Generation Y: Changing the World Since 2008 (2)

 

The second of a series of articles about Generation Y´s political coming of age.

 

Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, December 2010: Mohammed Bouazizi was a typical young Tunisian, struggling to survive and to provide for his family. He sold fruits and vegetables at a local market in the poor interior region of Sidi Bouzid. On December 17, 2010, the corrupt local police seized his goods and demanded a bribe for their return. The 26-year-old, who had been subjected to several of this kind of hassles, in an extreme act of despair, set himself in fire in the street.

On the days that followed, while Bouazizi languished in a hospital bed, in a coma with third-degree burns, the inhabitants of Sidi Bouzid held demonstrations in his behalf, and against the police and governmental corruption. On January 4, 2011, the day Bouazizi died, demonstrations had already spread to other cities in Tunisia, including the capital of Tunes. They included open defiance to the 23-year-old dictatorship of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Among the demonstrators, there were the largest union in the country, students, teachers and lawyers. They demanded democracy, justice and employment.

Like in Iran and Moldova, Web 2.0 was the crucial infrastructure for the organization, broadcasting and spreading of anti-governmental demonstrations in Tunisia, from December 2010 to January 2011. Through Twitter and Facebook, young activists kept up-to-date information about the demonstrations, gathering points, and governmental retaliation. The regime repressed, killing dozens of demonstrators, intensifying surveillance over internet traffic, incrementing censorship and arresting bloggers.

Young Tunisians started to substitute their Facebook profile pictures for blood stained Tunisian flags. They were the first to call for a national uprising, describing in blogs and filming with cell phones, street battles, instances of police brutality and the massacre of demonstrators. The Arab television network Al-Jazeera took notice and showcased the Tunisian revolution to the world. Soon, the international community was on board and the Tunisian struggle met the solidarity of human rights organizations, the press, governments and web activists across the world.

On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali resigned, unable to control the rising protests and isolated before the international community. He now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia, having been convicted in abstentia for corruption, in Tunisia. The Tunisian Revolution, aka the Jasmine Revolution, was the first in the series of uprisings of what was to be called “The Arab Spring”. On October 23, 2011, the country had its first free elections, since its independence in 1956. The Islamic moderate party Ennahda was victorious, forming the current Tunisian government in coalition with two left-wing parties.

 

 

 

Cairo, Egypt, January 2011: On the day that Ben Ali resigned, dozens of Egyptians joined a group of Tunisian refugees demonstrating in front of the Tunisian Embassy in Cairo. They chanted, “Listen to the Tunisian, it´s our turn Egyptians!” On January 25, 2001, a wave of protests started against the 30-year-old autocracy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

As an astounding remake of the Tunisian uprising, the Egyptian protests were promoted by young web activists, through social networking sites, asking for better life conditions, the deposition of the dictator, and the democratization of Egypt. An Egyptian activist synthesized: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate them, and YouTube to tell the world.”

In January, 2011, Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old Head of Marketing of Google Middle East and North Africa, created a Facebook page in memory of a 27-year-old Egyptian blogger who was beaten to death by the Egyptian police, in June 2010. The page “We are all Khaled Said” became the rallying point for the anti-governmental protests that ensued.

Another crucial role was taken by 26-year-old activist Asmaa Mahfouz and the “April 6 Youth Movement”, which she founded with other activists. In January, 2011, Mahfouz uploaded a video in her Facebook page, of herself asking the Egyptian people not to be afraid and to join her at Tahrir Square, to call for Mubarak´s deposition. Her video was uploaded to YouTube and rapidly spread through social networking sites.

From January 25, 2011 onwards, hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians assembled at Tahrir Square, among them, students, unemployed, religious, political oppositionists, celebrities and intellectuals, in protest against the regime. During several weeks, protesters at Tahrir organized themselves within a self-sufficient community, sharing food, organizing political colloquia, and protecting themselves against assaults from the exterior.

The regime retaliated. The police repressed demonstrators, murdering hundreds in Tahrir and in other demonstrations all over the country. The government shut off the Internet. Wael Ghonim was arrested on January 27. After 12 days in detention, at an undisclosed site, he was released. By this time, Ghonim was already one of the heroes of the Egyptian uprising.

The protests spread to the main cities of Egypt. Demonstrators never left Tahrir, even if subjected to constant assaults by the police and pro-Mubarak militias. The army secured a strong presence at the city but, apparently, did not take a side. Even if Mubarak did delegate some of his powers and promised democratic reforms, his government became gradually unsustainable. He resigned on February 11, 2011. Today, he stands accused for the premeditated murder of hundreds of demonstrators and, if convicted, he may face the death penalty. His verdict and sentencing are to be announced on June 2, 2012.

Since February, 2011 the Egyptian government is held by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. It has promised free elections for June, 2012 with a gradual power shift to political parties and the civil society. In the absence of such reforms, waves of protests have returned to Tahrir Square, this time against the military junta. There were thousands of new arrests and judicial prosecutions against activists, journalists and bloggers. Even with the removal of Mubarak and the promise of free elections, it is not clear what lays ahead for the second uprising of the Arab Spring.

 

The Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings are the most prominent examples of the still ongoing Arab Spring. The wave of demonstrations, protests and civil conflicts that was ignited by the self-sacrifice of a young street vendor in Tunisia, spread from this country, to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman. While different countries, cultures, narratives and outcomes, there is a common thread:

The sense of a political coming-of-age, with a new generation calling for a democratic renewal, a better standard of living, justice and freedom. And, of course, their reliance on Web 2.0 to raise awareness, organize and spread the uprising, in face of state repression, brutal massacres and media control.

As of today, the Arab Spring is the greatest political achievement of Generation Y, and is still ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa.

 

NEXT: The Arab Spring reaches South Europe and North America.

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