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Where the Arab Spring began

Where the Arab Spring began
The callous treatment of Bouazizi struck a chord with millions of Tunisians, tired of living under an autocratic, corrupt regime. (AFP)
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Updated 22 May 2020

Where the Arab Spring began

Where the Arab Spring began

Tunisia’s uprising began after a young merchant, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest.

Summary

On Dec. 17, 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting at police harassment, bribery and corruption, set himself on fire outside the governor’s office in the city of Sidi Bouzid, unwittingly igniting the multinational protest movement that would become known as the Arab Spring.

The callous treatment of Bouazizi struck a chord with millions of Tunisians, tired of living under an autocratic, corrupt regime. Even as doctors fought in vain to save Bouazizi’s life, protests flared in Sidi Bouzid and soon spread to the rest of the country.

Bouazizi died 18 days later. By then he had become “the hero of Tunisia,” a symbol of revolt inspiring violent protests in a dozen countries across the region, leading to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and a bloody revolution that continues to divide Syria to this day.

LONDON: According to his family, Mohamed Bouazizi had suffered at the hands of overzealous officials for years. On Dec. 17, 2010, however, it took less than two hours for a sequence of events to unfold that would change the world.

As he did every day, Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit and vegetable seller, dragged his cart of produce along the unpaved roads into the center of Sidi Bouzid.

 

Key Dates

  • 1

    Street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, sets himself on fire.

  • 2

    President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali visits Bouazizi in hospital.

    Timeline Image Dec. 28, 2010

  • 3

    Bouazizi dies at the age of 26.

    Timeline Image Jan. 4, 2011

  • 4

    Thousands attend Bouazizi’s funeral, many vowing to avenge his death.

    Timeline Image Jan. 5, 2011

  • 5

    President Ben Ali flees into exile in Saudi Arabia.

    Timeline Image Jan. 14, 2011

  • 6

    Mohamed Moncef Marzouki becomes Tunisia’s first elected president.

    Timeline Image Dec. 12, 2011

  • 7

    Tunisian court sentences Ben Ali in absentia to life imprisonment on charges of inciting violence and murder.

  • 8

    Ben Ali dies in exile in Jeddah, aged 83.

    Timeline Image Sept. 19, 2019

The nondescript provincial town in central Tunisia was typical of the area, with unemployment high among young men and opportunities to make a decent living scarce.

The exact details of what happened next are disputed. Bouazizi’s family say that at about 10:30 a.m. he was approached by municipal inspectors who requested a bribe. When he refused, a female inspector, Faida Hamdy, slapped him in the face and confiscated his electronic scales and produce. 

Hamdy later denied that she had lashed out. Instead, she claimed, she was merely enforcing the law that stated market traders were not allowed to sell their goods in a public place. 




A page from the Arab News archive from Jan. 11, 2011.

Furious and humiliated, Bouazizi stormed off to the municipal office where his fellow traders say that he was beaten again. Undeterred, he made his way to the main regional government building and demanded to speak to the governor.

His request was refused and within an hour of the original confrontation he returned, doused himself in paint thinner and once again demanded to meet the official.

It took just the flick of a lighter for Bouazizi to envelop himself in a ball of fire and unwittingly ignite a series of protests and uprisings across the region that became the Arab Spring. In places such as Syria and Libya, the devastating conflicts that followed are still raging today.

 

Bouazizi’s actions immediately flicked a switch in Sidi Bouzid, and by the time of his death 18 days later on Jan. 4, the protests had spread across the country. 

Despite the rapid escalation, it took time for the potential implications of what had happened to fully register in the media. The first front-page mention in Arab News of the protests in Tunisia was in a report on food riots in Algeria that ran on Jan. 7. On Jan. 14, the newspaper led with the headline “Rioting spreads in Tunisia” — the same day that the president, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country after 23 years in power.

“In the capital Tunis, police opened fire on demonstrators killing at least one person as weeks of anti-government protests intensified.”

From an AFP story on Arab News’ front page, Jan. 14, 2011

On the busy foreign desk of the newspaper where I worked in Abu Dhabi, we were unsure of how much of a challenge the rampant anger would pose to the autocratic rulers.

Even with the speed of Ben Ali’s downfall, and as the protests spread beyond Tunisia’s borders, could this really lead to a domino effect, toppling the men who had run much of the Middle East for decades?

Tunisia not only lit the touch paper, it showed to the frustrated and disaffected youth across the region that change was not only real, but could happen quickly. 

That it was a young man, supposedly well educated, who had been driven to such a desperate act by his hopeless situation only served to present Tunisia’s uprising as a model for others across the Arab world.

Within a year, the leaders of Egypt and Libya had been overthrown, and Yemen’s ruler was soon to stand aside. But the bloodshed from these subsequent uprisings and the brutal responses to the protests dwarfed what had unfolded in Tunisia. Nowhere was this more the case than in Syria, where Bashar Assad’s security forces turned their guns on protests and unleashed the horrors of the civil war and the extremist forces that emerged from it.

That said, Tunisia suffered its own share of violence, with more than 300 people killed in the protests. The country is held up in the West as the only one to have made progress toward democracy. Two sets of presidential and parliamentary elections have taken place since the uprising, despite some bitter political disputes that at times spilled over into violence.

Many Tunisians question whether they are better off than they were in 2010. The economy has struggled to pick up and the public have carried the burden of tough economic measures attached to a $2.8 billion loan package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2018, widespread protests against increased costs took place across the country.

Tunisia has also suffered from a series of extremist attacks, including one near the US embassy in March and another on a tourist resort in 2015 that killed 38 people and dealt a major blow to a key industry. 

Much of the social and economic conditions that are so often referenced among the causes of the Arab Spring remain in Tunisia. Unemployment is even higher nationally — 15 percent compared to 12 percent before the uprising and 30 percent in the poorest areas.

Early reporting of Bouazizi’s self-immolation described him as a university graduate, something that was often repeated and fitted neatly with the narrative of the Arab Spring being driven by an overeducated and underemployed youth.

The truth was that he had dropped out of school as he became the main breadwinner for his extended family after his father died. His aspiration, his family said, was to own a van to help him grow his business.

That aspiration disappeared in the flames that ended his life, but allowed the anger felt toward Ben Ali’s corrupt and oppressive regime to overspill.

For the Arab world, Bouazizi’s extreme and individual action will forever be remembered as the moment that unleashed the anger of the many.

  • Jonathan Lessware is Arab News’ London bureau digital editor and the former foreign editor of The National. He worked in the Middle East for 10 years, during the time of the Arab Spring.


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 10 min 27 sec ago

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.


Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
Updated 36 min 10 sec ago

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 

Dubai teen-led tennis initiative raises awareness for autism 
  • Two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest
  • The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada

DUBAI: A tennis initiative set up by a Dubai teen has garnered support for Autism Awareness Month.

The initiative, called ACE FOR GOOD, was set up by high school student Hussein Nada in order to bring together tennis lovers to play in support of a good cause.

The initiative comprised of a tournament organized by Rackets Academy and 17-year-old Hussein.

“I decided to create ACE FOR GOOD’which will allow tennis players to give back to the community through supporting a charitable cause,” she told Arab News. “ACE FOR GOOD’s 2021 Dubai tournament perfectly (suited) Autism Awareness Month, (as did) the willingness of the tennis community to support and … make a difference.”

The two-week tournament saw a 32-draw men’s competition and a unisex under-14’s doubles contest.

It was backed by several sponsors including Brand for Less (BFL) Group, Daoud Group, Loca restaurants, Head, Marina Pharmacy Group and the Flower Co.

“BFL Group is so proud of this sponsorship, as we always strive to work for philanthropic causes, since this reflects our values. Nevertheless, sports and fitness-related activities always get our support as we believe in their key role in maintaining our mental health and wellbeing,” Yasser Beydoun, co-founder and managing partner of BFL Group, said.

“We salute Hussein for his initiative and efforts, which made us so excited to take this sponsorship opportunity and support him in achieving this great cause. He showed us that age is never a barrier for doing good; we can all do something good for the community as long as we believe in the cause and in our abilities,” Beydoun added.

As a result of the positive feedback received from players, sponsors, and the tennis community, ACE FOR GOOD is now set to become an annual event in Dubai, with plans also in the works to take it abroad, with a tournament set to take place in Egypt in August.


Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
Updated 42 min 52 sec ago

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan

Khair for All — Saudi charity celebrate another successful Ramadan
  • Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Abdulmajeed Hashem chose for his charity

 

 

JEDDAH: With Ramadan drawing to a close, a family and friends charity celebrated the success of their ninth consecutive year in operation ahead of Eid festivities.

Abdulmajeed Hashem, the 25-year-old founder of Jeddah-based charity Khair for All, told Arab News about how his family and friends played their part in giving and lending a helping hand this holy month.

Whilst endeavoring to get involved in the spirit of Ramadan aged 16, the Jeddah-born Hashem discovered that local charities in his area had too many volunteers. However, he knew that there was no cap on good that can be done — so he founded his own charity.

Khair, the Arabic term for good, well-being, blessings and benevolence, was the operative word founder Hashem chose for Khair for All.

“We started in about 2012 with a small group of my cousins and friends. We decided to start by giving out meals for Iftar Sayim,” Hashem told Arab News.

Iftar Sayim is the charitable act of providing ready meals, usually dates, water, laban and a sambosa, to Muslims in Ramadan for them to break their fasts with.

One month worth of essential food items laid out in batches ahead of packaging and distributing. (Zeina Sweidan)

“That simple beginning turned into something that grew in size, in number of volunteers, in effort — we just kind of started from there and it naturally grew.”

Hashem and his team purchased Iftar Sayim meals using their own money and began distributing them in the suburbs of Jeddah — soon they found themselves in a daily routine they could not do without.

“Meeting here everyday, setting up the packs and distributing them ourselves has really been a bonding experience with our group,” he said. “We really enjoy this activity — it’s become a part of our Ramadan that’s very important to us.”

A less fortunate suburb in Jeddah receiving Khair for All monthly packages. (Hussain Abedi)

The global health crisis did not stand in the way of the charity’s vision for 2021, and while adjustments had to be made and precautions taken, they swiftly adapted and made the necessary changes for another successful Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 has played a role in getting the youth moving, according to the Khair for All founder. “I feel like with the new direction a lot more of my friends have been more willing to volunteer,” he said. “More people are ready to go and take on these projects.

“I’ve definitely noticed an increase in enthusiasm and energy in the past few years, and I think it’s very much linked to the direction of the country.”

Khair for All sets no limits on where and how it can be of service, and so ventured into more sustainable projects in which their effects will be seen in the years to come.

While Iftar Sayim is the basis for why Khair for All began, in 2014 Hashem and his team discovered that there were more ways to help the community than to simply help break their fasts.

Khair for All volunteer stuffing monthly packs of essential food items into the back of his car just before the Maghreb prayer — the time in which Muslims break their fasts. (AN/Zaid Khashogji)

“We later shifted to giving monthly packs,” the Khair for All founder said. “We kind of understood that families needed something more stable, something that would make them not have to worry about where their food was coming in for the next month.”

Since then, packaging monthly supplies consisting of basic goods and necessities has become the primary activity of the charity — and they soon found themselves working with local schools.

“We like to have more of a lasting impact in the places we’re helping out, rather than just providing a meal and then going back home,” Hashem said. “We want to provide something to the communities that we can see grow ourselves, so we’re really focusing a lot on education.”

Hashem and the team began pooling money together each year to improve the state of impoverished schools in Jeddah.

“Vision 2030 emphasizes a lot of the power the youth can have,” he said. “We believe any way we can make the schools a better learning environment for the kids would be a way of having a more lasting impact.

“We do a lot of work getting new chairs, painting and providing internet — and I hope we can continue to do more things like that in the future.”

Hashem believes that more direct communication with people in the community is necessary to address the real underlying issues, rather than just basing measures on assumptions.

“Basically, put our energy into what they tell us they need,” he said. “Talk to everyone there, and get to know them really well — that way, it’s addressing actual problems.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 15 min 27 sec ago

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.