The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring focused attention upon youth political participation on the world stage. Young people were at the forefront of this wave of protest and political action. Starting in Tunisia, on 17 December 2010, a street trader, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest at how he had been treated by the police (they stopped him from selling fruit and vegetables without the requisite permits). This eventually triggered a wave of demonstrations that became known as the Arab Spring, taking place in early 2011. As David Matthews theorises, Bouazizi’s death ‘helped to inspire revolts across the region that deposed long-standing autocracies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya’ (Matthews 2012: 39). Regime change in Tunisia took place the following January when the then President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, went into exile. These events were followed by a wave of protest, culminating in political and social changes across numerous Arab nations, including Egypt. What is interesting is the way that young people were at the forefront of these protest movements. In addition, what was also noteworthy is the way in which social networking sites such as Facebook™ and Twitter™, coupled with mobile phone technology, were utilised to convey the message to the wider world in a way that, given the absence of such technology, had not happened before. This instantaneous access to information enabled the sea of change to be conveyed to the wider world as it was happening. The immediacy of the new technology undoubtedly facilitated the speed of change.

Part of the Arab Spring legacy can be seen in European movements too. Mary Kaldor and Sabine Selchow have written about the ‘bubbling up’ of subterranean politics in Europe. They say this can be seen ‘in the success of non-mainstream political parties from across the political spectrum—the Pirate Party in Germany and Sweden, Jobbik in Hungary, the True Finns in Finland, the 5 Star Movement in Italy, or Respect in Bradford, England’ (Kaldor and Selchow 2013: 79). They say that this is ‘causing ripples of discomfort in established institutions, challenging dominant ways of thinking and unsettling normal assumptions about how politics is done’ (Ibid.). They advise a degree of caution, however, given that some of these movements contain ‘xenophobic and populist movements as well as more emancipatory tendencies’ (Ibid.). The Arab Spring, therefore, led to change in certain Arab nations but also indirectly contributed to change in European countries—change that, in large part, was orchestrated by young people.

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