Skip Navigation

Close and don't show again.

Your browser is out of date.

You may not get the full experience here on National Journal.

Please upgrade your browser to any of the following supported browsers:

Arab Spring: Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East Arab Spring: Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East

This ad will end in seconds
Close X

Want access to this content? Learn More »

Forget Your Password?

Don't have an account? Register »

Reveal Navigation


Middle East

Arab Spring: Unrest in North Africa and the Middle East

In December 2010, an unemployed street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest police harassment, setting off a historical wave of protests across North Africa and the Middle East against repressive government regimes. Activists saw the successful ousters of longtime rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, but as the Arab Spring has moved into summer, revolts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and other countries have bogged down into bloody quagmires. Small-scale protests continue in a handful of Arab states, while other regimes appear to have weathered the regional storm. 

Libya: Entrenched in Civil War

Roots of Unrest


Muammar el-Qaddafi has been the de facto leader of Libya since a military coup in 1969.

On February 15, protests began on the streets of Libya. Protesters decried the high unemployment rate and demanded freedom from Qaddafi's regime.

Key Turning Points


On March 17, the United Nations established a no-fly zone over Libya and authorized its member countries to protect civilians using all "necessary measures."

President Obama authorized "limited military action" by U.S. forces in Libya. On March 27, NATO took over command and control of military operations in Libya.

With the help of the African Union, Qaddafi reached a potential cease-fire agreement on April 10 that the rebel forces rejected the next day when Qaddafi still refused to resign.



Many members of the international community, including the United States, France, Italy, and Russia, have called for Qaddafi to step down.

In a statement late on Sunday, President Obama said that the momentum against Qaddafi ''has a reached a tipping point.'' Recognizing the damage that a wounded Qaddafi could cause Libya, Obama urged the strongman to go peacefully. Even as the gun and tank fire sounded through the capital, Libyans already began to celebrate what they called the end of his murderous rule.

Syria: Violent Crackdown Continues 

Roots of Unrest

Although the wave of unpopular unrest sweeping the Arab world came late to Syria, by mid-March, protesters had begun to call for an end to President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule. Protests began in the southern city of Deraa, which quickly became the focal point of the uprising. 

Key Turning Points

After giving lip service to goals of reform, the Syrian government adopted a harsher military response to the protests in late April, sending tanks into Deraa to quell the protest movement and seal off the city. Similar army actions followed in border towns of Latakia and Baniyas. A policy of mass arrests swept up thousands into government custody. On June 2, opposition representatives met for the first time in Antalya, Turkey.


The Syrian government's violent crackdown on protesters continues. A high-level U.N. human-rights team found that Syrian government forces may have committed crimes against humanity by launching “widespread or systematic attacks” that targeted children, tortured prisoners, and executed demonstrators during the uprising.

President Obama on August 18 called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and signed an executive order to block property transactions and prohibit certain other transactions with respect to Syria. The order immediately froze all of the Syrian government's assets under U.S. jurisdiction and banned Americans from "engaging in any transaction involving the government of Syria."

Yemen: On the Brink of Civil War

Roots of Unrest

Following regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters in Yemen began demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down after 32 years of rule.

Key Turning Points

On June 3, opposition tribesmen shelled the presidential compound, seriously injuring Saleh. That attack came after Saleh refused three times to sign an agreement that would lead to his resignation, a frustrating result of weeks of meditation by the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council.


Saleh has been evacuated to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. The nation, already on the bring of civil war, is likely headed for chaos.

On August 16, Saleh released a speech recorded from his Saudi Arabian compound in which he vowed to return to Yemen, denounced the violence there, and said he is committed to holding elections.

Egypt: Who Will Lead the New Egypt?

Roots of Unrest

Unrest in Egypt was driven by poverty, social exclusion, and frustration with the ruling National Democratic Party.

In the wake of the exile of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptians turned to the streets to demonstrate against political repression and high unemployment, demanding the resignation of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Key Turning Points

After massive demonstrations in Cario, the ruling National Democratic Party resigned on February 5.

On February 11, Mubarak finally responded to the calls of protesters and stepped down after 30 years in power.

On March 30, Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces issued an interim constitution and confirmed that the military would maintain contol of the government until elections scheduled for the fall allow the transfer of power to elected officials.


Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is the acting president.

Eqypt will hold parliamentary elections in September and a presidential election in October or November.

Tunisia: 'The Country That Started It All'

Roots of Unrest

On December 17, 2010, a street peddler named Mohamad Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his goods by authorities. His action sparked four weeks of demonstrations against high levels of unemployment, government corruption, and inflation.

Key Turning Points

Weeks of street protests over economic hardships forced longtime President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali into exile. His government was replaced by a coalition government led by President Fouad Mebazaa on January 15.

Many credit protesters' widespread use of Twitter and Facebook in the Tunisian uprisings as a key factor in the revolutionaries' success.

Renewed protests in May led to an imposed curfew and arrests of more than 1,000 people.


The coalition government will oversee Tunisia's transition to democracy until Tunisians elect an assembly to write a new constitution. Election monitors announced in May they would push the election back from July to September because of technical hold-ups, but opposition groups are still demanding an earlier vote.

comments powered by Disqus