For months, chants across the Middle East echoed, "The people want the downfall of the regime." Only a month after Tunisians ousted Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, it took the Egyptian people only 18 days to overthrow Hosni Mubarak after being in power for 30 years. 

An anti-government protester displays paintings on her hand of other countries involved in the Arab Spring revolutions during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa October 26, 2011. The words read, "Go out." REUTERS/Louafi Larbi


Shortly after the downfalls of Ben Ali and Mubarak, Libyans took up arms against Muammar Gaddafi. After ten months of violent battles that took the lives of thousands of civilians, Libyan revolutionaries claimed victory when Gaddafi was killed in his hometown of Sirte. 


Protestors in Yemen hope to turn a new page after months of bloody crackdowns as embattled ruler Ali Abudllah Saleh belatedly signed the Gulf-brokered deal that will transfer power in the country by early next year. 


In Syria, anti-regime activists are unyielding in their ongoing fight against Bashar al-Assad. As the death toll has reached over 5,000 according to the UN, the international community is slowly boosting efforts to end the months-long bloody crackdown. 


Protests and subsequent crackdowns have spread through Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia but have received far less media attention.


In his article "From Tunis and Tahrir to Wall Street, and back again," UC Irvine Professor Mark Levine explains the common frustrations of people throughout the region. He states, "The lack of hope or possibility to find decent work, or overcome the corruption and repression there that defined life in [Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi's hometown], was a microcosm of political and economic life in Tunisia under Zine Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and most every other country in the region."  Khoda, a Syrian housepainter turned insurgent, had a different view: "In Egypt, the revolution started because of poverty and hunger," he said. "In Libya it started because of misuse of power. In Syria, the main purpose of the revolution is to gain back our dignity and our honour."

As the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are being hailed as successes by some, other observers aren't as optimistic that they will lead to the kinds of changes that protestors had hoped. Daniel Byman of the Washington Post predicts, "The Arab Spring may not bring freedom to much, or even most, of the Arab world. Even as the United States prepares to work with the region's new democracies, it also must prepare for the chaos, stagnation and misrule."

As we reach the one year mark of the start of the "Arab Spring," there are many lessons to be learned from the unparalleled and tumultuous revolutions that rocked the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. Mohamad Al-Ississ, a professor of economics at the American University of Cairo, says the fight is not over and that "this is the moment where we go forward or we go back to ground zero." Levine warns that "democracy is a means, not an end," pointing to our own Western system today that is "so dominated by money and power that inequality and corruption are reaching 'third world' levels."


Huguett Labelle, chair of Transparency International and author of  "The keys to change across the Arab world," offers wise words of advice to the future leaders of the Arab world: "listen to the people, or risk being overtaken by them."


Photo Credit: An anti-government protestor displays paintings on her hand of other countries involved in the Arab Spring revolutions during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on October 26, 2011. The words read, "Go out." REUTERS/Louafi Larbi 



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Deadly Racism In Post-Gaddafi Libya

In the aftermath of the Libyan revolution against Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, many black Sub-Saharan African migrants and dark skinned Libyans continue to be the target of attacks by armed "revolutionaries". While race has long been a dividing line in the predominantly Arab country, "the atrocities attributed to black mercenaries during the uprising against Gaddafi, as well as the allegiance some regions populated by dark-skinned Libyans showed him in the war, have given the race question a new and deadly currency," according Joseph Logan of IOL News.


Human Rights Watch reported that the town of Tawergha, a predominantly black town south of Misurata which used to be home to over 30,000 residents, remains deserted in the weeks following the revolution. Militias from Misurata are "terrorizing the displaced residents…accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces." Katrina Nikolas of the Digital Journal writes, "[The death of Gaddafi] has not satisfied the desire for vengeance amongst still-armed NTC militias."

A rebel points his rifle at a man accused of being a mercenary fighting for Muammar Gaddafi.


One Liberian migrant who is one of 600 Africans camping out at a fishing port in Tripoli said, "If children see us they hold their noses, and revolutionaries sometimes shoot by us. Blacks are Gaddafi, they say. We need to leave." Another migrant said they faced constant assaults including robbery, physical attacks, and rape. 


Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Council have called on the African Union and the NTC to protect the rights of migrants and refugees. Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW Sarah Leah Whitson said, "It's a dangerous time to be dark-skinned in Tripoli. The NTC should stop arresting African migrants and black Libyans unless it has concrete evidence of criminal activity. It should also take immediate steps to protect them from violence and abuse."


Last month, the National Transitional Council denied the allegations, saying "We do not make any distinction among people on grounds of color. And we do not discriminate against our brothers from African countries." He added that any captured mercenaries will receive fair trials and that the NTC will "fully investigate any human rights violations committed by its fighters," but that remains to be seen.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Moroccans reiterate rejection of cosmetic reforms

Morocco: The February 20 Movement renewed its rejection of what it describes as "sham reforms." The movement demands genuine political reforms that transform Morocco's controlled political process to one capable of producing the change demanded by the masses. The movement also renewed its demands for prosecuting corrupt officials and holding fair elections. In addition to the political demands, the movement raised slogans demanding social justice, freedom, and dignity.


Syria: The Syrian opposition is rallying its supporters to participate in a day of anger against Russia, as Moscow continues to support President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Following Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Medvedev stated that it is wrong to place additional pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and force him to end security operations. The Syrian opposition has called on supporters online to protest across Syrian cities and towns and to burn the Russian flag.


Libya: Fifteen people were killed in an attack by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's battalions on an oil facility near Ras Lanuf. The Libyan National Transitional Council announced that its fighters fended off the battalions' attack on Bani Walid, one of the final strongholds of Colonel Gaddafi's loyalists. The NTC forces began reinforcing their siege on the city of Sirte, also under Gaddafi's control.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Syrian opposition appeals to international community


Syria: Human rights activists reported that security forces stormed several towns in the countryside of Idlib this morning. Yesterday, 34 people were killed by security forces, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission. On the second consecutive day of security operations in Homs, Syrian state media reported that eight security members were killed by what it referred to as terrorist groups. The opposition has named tomorrow the "Friday of International Protection" in the hopes that the international community will step in to help protect Syrian civilians. 


Libya: The International Criminal Court announced today that has it requested the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, issue an arrest warrant for Muammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi on charges of committing crimes against humanity. This comes after Gaddafi denied fleeing from Libya to Niger in an audio message. On the ground, the National Transitional Council dispatched additional forces to the town of Bani Walid. A spokesman for the revolutionaries said clashes broke out last night after Gaddafi's battalions launched attacks on the revolutionaries from inside the town. 


Bahrain: Security forces launched a fierce attack on activists who were celebrating the recent release of doctors and workers from the regime's jails. Saudi-backed Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition, sound bombs, and tear gas to disperse and pursue the protestors. Politically, the Bahraini opposition has accused the US and the UK of collaborating with Manama in the murder of civilians and of supplying the regime with internationally-banned arms and ammunition. The opposition also condemned the Arab League for ignoring reports of human rights violations in Bahrain.



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Tonight on Mosaic: Gaddafi disappearance fuels speculation about his wherabouts

Libya: Muammar Gaddafi's whereabouts remain unknown. Several reports indicate that Gaddafi left the city of Bani Walid and is headed to Libya's southern borders with Niger and Chad. However, the US State Department said there is no evidence that Gaddafi or his family have crossed the border into Niger. A State Department spokesperson said that the Niger authorities informed the US ambassador that those who crossed the border into Niger on Monday night were high-ranking officials of Gaddafi's regime. Many believe that the revolutionaries' delayed entry into Bani Walid and Sirte gave Gaddafi and his family more time to escape. 


Egypt: The fourth trial session of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and his top associates has resumed in Cairo. Eighty-three year old Mubarak appeared before the court with his two sons Alaa and Gamal, former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and a senior police officer, Ahmed Ramzi. They are being charged with ordering the killing of hundreds of protestors during the popular January 25 uprising. Hundreds of security vehicles, armored cars, ambulances, and fire trucks lined the streets surrounding the courthouse. 


Syria: Seven people were killed and several others injured in Syria in yet another military operation in Homs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said soldiers and security forces used heavy machine guns near the Khaled ibn al-Walid Mosque. Meanwhile, Syria has requested to postpone the scheduled visit of Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi on Thursday. The secretary-general intends to propose an Arab initiative to Syrian officials in order to end the crisis that has lasted six months.




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Tonight on Mosaic: Syrian protestors demand the execution of Assad


Syria: The movement against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is gaining momentum as anti-regime protests continue across various Syrian cities, despite the relentless campaign of raids and arrests. On the eve of a Friday dubbed "Death Not Humiliation," the Syrian opposition has renewed their call for staging additional protests after the Eid ul-Fitr holiday. In a video released online, Hama Province Attorney-General Adnan Bakkour announced his resignation in protest of the crackdown on protestors. He also denied the authorities' claim that he was kidnapped by an armed group.


Libya: Russia has recognized the Libyan National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of the country's authority ahead of the "Friends of Libya" International Conference in Paris. Meanwhile, Muammar al-Gaddafi affirmed in a new audio speech that he will not turn himself in and will continue fighting. The Libyan Transitional Council has extended its deadline for the surrender of Gaddafi's forces in Sirte by one week. 


Yemen: Confrontations between pro- and anti-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh activists were renewed in the southern city of Taiz as hundreds of people demonstrated in the eastern city of al-Bayda. They called for massive protests on Friday, under what they named "revolutionary resolve" against Saleh's regime. The past two days witnessed a political and media debate between the Yemeni president and his opponents. Saleh, who is carrying out his duties from the Saudi capital of Riyadh and appeared in good health, accused his opponents of "lies, corruption, hatred, and envy."



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Tonight on Mosaic: Bahraini teenager killed in anti-regime protest

BahrainSaudi-backed Bahraini troops attacked anti-government protestors in the island city of Sitra, killing a 14-year-old boy. Witnesses say the victim was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired from close range. Reports say the city's hospital refused to admit the critically injured teenager and that he died shortly afterwards. It is believed that hospital authorities refused to treat the wounded teenager for fear of being arrested by security forces.


Libya: Clashes broke out between Muammar Gaddafi's battalions and Transitional National Council forces in the Um al-Qanadil region and its surrounding areas, close to Sirte. Chairman of the Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil gave Gaddafi's loyalists in Sirte until this coming Saturday to surrender before using military force. The revolutionaries are approaching Sirte from both the east and west but are refraining from launching attacks in the hopes of a negotiated surrender of the city. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself still remain unknown.


Syria: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 473 people were killed in Syria during the month of Ramadan, including 360 civilians and 113 soldiers and members of the Internal Security Forces. Twenty-five minors and 14 women are among those killed, but the death toll does not include victims killed during the military operations in the city of Hama. Amnesty International confirmed that 88 Syrians, including ten children, died in detention centers and police stations between April and August.



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Tonight on Mosaic: Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr in a new era

Syria: On the first day of the Eid ul-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan, seven people have been killed in the security forces' relentless crackdown on protestors. Six were reportedly killed in Daraa during a massive demonstration at al-Omari Mosque, and one was killed in Homs. Protests also broke out in a number of provinces after Eid prayers, including Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Homs, Hama, Latakia, Idlib, and Aleppo.

Yemen: According to the official Yemeni news agency, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has vowed to honor the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, and says he is ready to hold immediate elections for a new president. A source close to Saleh said that the president has reached a deal with the opposition which stipulates that elections will be held within three months, as Saleh transfers power to his deputy, Abed-Rabbu Mansur Hadi. This political breakthrough, however, has failed to bring joy to Yemenis on the first day of Eid ul-Fitr. Many Yemenis are concerned with the deteriorating security situation in the country and are living amid harsh conditions.

Libya: Head of Libya's Transitional National Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil has set Saturday as the final deadline for forces loyal to fugitive Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi to lay down arms. Jalil said that negotiations were underway to arrange the peaceful surrender of the areas still held by pro-Gaddafi forces. Such areas include Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, the district of Bani Walid southeast of Tripoli, and the southern areas of Libya.

Bahrain: A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that the situation in Bahrain remains "tense and unpredictable" as the Manama regime continues its brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. About 124 cases in Bahrain have so far received verdicts, including two death sentences; sixteen of the cases were acquitted completely, while seven others were partially acquitted, according to the UN rights official.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Libyan revolutionaries amass for assault on Sirte

Libya: The revolutionaries have made tangible progress in their advance toward the city of Sirte, Muammar Gaddafi’s birthplace and final stronghold. According to a source close to the revolutionaries, their forces are approaching the city from both the east and the west. The revolutionaries expect the battle for Sirte to be a decisive one because they have acquired more advanced weaponry from Gaddafi's arsenals. While the revolutionaries are gathering additional equipment and fighters in their advance toward Sirte, they say they would prefer to enter the city peacefully to avoid additional bloodshed.

Bahrain: In a televised speech, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa attempted to pacify the Bahraini street with calls for forgiveness, dialogue, and recognition that Bahraini detainees have been mistreated. However, his speech was not viewed favorably by the opposition, who believe that the speech offered no real concessions and that Manama’s government has completely lost its legitimacy.

Opposition activists said that six people, including a child, were killed in the town of Sermin in the northern province of Idlib during the Syrian army’s security operations. This morning, military vehicles including tanks, armored personnel carriers, and military cars stormed the town of Hit near the Lebanese border. This news comes as the formation of a 94-member transitional council for the Syrian opposition was announced in Istanbul.


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Tonight on Mosaic: Libyan opposition places bounty on Gaddafi's head

Libya: The Libyan opposition has offered amnesty as well as a reward of $1.7 million for anyone in Muammar Gaddafi’s close circle who captures the elusive Libyan leader, alive of dead. In an audio message broadcast on local radio stations, Gaddafi vowed to fight NATO until victory or martyrdom. In his speech, he also described his exit from his fortified residence in Bab al-Aziziya as a "tactical move." NATO said that it will continue its operations in Libya until its mission is fulfilled.

Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered the recruitment of 50,000 troops to eliminate all supporters of the Yemeni revolution. Saleh called on his son and the rest of his family to accelerate the mobilization of armed and air forces as well as the deployment of tanks and missiles to launch what he referred to as "the final battle" against anti-regime activists. Meanwhile, popular anti-regime protests continued across Yemeni cities and provinces demanding the downfall of the regime.

Syria: Syrian forces stormed the city of Mayadin in Deir az-Zour, killing seven civilians. Additional reports also confirm raids in the neighborhoods of al-Bayada in Homs. Meanwhile, supporters of the opposition organized massive demonstrations during which protestors chanted slogans calling for freedom, the downfall of the regime, and the formation of a transitional national council to run the country in the phase post-Bashar al-Assad.

Bahrain: Bahrain's main opposition bloc, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, says it will not participate in the parliamentary elections to replace the lawmakers who resigned in protest of Manama's crackdown on anti-government protestors. Eighteen Bahraini lawmakers from the main Shia opposition party, al-Wefaq, walked out of the parliament in February after security forces opened fire on anti-government protestors, killing and wounding many.


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