Eight years after the Arab Spring caused little stir in Algeria, a new generation has since come of age and is taking on the old guard — but the problems run deep.
Historian Juan Cole maintains that the young activists did lead successful revolutions, defining revolution as a rapid change in social and political institutions and attitudes caused by a social movement.[i] Various social movements acting together create a revolution. Specifically, the radical youth stopped the practice of presidents for life turning power over to their sons as Mubarak was planning to do in Egypt. They disrupted the financial control of the ousted presidents and their allies in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Also, they opened up discussion of political issues and youth unemployment and creation of new political parties. What youth most wanted was karama (dignity), individual rights and freedom similar to social democracy in Nordic countries. Cole said they made “new social and media spaces in which their demands could be voiced.” However, they were naïve to think that deposing an autocrat would change the oppressive system. After the revolutions, they turned their focus from government to organizing thousands of new NGOs, where they continue to use their horizontal and pragmatic organizational skills. He predicts, “They have kicked off what is likely to be a long intergenerational argument.” Because the key problem of youth unemployment hasn’t been solved, they will continue to “agitate for change” having had practice in how to mobilize and network.[ii]
[i] Juan Cole. The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East. Simon & Schuster, 2014, pp. x-xiv.
[ii] Ibid., p. 270.
President Barack Obama tweeted that that “Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe; marching and organizing to remake the world as it should be. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ve got your backs.” He was speaking to the high school students leading the Never Again movement for gun control after 17 people were shot dead at the Steadman high school in Florida on February 14, 2018.
The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama, was an important event in the Civil Rights movement when more than a thousand high school and college students marched for desegregation in May 1963. Police attacks galvanized support for the cause which resulted in desegregation of downtown stores. Also, college students from all over the US participated in Freedom Summer, the 1964 voter registration drive in Mississippi. They helped organize 50 Freedom Schools to continue community organizing. College students led the movement for free speech on college campuses, for women’s liberation, environmentalism and protests against the Viet Nam war with demonstrations starting in 1964 to the end in 1973. After decades of less visible activism, young people helped lead the wave of uprisings that started with the Arab Spring in 2011, and in the US the Dreamer movement for Latinx immigrants, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the Never Again movement for gun control.
A large youth generation changes the cultural climate just as the Baby Boomers did in the 1960s. An even bigger group of young people, Generations Y and Z, will certainly change our global future because about half of the world’s current population is under age 30, over 60% of them growing up in the global South. Almost two billion people are ages 10 to 24. Their stories provide a glimpse into how to prepare for their horizontal leadership style and desire for direct democracy. “Do you think the new generation is changing the face of life?” asked SpeakOut student Debraj (16, m, India). Answering “yes” to Debraj’s question is one of the points of this book series. “When we think about the legacy of your generation, you’re going to define it. And in doing so, you’ll define the world,” predicted Zeenat Rahman, Special Advisor to the US Secretary of State and Director of the Office of Global Youth Issues.
In a 2013 address to youth UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “young people are shaping the world” because they’re half the world’s population in a “youth quake.” He asked them, “Are you ready to shake things up?” He told world leaders to listen to young people and to women and to respond to their needs because youth know how to use social media to “change history,” as they did in the Arab Spring and will continue to do over the long run.[i] I list over 40 youth-led uprisings since 2011. For example, in Asia, Hong Kong students are the most active in fighting for independence from the mainland, known as the Umbrella Movement of 2014, who formed their own party called Demosisto. Beijing retaliated by putting some of the rebel leaders in jail and prohibiting two of them from being seated in the legislature, despite being voted in. It also prohibited Agnes Chow, 21, from running in a 2018 election. Taiwan’s minority party became the majority in the legislature and elected a woman president who promised to work on finding jobs for youth with a new model of economic development, actions traced to the Sunflower movement, as is the formation of the New Power party. Similarly, in South Korea the opposition party gained a majority in the 2016 elections due to the turnout of voters in their 20s and 30s to protest the status quo. Japanese students were galvanized by the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011 to protest against more nuclear plants and militarization.
Uprisings in the Middle East Since 2011
(Other countries discussed in my book Global Youth Activism
The least discussed of the Arab Spring rebellions and one of the most repressive occurred in Bahrain, one of the first Gulf States to discover oil and build a refinery. The British controlled the country for over a century, followed by the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain since 1971, including 60 acres in the center of the capital, Manama. The US acquiesces to Bahraini monarchy violence against citizens because of the Fifth Fleet base. Bahrain is a monarchy, headed by the Khalifa family since 1783. The rulers are Sunni, while about 70% the people are Shia. Shiites say they are discriminated against in government and in access to jobs, university scholarships and housing. Political parties are outlawed and the king appoints the prime minister, cabinet and judiciary. His sons hold most of the powerful positions. The Shiites look to Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa, considered a moderate, to soften the king’s hard line. Tiny Bahrain (sonly 1.34 million population) is connected to Saudi Arabia by a 16-mile bridge, which Saudis cross to go to a movie theater and other prohibited activities. The Saudis fear the numbers of Shiites in their eastern province and fear Shiite control of Iran.
In Bahrain, demonstrations started on February 14, 2011, organized by some of the opposition parties inspired by the Egyptians. It was the tenth anniversary of a constitutional referendum without delivery of promised reforms. The February 14 Movement called for their own Day of Rage, the biggest demonstration in Bahrain’s history with almost 100,000 people in a country with only 1.2 million people. Photos of demonstrations are available online. A new clandestine youth group called The February 14 Youth Coalition led the uprising, comprised of both Shia and Sunni members. Unlike the Egyptians, most weren’t trained in Gene Sharp’s tactics of nonviolent outreach. Many women and children went to the streets, so that about 40% of the population demonstrated on February 25. The young activists communicate on Facebook and other sites with each other and revolutionary youth in other countries. They used the familiar Serbian black clenched fist as their logo. In the fall of 2013, 50 of the youth activists were put on trial, charged with terrorism for organizing the group.
Many youth protesters started calling for revolution rather than reform after months of repression when more than 40 demonstrators were killed, thousands were arrested and many of them tortured. An Australian English teacher whose apartment overlooked the central square called Pearl Roundabout reported, “It was obvious that the police were not content on merely clearing the area: they seemed hell-bent on injuring as many of the protesters as possible.” Shiite demonstrators chanted “peaceful,” and urged minority Sunni Muslims to join them, chanting, “Not Sunni, Not Shiite, just Bahraini.” A student named Aayat Alqurmuzi was arrested for reading a poem at the Pearl Roundabout. Another brave woman stood in front of police vehicles dressed in an abaya robe making the V for victory sign. Police cursed and threatened her but didn’t touch her while waiting to find a woman police officer to drag her away. She tweets using the tag @angryarabiya where she reported on the protests, saying, “I’d give up my life and my 1-year-old daughter’s life be4 I let this gov continue oppressing us.” However, some male protesters formed human chains to block women from joining them on the streets.
King Hamed responded to protests by giving each family 1,000 dinars (nearly $3,000), released some Shiite activists from prison, and changed a few cabinet members, as well as using security forces to attack demonstrators. The people started asking for a constitutional monarchy. A month later, on March 15, the king brought in 1,500 to 2,000 Sunni Saudi and UAE troops to break up the demonstrations in Pearl Square where they targeted Shiites. Dozens were killed and thousands were arrested and many prisoners were tortured. Police fired assault riffles into the crowds, Shiite young men were arrested and Shiite mosques were attacked. Hundreds of security forces guarded what used to be Pearl Square; the roundabout and monument was destroyed by the government in March to “cleanse” the area after the “vile” protests of 2011. This would be like eradicating Tahrir Square in Cairo. The February 14 Youth Movement went underground, organizing “torches of freedom” passed from village to village and other acts of peaceful civil disobedience.
Matar Ibrahim Matar, who founded the Bahrain Youth Center in 2002 (leaders rotated every two years), reported that protesters lost their fear of the riot police, but the thousands of arrests and torture suppressed the uprising. An opposition party leader, he too was jailed and tortured. Smaller protests in villages continued as well as nightly chanting to Allah from rooftops, similar to Iran. The protests continued in the following years, including nation-wide protests in 2013.
During the first two years of demonstrations, 60 people were killed. Despite ongoing protests and loss of lives, King Hamed resisted ending his 32 years in power aided by an unelected prime minister who has served for over 41 years. Shiites built a Museum of the Revolution to show the history of their opposition including photographs of torture, spent US tear gas canisters and possessions of killed protesters, but it was shut down after two days for “inciting hatred.” King Hamed promised that he would institute reforms so “those painful events won’t be repeated” and rehired workers fired for political reasons.
Although the monarchy banned all demonstrations, they continued as crowds yelled “Allah Akbar,” God is great. Some young men hid their faces with checkered headscarves to attack police raiders with rocks, homemade guns, and Molotov cocktails. The leader of the largest opposition group, the Al Wefaq Islamic Society, Ali Slaman said, “We tell them to remain nonviolent, but some don’t listen.” One of the protesters explained, “King Hamed is a criminal. He’s responsible for killing people. He and his family control the whole country and its wealth.”  Wounded demonstrators were tracked down in hospitals, medical professionals arrested for helping them similar to Turkey in 2013, midnight raids terrorized Shia neighborhoods, and civilians were beaten at checkpoints.
Bloggers and journalists who used their own names disappeared. Most of the activists who appeared in the Al Jazeera English documentary People and Power were arrested. Business owners were threatened for not firing striking workers. A documentary titled We Are the Giant tells the story of the Al-Khawaja family of activists. The father and a daughter are in jail, and another daughter, Maryam, lives in exile in Denmark. In an interview she said she has been arrested seven times, beaten, and injured, so she left before she was imprisoned. When she came home to visit her family in 2014 she was arrested for assaulting a police officer. She told reporter Amy Goodman that the UK and UK ignore human rights violations because the US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain. The US continues arms sales (including tear gas) to the government, arousing criticism from young militants.
Demonstrations continued, as when tens of thousands marched on December 8, 2013, to demand the release of political prisoners and chanted slogans against the ruling Al Khalifa monarch, and then a few days later to mark 1,000 days of protest. Thousands marched on February 15, 2014, to celebrate the three-year anniversary of the uprising. They carried Bahraini flags and signs saying, “Democracy is the only solution.” They protested the deaths of more than 65 demonstrators and around 3,000 rebels in jail. The government called the protests “urban guerrilla warfare.” Protests broke out in April 2016 after the funeral of a 17-year-old boy who was killed by police while arresting him for protesting. The youngest minister in Bahrain’s parliament (born 1976) Matar Ebrahim Matar was jailed and tortured but believes that in Bahrain, and maybe much of the Arab world, “our fields have been plowed and now we are just waiting for the rains to fall.”
Student activist Jalal Abu-Khater reported that in response to uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, youth tried to organize large demonstrations against the Israeli occupation, but “failed to create a critical mass due to a lack of confidence and a malaise after sixty years of struggle. Many of us lacked the faith that we could succeed.” Wars between Israelis and Palestinians broke out in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014. In the latter, the Gaza Ministry of Health estimated that 1,951 people (including hundreds of children) died and 10,193 were injured from July 8 to August 13. When the Arab League asked for a no-fly zone over Palestine to prevent daily bombings by the Israeli air force, it was ignored, unlike the support given Libyan rebels with NATO airpower.
ElectronicIntifada.net provides updates from Palestine: Founding member Abu-Khater was a teenage blogger in Jerusalem and then a student in Scotland. Palestinian youth called their Arab Spring the March 15 Movement, with the slogan “The people want to end the division!” Youth activists used the Internet to call for a union of the Gaza Strip (controlled by Hamas) and the West Bank (controlled by the Palestinian Authority), in preparation for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who postponed elections for years, quickly announced he would hold new ones and formed a new Cabinet. The two governments signed a reconciliation agreement in 2011, but it wasn’t implemented until 2013.
Youth united to reduce violence with young activists from North America and Europe in the International Solidarity Movement that started in 2001. A young Canadian activist who volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement to prevent violence in Palestine posted photos and accounts of her experiences there. A college student from Washington State was infamously run over and killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003 when she tried to prevent the destruction of homes in Gaza. Her story is told in Rachel Corrie’s Let Me Stand Alone (2008). In 2015, an Israeli court absolved their military from blame because Corrie’s death occurred in a war zone.
The US increased pressure to agree to a two-state solution heightened by international BDS campaigns to boycott Israel until a solution is reached. College students in the US formed campus groups called Students for Justice in Palestine, but some universities banned the groups, as at Northeastern University and Columbia. Since 2005, the global BDS movement calls for participants to boycott, divest, and sanction Israeli businesses until the Palestinians have a state. The Republican platform of 2016 opposed both BDS and the two-state solution. Bernie Sanders supported BDS while Hillary Clinton opposed it.
Gaza has a Youth Parliament but it didn’t interest Mahmoud, a young activist. He reported in January 2013, “We believe in our strength, but we were romantic. When I saw all of the March 15 activists emigrating and traveling away from Gaza, I knew that we had failed to bring about our Palestinian Spring, so I decided to travel as well.” Youth resistance continues, however, as in tents they set up in a village in Israeli-occupied land north of Palestine. When Fadi Quran, a Palestinian youth activist, was arrested and jailed for demonstrating against Israeli apartheid, Twitter and other social media campaigns supported his cause. Young Palestinians use other nonviolent resistances such as flying kites or going to school during curfew. Aba Rizak, 25, said, “We take to the streets and will continue to take to the streets, against the occupation of the governments in the West Bank and Gaza.” She blamed divided factions within the youth movement for slowing its progress. Some called for a unified youth movement in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the 1948 Palestinian territories occupied by Israel rather than the current fragmented movements.
About half of the inhabitants of Gaza are children and poor. The Palestine branch of Defense for Children International NGO, states than more than 1,400 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since 2000. A 2013 UNICEF report stated 7,000 Palestinian children had been detained and imprisoned, an average of two children a day. One of them was an American citizen, age 15, who was badly beaten by Israel police during his visit to relatives. An Israeli anthropologist who studies youth, Tamir Lion reported a change in attitude about why Israeli soldiers chose to enter combat units. They used to be motivated by the challenge and prestige, but after 2000 they started saying, “To kill Arabs.” Lion is troubled by this change, which is independent of their parents or political party.
The Oscar-nominated documentary Five Broken Cameras (2012) shows non-violent protests by Palestinians against Israelis building fences and settlements on Palestinian land and burning their beloved olive trees. The film shows young Israeli troops shooting live bullets and capturing young boys to harass their parents. The film is mostly about men and boys, as women’s role seems to be in the home. Israeli Guy Davidi helped direct the film with the cameraman Emad Burnat and supported the villagers’ protest. The film was shown on Israeli TV and in theaters and funded by Israel. However, the Israeli producer said he represents a small minority of his countrymen.
Mica Pollock studied transnational youth activism as a political phenomenon to solve social problems. She leads an international ethnographic research project titled “Global Youth/Global Justice.” She studies how young people consciously use international partnerships as a resource to solve social problems, like the International Solidarity Movement for Palestinian nonviolent civil disobedience. The thousands of international participants are mostly young, white, middle-class North Americans and Europeans. They see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their responsibility, a global social justice problem. They use they typical consensus decision-making in “self-consciously informal and anti-hierarchal” small affinity groups.
Another international effort, Youth Create Change was funded by the German Development Corporation in 11 cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to increase youth activism and services for youth. The program involves a youth Officer, the Youth Promoters (15 young people), an annual Youth Action Plan, a youth center and budget. Another international model is Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian environmentalists who work together in a group called EcoPeace Middle East, addressing issues like the water crisis in Gaza. YaLa (Let’s go!) Young Leaders is a Facebook-based movement to promote peace in the Middle East, enabling thousands of interaction a day. Launched in 2011, within three years it attracted 550,000 members. It claims to be the fastest-growing Middle East peace movement. It also provides online courses for Arab and Israeli students and promotes YaLa’s Peace Initiative. Many other youth activists for peace work together Palestine and Israel.
Interestingly, the cool young people in Haifa, Israel, are Arabic speaking Palestinians who created a “youth movement” that is “secular feminist and gay-friendly. Young men and women mix in cafes and attend art exhibitions and cultural discussions. A long-haired 23-year-old man, Samer Asakleh reported, “The people in Haifa, especially in these cafes, they are making revolutions.” He added, “I believe in freedom for the Palestinian people, so we also have to support personal freedoms” like GLBT rights.
Despite peace efforts, what was called a third intifada broke out in Jerusalem in October 2015. Young men, and some women like Shorouq Dweiyat, age 18, used kitchen knives to stab Israelis. Most weren’t part of an organized group nor were they particularly religious as evidenced by the absence of beards worn by devout Muslim men, but were incited by viral videos viewed on their cell phones.
Libya is a desert country, liberated from Italian rule in 1951. Oil was discovered eight years later making the kingdom wealthy as it has Africa’s largest oil reserves. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the son of a Bedouin sheepherder, took over from the king in a coup when he was 27 and ruled for 42 years. (ABC News found 112 different ways of spelling his name in English: I use Al Jazeera’s spelling of Arabic names.) He referred to himself as “King of Arab Kings.” Libyans referred to him as “our friend.” Gaddafi first tried to copy Gamel Nasser’s Arab nationalism and socialism, then his Green Book explained his alternative to socialism and capitalism. He nationalized Western businesses including some of the oil industry. Gaddafi did succeed in raising the standard of living, many worked in government jobs, and life expectancy with free healthcare, education and electricity. Women had a right to earn an income with equal pay for equal work, to divorce, and own property. Now it’s a failed state.
Some argue that Western powers wanted to remove Gaddafi because they couldn’t control him and Libyan oil resources and feared his drive to unify the African Union. British lecturer Florian Zollmann charged that Western powers waged a CIA-led “secret war” for more than three decades, such as the 1986 air strike on Tripoli by the US air force and support for radical Islamists to undermine Gaddafi. He believes covert forces didn’t like Libya’s independence and support for the African Union. The CIA backed rebellions against Gaddafi for several decades through the National Front for the Salvation of Libya and other groups. Special forces from UK, the Netherlands, France and Italy were on the ground fighting Gaddafi’s forces, some of whom were captured and publically displayed by Gaddafi.
Gaddafi prevented the development of any political party or large organization, keeping the military under the control of his sons. He set tribes against each other to divide and conquer. No national organizations existed and he banned a free press and private ownership. As part of his “permanent revolution,” he set up “revolutionary committees” that were supposed to be the basis of direct democracy, similar to Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. An army officer who joined the rebels said, “Qaddafi is the Dracula of Libya.” Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Gaddafi would pick girls at will to add to his harems, accused of raping thousands of girls and boys. His son Mutassim paid a million dollars to Beyoncé Knowles to sing at his party on St. Barts Island. The “Brother Leader” thought of Libya as his possession, so in the revolt people chanted “We are not Gaddafi.”
On February 15, 2011, several hundred people gathered in front of police offices in Benghazi to protest the arrest of human rights activist Fathi Terbil. Thousands went to the streets two days later for a “Day of Rage.” On February 20, rebels took over Benghazi after a battle with Gaddafi’s army and fighting broke out around eastern Libya. Six days later the UN Security council condemned Gaddafi’s use of force against demonstrators while the National Transitional Council coordinated the rebellion from Benghazi. In March, NATO bombed Gadhafi’s military and supported rebels in their take-over of Sirte, where the Brotherly Leader was killed in October. Princeton Professor Richard Falk reported that NATO’s military operation in Libya intended to create regime change and replace Gaddafi and control of Libya’s oil with leaders allied with the West. He also noted that Gaddafi was brutal. Falk worked for the UN as “Special Rapporteur” from 2008 to 2014, conducting many fact-finding missions.
Amnesty International reported that the Western media viewed the rebels with rose-colored glasses while vilifying Gaddafi. Oxford University professor Tariq Ramadan reported that the CIA worked with the rebels from the beginning. He added that Western powers didn’t support Syrian rebels but did support Libyan activists to access oil reserves in Libya. The CIA and England’s M16 backed the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, based in London, when it called for a Day of Rage in Libya. Although he was responsible for helpful social programs, Gaddafi responded to the uprising with mercenaries and machine guns, killing thousands of people. The Transitional National Council, set up to coordinate the rebels, estimated that around 30,000 were killed in the six-month civil war, about half rebels and half Gaddafi loyalists, but these claims haven’t been verified.
Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam blamed young people for the bloody uprising that began in mid-February 2011 in many cities, especially in the eastern half of the country and Benghazi, farther from his tribal area. Nonviolent protests met violent response from police and soldiers, leading to the Day of Rage two days later with more violence. Armed rebels in the eastern provinces began the protests indicating the division between regions and tribes that make it difficult to unite Libya.
A defector to the rebels, the commander of the military’s special operations forces, General Abdul Salam Mahoom al-Hassi told Al Jazeera news, “I place all of my resolve and capabilities at the service of the youth revolution.” Gaddafi said on TV, “No one above the age of 20 would actually take part in these events. They are taking advantage of the young age of these people [to commit violent acts] because they are not legally liable.” He urged parents to “come out of your houses and talk to your sons,” although women lawyers were early organizers of protests against him in Benghazi. In a wonderfully weird quote, Gaddafi said the teenage cockroaches, drug addicts, madmen and deviants were led astray by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, who at night put “hallucinogenic pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe.” He told Libyans, “Don’t believe Bookface or Keleeks” (WikiLeaks). About one-sixth of Libyans have access the Internet.
Women and youth were active revolutionaries despite Gaddafi’s focus on restraining sons. A Libyan journalist, Dina Duella, said, “In Libya, it was the youth who brought the change,” when they protested the arrest of a young lawyer, Fathi Terbil in February 2011. The rebel army was most teenage boys and young adults wearing jeans and baseball caps. They carried photos of Gaddafi with a large X drawn over his face. The young men loaded pickups and cars with weapons, shouting Allahu Akbar but they were no match for an army with a central command and airplanes. Young women kept media informed, made independence flags and hung them up in the middle of the night and led other sabotage of the regime. A photo circulated of a woman in hijab holding the green Libyan flag on which she had written, “We will not surrender, We will win or we will die until Libya is free!”
Two young people in the diaspora formed Shabab Libya to empower young people during the uprising. They kept tens of thousands of Libyans informed on Twitter and Facebook. Feeling youth were neglected by Gaddafi’s rule, they worked with other groups to form the Libyan Youth Forum to train youth to be activists and social entrepreneurs.
In a BBC documentary about Libyan students studying at Cambridge University, Hussam, 24, said he joined a brigade in the liberation war because he wanted to fight against injustice even though, “You’d go into battle and your friends would die.” Taha, 22, said before they weren’t allowed to speak about Gaddafi, people just accepted his rule. During the revolution, everyone tried to participate. He and his friends set up a website called “Libya Next.” Comparing Libyan and English cultures, he was surprised that during a 45-minute bus ride in England, no one talked. Another young man was surprised by the feeling of safety that allowed people to have glass doors in their homes.
After Gaddafi vowed to go to door to door to crush civilian rebels like rats, on March 18 the UN Security Council voted to protect civilians. The Arab League’s 22 members normally oppose foreign intervention, but they asked the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Gaddafi responded, “If the world is crazy, we will be crazy too.” The no-fly zone established by NATO turned the tide against Gaddafi’s military with air power. When rebels found Gaddafi hiding in a sewer in October, they kicked him, sodomized him with a bayonet, and killed him.
A group of Americans of various ages recruited over Twitter, led by Steen Kirby, a 15-year-old Georgia high school “military junkie,” wrote manuals on a variety of military and medical topics and had them translated into Arabic for the rebels. Topics included mine detection, how to clean guns, how to defeat armor and tanks, and first aid for wounds. In Internet photos Steen saw deficiencies in their ragtag defenses and wanted to help. He assembled an Internet group of “crowdsourcers” who answered questions from the rebels on the Internet, a “huge asset” to the revolution. I talked with Steen to find out what motivated him to get involved in the “first Internet revolution.” Steen said he read military history since he was around 11 when he also got involved in Twitter. Homeschooled, he had time to delve into his interest in foreign affairs and the news. His parents are “normal people” who didn’t steer him towards his interest in politics.
Despite the active militias that operate like local gangs and the chaos of Reconstruction after the Civil War in the US, Steen believed that Libyans have done the best of the Arab Spring countries in establishing a democracy without Islamic control. The Muslim Brotherhood got third place in the first elections: “For a Muslim country, it’s pretty secular.” They are well educated because of Gaddafi’s policies. I asked him why youth were in the forefront of the revolution and he said it’s because they have the least to lose, the least fear, and have a natural tendency to be the most aggressive age group.
Youth groups continued their protests against the National Transitional Council, including a tent city across from the prime minister’s office. They demanded more transparency from the Council and investigation of Council members’ ties to the Gaddafi government. The Council made the mistake of giving payments to all the rebels, thereby funding militias. Libyans surprised pundits who expected that they would elect Islamists as Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco did, but the people elected a secular coalition called the National Forces Alliance in July 2012. The election of a congress in July was the first free national election in six decades, but the government struggled with tribal militias without loyalty to the country and no functioning government institutions. Led by Mahmoud Jibril, the former prime minister in the transitional government who commuted from Qatar, he campaigned as a Muslim stating that his coalition aimed to follow Sharia law. The Council selected Abdurrahim El-Keib as interim prime minister from November 2011 to the next November. He spent decades in exile in the US where he was an electrical engineering professor at the University of Alabama and was employed by the Petroleum Institute based in Abu Dhabi. The interim leaders were so fearful about foreign troops they didn’t allow the UN to maintain a security force to protect its compound. Ali Zeidan became prime minister in November 2012 and continued to bribe militia leaders and depend on them for support.
To appeal to Islamists, Libya’s post-revolution leader Mohammed el-Megarif promised in 2013 that the nation’s next constitution would abide by Sharia law as the main guide to legislation. With a weak central government without a strong army, militias controlled their fiefdoms with abundant weapons resulting in frequent assassinations, bombing and kidnapping. Qatar helped finance Islamist forces and UAE supported rival militias. Estimates are thousands of militia operate in their various regions, feuding with each other, using some of the weapons Quaddifi hid in the desert, including chemical weapons. A peaceful demonstration with hundreds of university students in Tripoli against the militias ended with the deaths of at least 27 protesters in November 2013. A video shows men complaining that the situation is worse than under Gaddafi, saying they want democracy and asking where is NATO to help them?
Looking back on the Arab Spring in 2012, the Serbian leader of CANVAS Srdja Popovic praised the Egyptian revolution for being mainly nonviolent while he faulted the Libyan revolution for its violence, saying, “Nothing seems to be learned from simple fact that in 50 out of 67 transitions from dictatorships to democracy in last 35 years were nonviolent struggles. If you take a look in the great book Why Civil Resistance Works by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, you will understand.”
The government of Prime Minister Ali Zidan, 2012 to 2014, was helpless against armed tribes and clans without loyalty to the nation. Open civil war occurred in 2014, with two rival governments. One was back by the UAE and Egypt versus Qatar, Turkey and Sudan that backed Muslim extremists, including ISIS. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pressed for a no-fly zone but President Obama was wary of getting involved in another disastrous war. Militia were able to kidnap Ali Zidan in 2013, but released him soon after. NPR reporter Leila Fadel described Libya in 2014 as the wild, wild west, with no government security forces to turn to if someone gets kidnapped or assaulted. When a former military officer borrowed a phrase from General el-Sisi in Egypt about staging a coup to create a new “road map” in February, it was a joke because there was no group strong enough to take over. Ayat Mneina, a Libyan-Canadian youth activist, reported in 2014 that violence continued non-stop since the revolution in the east and the south.
To protect themselves, young activists went underground or left their homes. Online activists are tracked down and threatened by reactionary forces. The Islamic State set up headquarters in Sirte, Quaddafi’s home city, where it published an online magazine. Oil production decreased, the currency is unstable, the black market thrives, and robbery and kidnapping are common. People who can afford to leave the country do so while many others feel hopeless and without economic opportunities. Thousands of Libyans migrated to Europe and most Westerners left Libya.
After three years the parliament hadn’t decided on a constitution. Islamic factions removed Prime Minister Ali Zidan who was supported by the West; he left for Germany, and they took over the legislature in 2013 and refused to proceed with elections when its mandate ran out in February 2014. To try end the violence, General Khalifa Haftar initiated Operation Dignity to oppose militias and succeeded in getting the legislature to hold elections in June. Although voter turnout was low, Libyans did not elect an Islamist majority in the House of Representatives. In March 2014 armed rebels broke into parliament, shooting guns, throwing bottles at legislators, and setting furniture on fire. Two legislators were shot in the legs and others were beaten up.
Two young leaders from Benghazi since 2011, Tawfiq Bensaud, age 18, and Sami Elkawafi, age 17, were assassinated in September 2014, shortly after Bensaud said, “If young people are given a chance, they can find a peaceful solution. My message to Libya’s youth is, you are powerful and you can make change. You just need to take the opportunity and act.” They organized peaceful protests against the rise of militias and violence. Since civil society is Libya is “overwhelmingly dominated by youth, these assassinations are a direct blow….to this sector.” Participants posted photos of themselves on social media holding a sign saying “I am Tawfik” to show their support of his principles. They also protested the murder of Salwa Bughaighis, a well-known feminist human rights lawyer who was assassinated in June 2014.
The US, UK and Italy funded a program to train and equip a national army in 2014 to try to hold the country together but daily murders continued. Forces from Egypt and the UAE secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli, in August 2014, while Qatar supported the Islamists. Islamist militias drove the parliament and Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni out of Tripoli, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from the capital and Benghazi. They’re called the Libya Dawn coalition. The rival government called Dignity is headquartered in Bayda and Tobruk, with hundreds of rival militias around the country. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tried to mediate between factions in October 2014, saying, “The international community can’t tolerate the continuous spilling of Libyan blood.”
Some of the Islamist militias swore allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in 2015. A Libyan diplomat observed, “The Islamists have been very clever at rebranding. They have learned the franchising model from McDonald’s. They give you the methodology, standards and propaganda material.” The Islamic State declared itself as a caliphate in 2014 and expanded from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan, Algeria, and Egypt, as well as Libya. The US turned to CIA trained General Khalifa Hafter to try to bring order to Libya as he seized a large part of Benghazi. Haftar commands the armed forces of the internationally recognized government in Tobruk while the Islamist coalition called Libya Dawn is headquartered in Tripoli. Haftar wanted a military rather than a political solution.
Despite the chaos of thousands of militias fighting each other, lack of security, and cuts to oil revenue by a half, polls suggest support for democracy is high, around 80%.
The human rights organization Global Exchange observed the impact of Libya’s civil war: “Before Libya’s ‘liberation’ by Western forces in the form of NATO, it was the richest country in Africa. Libyans had free healthcare and education. Today Libyans have almost no functioning public services, with daily blackouts and water shortages.” The endnote includes photos from 2011-2015. As many as 25,000 Libyans were killed in 2011 and 400,000 displaced. President Obama admitted that “failing to plan for the day after” Gaddafi’s death was the worst mistake of his presidency, so he sent in US bombers to target the ISIS stronghold in Sirte in July 2016. This action was requested by the new UN brokered unity government led by Prime Minister Fayez Seraj established itself in Tripoli in March, although a rival government of Islamic militias from Misurata is also based in Tripoli. The government headquartered in the east led by General Hifter refused to recognize the UN brokered government. Tired of all the negative news about Libya, Khadija Mali used Twitter #MyLibya and then Facebook to collect positive stories and photographs of what Libyans love about their country.
Syria is the longest and most violent and deadly of the revolutions, the greatest humanitarian disaster of the century, leading to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Many of us saw the photo of the four-year-old Kurdish boy washed up on a Greek beach. Half the population had to leave their homes by 2015. Journalist Dexter Pilkins reported on NPR, “It’s the end of the world there.” Almost 12,000 children and 230,000 adults were killed by June 2015. The Syrian documentary Our Terrible Country (2014) shows the civil war through the travels of a 24-year-old cameraman and a well-known rebel against Assad. A film collective called Abounaddara creates documentaries of daily life in Syria, such as a film about a soccer team.
Syria’s dictator for 12 years, Bashar al-Assad’s father ruled for 29 years before him and portraits of father and son plastered the country. President Assad, an Alawite-Shiite (about 12% of the population), is backed by Hezbollah—the Lebanon-based Shiite group led by Hassan Nasrallah. Both rulers relied on secret police in the “deep state” and informants likened to the Stasi of Communist East Germany, but when satellite TV entered Syria in the 2000s, TV and the Internet provided alternative information to the people. The ruling secular Baath Party prevented extreme poverty until neoliberal policies were implemented. In response to demonstrations, Assad promised change and lifted restriction on Internet usage, including lifting a ban on Facebook. He abolished the hated Emergency Law in effect since 1963 and named a new executive, certain that Syria was not like Egypt and Tunisia because his “people do not go into revolution.” He said Syria was stable because he was allied with the beliefs of the people.
Demonstrations heated up when 15 teens were detained for spray-painting protest graffiti in Daraa in February, 2011, writing, “No, no to emergency law. We are a people infatuated with freedom.” They also painted the slogan made popular in Tunisia and Egypt, “The people demand the fall of the regime!” and “Leave, Bashar.” Security forces pulled them out of school the next day and tortured them. Demonstrators called for release of political prisoners, an end to the nearly 50-year emergency law, and an end to corruption. By March, a full-scale uprising was underway in Daraa in the South. Protesters demanded the end of decades of emergency rule and corruption, honest elections, jobs and affordable food.
Assad’s soldiers used live ammunition against the protesters. Assad ended the emergency law on April 21, but protests and deaths continued. In May, creative activists hid speakers in a busy square in Damascus that played a song called “Go Away Bashar.” Others rolled Ping-Pong balls with “freedom” written on them down a mountain into the city. Examples of Syrian political graffiti, cartoons and other revolutionary art are posted online. A YouTube video series Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator satirized the regime. More revolutionary art in the Arab Spring is described by Maryam Jamshidi.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced their formation in July 2011 on YouTube and a month later the Syrian National Council coalition was organized along with a large opposition movement for Assad’s departure. Assad responded with tanks and bullets, which increased protests by hundreds of thousands of Syrians by July. A larger Syrian National Coalition took shape in November 2012, recognized the following year as the legitimate government by its allies. Local committees called LCCs organized peaceful resistance and relief efforts starting in March 2011. A Syrian young man named Majd described most of the FSA fighters in his town of Waer as “young guys who wanted to walk around with guns and scare people,” and many took amphetamines to keep them alert, followed by the anxiety drug Zolam to calm down.
A boy named Hamza al-Khatib was tortured and killed by secret police, even though he was only 13, because he carried milk and biscuits to children in the besieged city of Daraa. A symbol for police violence and torture, like Khaled Said in Egypt whose battered body shown in a photograph helped spark the overthrow of Mubarak, the video of his tortured castrated body went viral. At candlelight vigils children carried photos of Al-Khatib and their Facebook page “We Are All Hamza Al-Khatib” quickly gained 100,000 friends and kept growing. Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, soon almost every city had weekly demonstrations calling for the end of Baath rule and more freedom.
Razan Zaitounh, 34, is a human rights lawyer who keeps international media about Syrian news informed on Facebook and Skype. She interviewed an activist from Daraa in his early 20s. Mohammed told her that he and others spontaneously came to demonstrate with about 400 people who wanted to reform the regime. Mass demonstrations continued: “I don’t care about dying,” Mohammed said. Afterwards a group of young people started coordinating the protests. The army and security forces surrounded Jiza and detained people and looted their homes. The soldiers wrote on the walls, “You’re the disease and we are the medicine. If you come back [to protest] we will come back. And our return will be tough. No god but Bashar.” Mohammed said many of the conscripted soldiers were sympathetic but knew they’d be shot if they disobeyed orders. The youth replaced the graffiti with, “Syria is free. Leave Bahar.”
The army felt free to shoot civilians and destroy their homes and demolish their neighborhoods because Alawites aligned with Shiite Muslims are the rulers while the masses are Sunni. Civil war ensued, with Alawite Muslims and some Christians backing the Asad, fearful of being persecuted by a Sunni takeover. Alawite soldiers saw their economic interests tied to the regime. As in Libya, the military was not autonomous but controlled by the regime and dominated by members of Asad’s family or tribe. The elite Republican Guard was headed by Bashar’s brother Maher al-Asad.
Although their intent was to be peaceful, after every slaughter of their friends and family, “people dying in your arms,” rebels thought about arming themselves, but realized they had no weapons against government tanks. In a suburb of Damascus called Deraya, young people in the “Youth of the Revolution” group started resisting with roses instead of stones. Each protester gave a rose and water to soldiers during the hot summer, with leaflets asking, “We are all Syrians. Why are you killing us?”
Large protests spread in March to various cities. The Alawite security forces were unrestrained, unlike the military in Egypt and Tunisia. They would cut off all supplies to a Sunni-majority city, shoot real bullets at people armed with stones, prevent wounded women and children from entering hospitals, demolish houses and capture and torture young men. Brave civilians risked danger to videotape and post images of the battles. On his side Bashar was aided by Hezbollah Shiite soldiers from Lebanon. The Iranian government shared advice with Asad about how to crush rebellion based on their Green Revolution of 2009, including banning foreign journalists and how to intercept and block the Internet and mobile phones. Instead of blaming drug abuse as Gaddafi did, Assad blamed a foreign conspiracy against his rule. Russia and China supported Assad thereby preventing the UN Security Council from taking action to protect the Syrian people.
The opposition is fragmented, including foreign Jihadists who want to turn Syria into an Islamic state, Islamist Syrians, and the 30 million Syrians who want a homeland in Syria, plus many independent rebel brigades (as shown in a short video). The Kurdish Rojava Revolution discussed in Chapter 5, a democratic, feminist, anti-state experiment in Northern Syria and Iraq. The rebels are divided between Western-backed Free Syrian Army fighters and those backed by anti-Western Islamists, including a coalition of six rebel groups. Cleric Sheikh Yasir al-Ajlawni issued a fatwa in 2013 calling for rape of any “non-Sunni” Syrian women. The rebels were aided by Saudi Arabia and various Sunni jihadis, but the Saudis cracked down on young men going to Syria to fight. In 2014, Saudi King Abdullah, fearful of the number of young men going to Syria returning as trained militants, decreed long prison sentences for Saudis who fight outside the country. Unlike Egypt, cyber-dissents got no help from Google when their Internet access was cut off, relying on sharing photos on their phones.
The so-called Islamic State, referred to as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh for the Arabic acronym, is a Sunni jihadist group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria and operates in other parts of the Middle East. It started as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 1999 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (born in Iraq in 1971), who has a doctorate degree and several wives. He proclaimed himself the head of a global caliphate, so extreme with its videotaped beheadings, raping young girls and women, and selling women captives as slaves that al-Qaeda disavowed it in 2014. ISIS indoctrinates children in camps in areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, teaches them to hate and kill Shiites who they claim want to rape their mothers, make the children watch beheadings, and recruit suicide bombers.
Whereas Gaddafi said he was killing rats, Assad (trained as an ophthalmologist) said he was like a surgeon who has to shed blood or amputate to save the patient. Russian airstrikes helped Assad remain in power, despite the deaths or up to 470,000 people and the destruction of the country.Assad’s troops killed over 5,000 mainly Sunni Syrians by the end of 2011, despite protests and observers sent by the Arab League and economic sanctions by the US and European nations. By 2014 the number killed was almost 200,000, while 7.6 million were displaced from their homes.
On the fourth anniversary of the uprising, over 210,000 were killed—half of them civilians, over 30,000 missing, and over 11.4 million refugees—half are children. Some of the individual stories were collected in the article cited in the previous endnote. About half of all Syrians are refugees, they suffer from starvation in blockaded areas, polio returned, and the government dropped barrel bombs and chemical warfare on civilians. The numbers increased to at least 11 million in 2015, with at least a million refugees in Turkey and in Lebanon, and over 12 million were displaced inside Syria. By the fall of 2015, 340,000 refugees–mainly from the Middle East, made the hazardous journey to seek asylum in Europe, with Germany the preferred country.
Over 11,000 children younger than 17 were killed by the end of 2013, according to UNICEF. Children were tortured, sexually abused, used as soldiers, or killed, at first mostly by government forces and then by rebel groups as well. Over 80% of refugees are women and children. Two million Syrian children were without school, according to the UN. Many of those who have schools nearby drop out because their families need them to work or they’re too traumatized. A 12-year-old refugee girl quoted by Oxfam, Reema wrote, “I had so many dreams. None of them will come true. All I want is to live in my country in freedom. Syria, my beloved country, I love you.” A Syrian young man in a Greek refugee camp describes life there in a poem, stating it would be better to be dead in Syria than dehumanized. Three million Syrian children were displaced form their homes, a “lost generation” many of whom don’t go to school and must labor to help their families survive in exile. Frontline produced a video about five of those children growing up with death all around them and a short documentary also illustrates the struggle.
A Syrian citizen journalist who uses the pseudonym Hummingbird in online posting said, “I was constantly gripped with fear. Fear of torture haunted us even in the virtual world.” Rebels used horizontal organizing, communicating on YouTube and Facebook. Hummingbird interviewed activists—especially women, for the Voices of the Future program. She reported that, “As the children of Syria were a constitutive factor for igniting the revolution, they became a target for Assad forces.” By July 2012, the undercover Local Coordination Committees documented 1,612 children killed by regime forces.
The UN helped get the combatants together in Switzerland to discuss a settlement in January 2014. Women were left out with no women on Syrian or UN teams. Female activists met under the umbrella of UN Women to call for the representation of women in all negotiations including the formation of a transition government. An NGO leader named Hibaaq Osman said, “When we talk about women at the table, the men see them as tablecloth,” despite the deaths of thousands of women and children, the use of rape to punish enemies by raping their family members in front of them, being used as human shields and hostages, and loss of freedom in areas controlled by fundamentalist rebels. Syria, Libya and Yemen are torn apart by their uprisings, partly because of foreign interventions.
Waves of economic and political protest have swept Jordan for over 20 years. Youth organizations including the National Campaign for Student Rights and the Jordanian Democratic Youth Union started demonstrating in January 2011 and continued every Friday after mosque prayers. The first demonstrations occurred in the rural villages among the tribal people who traditionally supported the king, angry about corruption and the gap between their rural poverty and the rich urban families. The rumor that the king bought his wife a yacht as a birthday present incited discontent. The rumors spread to the cities, demanding reform of the constitution that gave the king the power to appoint the prime minister and the cabinet. The majority of the population (60%) is Palestinian refugees who are less supportive of the monarchy than the local tribes, so Jordan is considered especially vulnerable to change.
At the end of January, the king promised for the first time to allow the parliament to select the prime minister and cabinet and increased wages and food and fuel subsidies. One of his civil servants emailed me, “Since His Majesty King Abdullah II increased attention to youth of Jordan, and the need to give them a real opportunity in decision-making and especially after the Arab Spring, I started directives decreasing unemployment and the need to express their opinions freely.” In March the king set up a reform commission but didn’t give up his powers. Protests continued, including those led by the Islamic Action Front and union members.
Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab economy, due to oil wealth. Seventy percent of Saudis are under 30, including the second most powerful man. King Abdullah died in 2015, leaving behind more than 35 children and a fortune estimated to be $17 billion. The throne went to his half-brother King Salman, age 79. Salman gave away cash benefits estimated to be more than $32 billion to citizens—including students, more than the budget of Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. Yet the national budget was in the red despite being the world’s top oil exporter. The last bonus came during the Arab Spring.
Young Saudis face high unemployment rates close to 30% and many years on a waiting list for public housing, both of which makes marriage difficult. Education and health care is free and there are no income taxes, but two-thirds of university students receive degrees that don’t lead to employment and learning skills like computer literacy. Many young Saudis are frustrated with the “absence of social outlets.” In response, King Salman appointed a new Minister of Education who has university degrees from the US and UK. The Minister of Information said in 2011, “We have to talk with young people in Facebook, in Twitter and on YouTube. We have to know how they think. They now represent 60% of our population and they are the future of our country.” The fall in oil prices since 2014 decreased their access to well-paid government jobs that employ 70% of Saudis.
The government prohibits criticism of Islam or writing that could disrupt the “public order.” Civil rights groups build websites outside the country, but the government periodically blocks them. Ahmed Al Omran is called the “Saudi blogfather” for writing one of the oldest blogs in the Middle East called Saudi Jean. A member of the repressed minority Shites, he reported that since he started blogging in English in 2004, over 10,000 bloggers joined in, including a young woman named Hadeel al-Hodaif who spoke out for free speech. Omran participates in Global Voices Online an international site for bloggers. In June 2016 Amnesty International called for Saudi Arabia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council because most human rights activists are in jail, left the country, or afraid to speak out. It executed at least 350 people since November 2013, and bombed civilians in Yemen.
I asked SpeakOut student Faisal, 18, about current issues.
Saudi Arabia is a rich country with money, but we don’t make technology, we bring it from other countries. We don’t have a fancy public transportation in the city like in the United States. It’s correct that almost every house in Saudi Arabia has two cars at least these days. We don’t have a subways or metro trains. Even though we are one of the richest countries in the world, we don’t have the power to protect ourselves from the outside danger. We don’t have weapons in our country to fight, we need anti-weapons to protect.
We need to develop our health care system in many ways. We need to prove to the world that we are not as they think we are, which is people living in the desert or something like that. In Saudi Arabia we live a modern life more than they have in most of the countries, only the problem is the country needs men to change it to better. Many workers at the government or ministers want it like what is on right now. The greedy people don’t want to upgrade it. They take the money from the government to put in their own bank accounts and use the money for their luxury life. I love my king, and the royal family, and I love my family and my people, so I’ll develop everything in the country except the way we have the king.
A young Palestinian woman who lives in Saudi Arabia told me when we were riding a camel in Giza that everything happens secretly underground. Society is so regimented that shopping malls are main meeting place even though they have segregated family or single person days. (An interview with a young Saudi woman is on the book website.) Saudi Arabia is so tightly controlled, it’s hard to imagine revolution, but Shia protesters in the east shouted “Down with Al Saud,” the king, in demonstrations than began in 2012. They demand their rights to worship and protest that they are poorer than Sunni Saudis. At the end of the year, police bullets had killed 12 Shia young men. A 17-year-old, Shite Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested and sentenced to death for encouraging protests during the Arab Spring. Abdullah al-Zaher, age 15 and a Shite, was also arrested in 2012 for participating in a protest in the Shia province, tortured, and sentenced to death. The Qatif area in the east became a militarized zone by the end of 2013. Of the 23 most wanted rebels, only eight escaped the police to go into hiding. The BBC aired a story by Saudi journalist Safa Al Ahmad documenting the struggle called “Saudi’s Secret Uprising.” Feeling unsafe, she left her country.
A group of businessmen launched a new political party in February 2011, called Islamic Umma, asking King Abdullah for a voice in governing, although the country has no elected parliament. Many of the leaders were arrested. Public dissent and demonstrations are banned, except for submitting a petition to the king. Protesters wrote to him, “You know well what big political development and improvement of freedom and human rights is currently happening in the Islamic world,” echoing reform discussions on Saudi social media.
A group of academics and activists called for a constitutional monarchy, complaining about nepotism and corruption. Youth also sent a letter to the king asking for more democracy. Facebook and other social media sources called for a Day of Rage on March 11, but the government snuffed out the effort with a show of force in the capital, Riyadh. Activists were intimidated by the show of security forces and religious edicts against protesting. A planned day for women to drive on June 17, 2011, was also squashed. However, small demonstrations led by women did take place in Jeddah and Riyadh. In March 2012 students at King Khalid University in Abha organized three days of protests with videos posted on YouTube charging the administrator for being “closed and bureaucratic.”
King Abdullah was considered relatively progressive, as when he gave women the right to vote and run for office starting in 2015 municipal elections and established Princess Nour University, the largest women’s university in the world. A co-ed university called King Abdullah University of Science and Technology opened in 2009, with men and women students in the same classrooms. He appointed the first woman deputy minister in 2009 and permitted two female athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time in 2012. He gathered a group of US academics to plan how to help women enter the workforce because less than 11% of women are employed, in comparison to 60% of men, despite the fact that women tend to be better educated. The government’s motivation to hire more women workers is to rely less on foreign workers.
But the king moved to stifle dissent in 2013 when at least nine well-known reform advocates were given long jail sentences for offenses such as “breaking allegiance with the king.” Other outspoken people report surveillance of their phone calls and Internet use or house arrest, as charged by four of his 15 daughters from the same divorced mother. They claim to be prisoners, as they explain on video. The prominent Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights was shut down. A new law in 2014 used threat of terrorism as the excuse to prosecute anyone who advocates reform or exposes corruption or any other action that “undermines” the state. Phone calls and Internet activity are subject to surveillance. “Chop squares” feature frequent beheadings of people for crimes such as apostasy and witchcraft.
Middle East expert Steven Cook views the Saudis as the main counter-revolutionary force in the region, as when they sent troops to put down rebellion in Bahrain.On the other hand, reporter Thomas Friedman argued that “radical evolutions” are occurring in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies because of the Internet. People are losing their fear. Men and women can safely talk to each other electronically. A young Saudi techie told him, “I get all my news from Twitter,” not government controlled-media. Saudis are among the most numerous Twitter and YouTube users in the world, including comedians who poke fun at all aspects of Saudi society—even religious leaders.
Friedman described a cartoon in the Al-Sharq newspaper with the question, “Why did all the streets of Riyadh flood?” in a recent rainstorm. The government official answers, “The streets didn’t flood. That’s just a vicious rumor.” The Islamist says, “It’s all because of the sins of the girls at Princess Nour University.” A citizen said, “It’s because of corruption,” but an arm labeled “censorship” cuts off this comment, indicating a new freedom of expression. Saudis tweet messages to King Abdullah about topics like “education is at risk.” The young people Friedman talked with in the Gulf States want evolution rather than revolution.
Caryle Murphy lived in Saudi Arabia and interviewed 83 Saudis in their 20s. She agreed that youth don’t want revolution, are devout Muslims, but do want more individual freedom such as to choose a spouse. The global emphasis on human rights emboldens them to be more critical of authorities and the tradition of wasta, needing contacts to get ahead, similar to Chinese guanxis. Electronic media gives them the freedom to communicate with the other sex and be exposed to and discuss international news. A young woman told Murphy that the Arab Awakening “really affected us in the sense that we’re youth.” Others told her that the uprisings turned out badly so they don’t want quick change, maybe a constitutional monarchy in the future. The government is giving more rights and benefits for fear of the uprisings spreading. Young Saudis are braver than their “very scared” parents’ generation who raised them to be silent, as I heard in Egypt. They’re more tolerant than their elders except for hostility towards Shiites.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman (born in 1985), son of the king and in line to succeed him, is in charge of economic policy and is the world’s youngest defense minister. He is building a power base as the favorite of King Salman who appointed him deputy Crown Prince when he as 29. He led the Saudi war in Yemen, where many civilians were killed by Saudi cluster bombs. His father also named him defense minister, head of a new economic council to diversify the economy using his plan called Vision 2030, and was put in charge of the board of Saudi Aramco—the government oil company. He implement austerity measures to cope with low oil prices, but bought a yacht for about $550 million that he saw while vacationing in France. He led the Saudi war against Yemen as part of his campaign to oppose Iranian influence, visits world capitals and is photographed with Mark Zuckerberg, branding himself as the symbol of the new Saudi Arabia. He advocated more entertainment options and established an Entertainment Authority to provide events such as monster truck rallies and comedy shows. He seeks out younger religious leaders with numerous social media followers, rather than the very conservative Council of Senior Scholars. “He is speaking in the language of the youth,” said a member of the Shura Council, Hoda al-Helaissi: “We need to look at who is going to carry the torch to the next generation.”
A 22-year-old young woman from Riyadh told Murphy, “One thing about our country, it’s run in a very patriarchal way. And in terms of longevity, I don’t think that’s sustainable. The world is becoming more globalized. People are beginning to see what’s happening in other countries and they’re gonna want that.” Young men complained to Murphy about the cost of marriage and the scarcity of housing and young women complained about the lack of interesting men, not a uniquely Saudi issue. Most Saudi youth (91%) are connected to the Internet. One young man said, “Twitter is our parliament now.” The Muslim leader Grand Mufti said Tweeters are fools. In 2015, blogger Raif Badawi (age 31) was sentenced to a decade in prison, 1,000 lashes, and fined for operating the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website, which was shut down. He compiled his prison blogs in a book called 100 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think (2015).
 Tariq Ramadan. Islam and the Arab Awakening. Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 41.
 Colin Cavell, “”Bahrain: How the US Mainstream Media Turn a Blind Eye to Washington’s Despotic Arab Ally,” Global Research, April 8, 2012.
 Matar Ibrahim Matar, “A Road with No Alternative,” in Schiffrin and Kircher-Allen, p. 93.
 Reese Erlich, “Bahrain is Quietly Becoming One of the Arab Spring’s Most Violent Uprisings,” Occupy.com, December 18, 2012.
 Maryam Jamshidi. The Future of the Arab Spring. Elsevier, 2014, p. 13.
 Alhassen and Shihab-Eldin, p. 141.
 Aalhassen and Shihab-Eldin, p. 191.
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 Asmaa al-Ghoul, “Palestinian Activists Bemoan Their Lost Arab Spring,” Almonitor, January 18, 2013.
 John Beck, “Video Shows Moment Palestinian Teens Were Shot Dead in the West Bank,” Vice News, May 20, 2014.
 “Jerusalem—Israel Slams UN Report Claiming Palestinian Minors Tortured in Jail,” Vos Iz Neias?, June 22, 2013.
 Seth Mandel, “Israel and Its Arabs,” Commentary, July 11, 2014.
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 Sadie Bass, “How Many Different Ways Can You Spell ‘Gaddafi,’” ABC News, September 22, 2009.
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 Manji, The African Awakening, pp. 170-179, 190-197.
 Florian Zollmann, “Tormenting Libya,” TeleSUR, August 6, 2015.
 Tony Cartalucci, “US Planned Syrian Civilian Catastrophe Since 2007,” Land Destroyer Report, September 4, 2013.
 Zollmann, p. 298.
 Annick Cojean. Gaddafi’s Harem: the Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya. Grove Press, 2013.
 Richard Falk. Chaos and Counterrevolution: After the Arab Spring. Just World Books, 2015, p. 21, p. 36.
 Tariq Ramadan. Islam and the Arab Awakening. Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 35-36.
 Tony Cartalucci, “US Planned Syrian Civilian Catastrophe Since 2007,” Land Destroyer Report, September 4, 2013.
 Karin Laub, “Libyan Estimate: At Least 30,000 Died in the War,” AP Foreign, September 8, 2011.
 Nancy Youssef, “Defections Further Isolate Qaddafi,” TruthOut, February 26, 2011. http://www.truth-out.org/defections-further-isolate-qaddafi-obama-calls-ouster68086
 “Gaddafi Says Protesters are on Hallucinogenic Drugs,” Reuters, February 24, 2011.
 Alhassen and Shihab-Eldin, p. 186.
 “Young, Clever and Libyan,” BBC World News, July 2015.
 Andy Carvin. Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring and a Journalism Revolution. CUNY Journalism Press, 2012, pp. 147-151.
 Scott Shane and Jo Becker, “A New Libya,” New York Times, February 29, 2016.
 Srdja Popovic, “A New Chapter of People Power,” The European, May 3, 2012.
Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen, eds. From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices From the Global Spring. The New Press, 2012 ,p. 31.
 Ayat Mneina, “Attacks on Youth and Civil Society in Libya,” Muftah, October 10, 2014.
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 “Syria’s War Has Killed 230,000,” News Max World, June 9, 2015.
 Zuhour Mahmoud, “The Revolutionary Art at the Heart of Syria’s Uprising,” The World Post, March 18, 2016.
 Maryam Jamshidi. The Future of the Arab Spring. Elsevier, 2014, Chapter 5.
 Scott Anderson, “Fractured Lands,” New York Times, August 11, 2016, p. 50.
 Razan Zaiouneh, “Patriot and Fugitive,” in Schiffrin and Kircher-Allen, pp. 72-78
 Tariq Ramadan. Islam and the Arab Awakening. Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 45.
 Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession,” New York Times, May 19, 2016.
 Ben Finch, “Where are the People of Syria?,” Open Democracy, March 19, 2015.
 “Syria Crisis,” UNPA, November 30, 2014.
 Alhassena and Shihab-Eldin, p. 219.
 Editorial Board, “A New King’s Duty to Young Saudis,” Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 2015.
 Jacqueline Lambiase, “Crisis and Kairos,” chapter in George and Pratt, eds. Case Studies in Crisis Communication. Routledge, 2012.
 Alhassen and Shihab-Eldin, p. 234.
 “Suspend Saudi Arabia from UN Human Rights Council,” Amnesty International, June 29, 2016.
 “Shia Voice Discontent at Saudi Arabia’s Ruling Sunni,” BBC News, May 30, 2014.
 Ulf Laessing, “Pro-Reform Saudi Activists Launch Political Party,” Reuters, February 10, 2011.
 Hala Al-Dosari, “Saudi Women Drivers Take the Wheel on June 17,” Aljazeera English, June 16, 2011. http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/06/201161694746333674.html
 Fatima Manji, “Exclusive: ‘Locked-Up’ Saudi Princesses’ Message for Obama,” 4 News, March 28, 2014.
 Steven Cook, “Arab Spring Reality Check,” Mufta, April 22, 2014.
 Thomas Friedman, “The Other Arab Awakening,” New York Times, November 30, 2013.
 Murphy, p. 62.
 Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard, “Rise of Saudi Prince Shatters Decades of Royal Tradition,” New York Times, October 16, 2016.
 Caryle Murphy. A Kingdom’s Future: Saudi Arabia Through the Eyes of its Twentsomethings. Wilson Center, 2013, p. 1.
US funded and trained Arab unrest:
Tony Cartalucci, “US Planned Syrian Civilian Catastrophe Since 2007,” Land Destroyer Report, September 4, 2013.
Informative report on status of women in the Middle East after the uprisings of 2011.
CARE International Policy Report, Arab Spring or Arab Autumn?,
According to Oxford professor Tarriq Ramadan, starting in 2004 significant numbers of young bloggers and activists (including leaders of Egypt’s April 6 Movement) were trained by US government funded NGOs such as Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution, Freedom House and the International Republican Institute.[i] Trainers emphasized how to use nonviolent tactics to shape mass psychology via the Internet with symbols and slogans spelled out by Gene Sharp. For example, the black clenched fist symbol used by Otpor was adopted in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Syria and had no religious divisiveness between secular or Islamist viewpoints. Simple slogans like “Get out!” were repeated over and over to influence mass psychology. Instead of waging war that failed in Iraq, the US used mass movements to “undermine regional stability and bring about a Western-dependent transition under military and economic control.”[ii]
Ramadan points out the main motive of the Western powers isn’t democracy, as shown in their support for repressive dictators and monarchs, but economic and military interests that require stability and access to oil and other resources. Western countries set up bases in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Emerging economic power China is more popular than the US in the region, so real democracy would be fearful for the West.[iii] Since its formation in 2008, the Africom (United States Africa Command) bases in Africa have expanded.[iv] However, a conspiracy of foreign powers didn’t start the uprisings nor did the Islamist organizations. Young women and men led them in a new form of nonviolent opposition with new models of democracy that Western powers tried to instigate and manipulate for economic gain.[v] Ramadan noted the “very instrumental presence of powerful multinational corporations at every stage of the process that climaxed in the mass uprisings.”[vi] Although youth ousted dictators, they weren’t able to develop a vision for “a genuine mode of political organization,” which opened the door to assumption of power by well-organized military or Islamists (Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Libya and Syria).
[i] Tariq Ramadan. Islam and the Arab Awakening. Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 11.
[ii] Ramadan, p. 23.
[iii] Ramadan, p. 56.
[iv] Ramadan, p. 53.
[v] Ramadan, p. 15, p. 21.
[vi] Ramadan, p. 58.