Ten years ago people of Yemen rose up against corruption and economic hardship, and demanded a more accountable and inclusive government. The country fractured politically and is now stuck in a war that has created what the UN describes as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
On January 25, 2011, thousands filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Inspired by the success of a similar uprising in Tunisia, Egypt’s pro-democracy protesters clamored for political change in the Arab world’s most populous nation. They showed courage and resilience in the days that followed, enduring brutal attacks from security forces and pro-government mobs. Pro-democracy uprisings then flared in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The Arab Spring was in full bloom.
Then came the fall. Ruinous conflicts triggered humanitarian disasters in Yemen, Syria and Libya and continue to smolder a decade later. Autocrats and political elites squelched dissent from Morocco to Bahrain. In Egypt, the brutal strongman regime of general-turned-President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi swept out the country’s fledgling, if flawed, democratically-elected government in 2013, ushering in a political climate even more hostile to dissent than under Mubarak. Tunisia remains the only country where democracy has consolidated and persevered after 2011, but the road has been bumpy.
In recent years, new uprisings in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq toppled governments and triggered processes toward political reform whose outcomes are far from certain.
What’s more clear are the root causes for the simmering discontent — massive youth unemployment, stagnating economies, endemic corruption and feckless political elites. But an exhaustion and disillusionment has also set in among would-be revolutionaries, hammered home by unflinching state repression. “The first time was a kind of miracle. People were fearless and the regime was weak,” a 26-year-old Egyptian photographer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear, told my colleagues. “But now everyone has lost hope.”