One man's self-immolation in protest of how he was being treated by his government led to a wave of rebellion across North Africa and the Middle East. Here's how the Arab Spring has played out.
Protests against the government of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who took office in a 1987 coup, sparked the Arab Spring with the act of one street vendor. Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, sold produce out of a small wheelbarrow, the only way he had to make a living and support his mother, uncle and siblings. Bouazizi was repeatedly harassed and publicly humiliated by officials as he tried to sell his wares, and he lacked the money to bribe police to continue his sales unfettered. Demanding his confiscated wares outside the governor's office on Dec. 17, 2010, which refused to hear his complaints, Bouazizi set himself on fire. He suffered burns over 90 percent of his body and succumbed to his injuries on Jan. 4, 2011. More than 5,000 people joined the funeral procession, and the protests fueled by numerous social and political grievances began. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011, becoming the first ruler ousted by the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, the youth- and social-media fueled protests began to catch on in other countries. Tunisia held its first elections after the Arab Spring in October 2011, with voter turnout at more than 90 percent.
The peaceful protests began on Jan. 25, 2011, and, though they would spread across the country, centered mainly on Cairo's Tahrir Square ("Liberation Square"). The grievances were many: crackdowns on free speech that included jail time for insulting President Hosni Mubarak, police brutality that had been captured on film by a grass-roots generation of Egyptian social-media activists for years, economic woes including high unemployment and food prices, a lack of political freedom and more. The millions protesters represented all walks of Egyptian life, and ranged from secularists to the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak's government tried to clamp down the protests with tactics ranging from curfew to violent clashes in which at least 135 protesters were killed. Murbarak also tried dissolving his government and appointing a vice president, which did not satisfy the protesters who sought his ouster. Though he initially expressed determination to hold on to his 30-year reign, Mubarak resigned on Feb. 11. With opposition leaders including Mohamed ElBaradei waiting in the wings, interim power was turned over to the Egyptian military before elections could be held. Mubarak was later charged with killing protesters and ordered to stand trial. In the difficult post-revolution transition, protesters have returned to Tahrir to demand speedier reforms. A presidential election was set for spring 2012.
The Arab Spring predictably spread to Tunisia's neighbor, but few could have predicted that the Libyan people would be successful in toppling brutal dictator Moammar Gadhafi - with a good dose of air support from NATO. Catching the fever of the Arab Spring, Libyans began peaceful protests on Feb. 15, 2011, but were quickly met with force from the Gadhafi regime. Libyans then turned to force to battle the regime, sparking civil war. Gadhafi and his son Saif al-Islam would be charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court for the vicious actions they would take against Libyans to quell the dissent. The rebels first took the eastern part of the country, including the port city of Benghazi, where the National Transitional Council, or opposition governing body, was formed. The rebels were aided in their fight by a no-fly zone put in place by the United Nations and a NATO air campaign to enforce this. After much push and pull between Gadhafi forces and rebels, Tripoli fell in a weeklong August 2011 battle. Gadhafi was captured and killed on Oct. 20, 2011, and the NTC declared Libya's liberation on Oct. 23, 2011. Rough estimates indicate some 25,000 to 30,000, including civilians, were killed in the fight to oust Gadhafi. Political parties were banned under Gadhafi, but the liberation of Libya cleared the way for free elections and a national constitution.
Inspired by other Arab Spring movements, protests began against the brutal rule of Bashar al-Assad on Jan. 26. 2011. The ongoing protests escalated to an uprising in March 2011, with thousands taking to the streets in numerous cities to demand the ouster of Assad. Protests have regularly been launched by Friday prayers. The protests have been met with brutal government force, including tanks and sniper fire, in which more than 3,000 protesters have been killed, including many children. Because of the strict repression of free media and foreign press, activists have relied on various channels through which to post video and verbal accounts of what has been unfolding inside the country. This has included disappearances and family members taken into custody to lure out their kin who have been participating in protests, torture of detainees and killings of soldiers who refuse to fire on civilians, and reports of harm inflicted on medical workers who treat injured protesters. The crackdowns and government sieges resulted in an influx of Syrians trying to flee to Turkey, but Syrian government forces have monitored the border and arrested anyone trying escape. Assad claimed he would put in places greater freedoms for political parties, but has made no offer to step down. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria has loosely drawn together the opposition, reaching out to the varied groups within the protests and regularly posting blog updates and video of the daily demonstrations.
Protests began against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been president since 1978, in January 2011, demanding for Saleh to step down and for greater freedoms. Demonstrations have also been rooted in core economic concerns, including unemployment and corruption. They've been marked by the color pink, which protest leaders chose to indicate that the demonstrations were nonviolent. Tawakul Karman (pictured), a leader of the protests called "Mother of the Revolution," was one of the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Protests led to the Feb. 3, 2011, "Day of Rage," the day after Saleh promised to not run for another term in 2013. Crackdowns on the demonstrators have resulted in nearly 1,800 deaths, by some estimates, and international condemnation; clashes between pro- and anti-Saleh forces have intensified. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seized on the unrest to take control of a southern region and declare it an Islamic Emirate. On June 3, 2011, Saleh was injured in a firebombing of the presidential compound; he flew to Saudi Arabia for treatment yet returned and resumed his presidential post three months later. He has been urged to sign a Gulf-mediated power transfer agreement.