George Fairhurst previews an upcoming event series from the Young Fabians International Network, which will explore the Arab Spring through five regions.
On the 17th of December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside the governor's office of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, was one of many people trying to make a living in a system that wasn’t working anymore. Having lost his father at a young age, Bouazizi had been in some form of work since the age of 10, trying to scrape a living as the bank seized his family's meagre land that his uncle had borrowed against to create a farm. With his sisters, uncle and mother depending on him and having received multiple job rejections, Mohamed turned to selling fruit on the streets of Sidi Bouzid without a license . Sidi Bouzid, a rural Tunisian town, was rife with corruption and had an unemployment rate of 30%.
Bouazizi had his weighing equipment seized that morning by a female municipal officer called Faida Hamdi for refusing to pay a bribe. She subsequently insulted his deceased father and, outraged, he went to the governor's office to complain but was refused an audience with officials, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. He threatened to set himself on fire, doused himself in petrol and when his threats fell on deaf ears, he lit the flame.
Nearly 12 years since the start of the Arab Spring, this attempted suicide made out of desperation, outrage and anger serves as the flash point that kickstarted the Tunisian Revolution and, the Arab Spring itself. Across the Middle East and North Africa, widespread, spontaneous revolts rocked nations from Morocco to Bahrain.
But what do these events actually tell us? What do they mean to the people who lived through them and the wider politics of North Africa and the Middle East? This is a riddle that journalists tried to explain in real time as these revolutions broke out, and politicians have tried to retrospectively answer as we have dealt with the fallout of these events.
As Secretary for the Young Fabians International Network, I am going to attempt to address the riddle through an event series that will be spread across the spring and summer months. To assess these events in an hour-long panel event, we are going to be looking at the Arab Spring in its five epicenters; Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen. Speaking with experts on these regions, we are going to answer why these countries experienced revolutions/civil wars, and what we can learn from them.
As Young Fabians, and internationalists, we should always seek to understand the context of events that take place. These revolutions caused tremors and triggered humanitarian crises that are still ongoing. Eleven years after the Syrian civil war started, nearly seven million people are refugees, the bulk of whom live below the poverty line in neighbouring Lebanon. 80% of people living in Yemen today require humanitarian aid, whilst Libya has seen the return of open-air slave markets. It speaks volumes that of the five countries I listed, only one has held elections and had a peaceful transition of power followed by a full term in office. Although that too has now been brought into question following the ongoing political crisis surrounding Tunisian president, Kais Saied.
All of this must be understood by us as policy enthusiasts if we have any hope of forging Britain's foreign policy towards aiding this region towards lasting peace and stability. Join us as we delve into the epicentres of the Arab Spring and uncover these conflicts.
Stay posted for event links.
George Fairhurst is the Secretary of the Young Fabians International Network and Secretary of the Yorkshire and Humberside Young Fabians. George has a keen interest in foreign policy, has previously written on the need to reform historical education and is an incoming Civil Servant.
The Young Fabian International Network regularly hosts events on a variety of foreign policy issues. If you want to get involved, reach out to [email protected] or follow our social media channels.
Background Photo of Blog Header by HonortheKing via Wikipedia.