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The Arab Spring: The Root Causes?

Hamze Abbas Jamoul

At the end of 2010 and the beginning of the 2011, a series of demonstrations and protests began to rise in the Arab world. These protests have become known as the "Arab Spring" (Ashley 2011), or, as someone else called it, the “Arab awakening” (Aljazeera, 2011).

The Tunisian revolution that took place in the self-immolation of Mohamad Bouazizi on 18 December 2010 in protest of police corruption and ill treatment (Fahim, 2011 ), has shaken authoritarian leaders across the Arab world in areas such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain.   In this article we will try to answer the following question: why did the Arabs rebel?   The Arab world was living a very difficult economic and social situation as in Europe in 1848. Poverty, rising food prices, inflation, human rights violation, and high unemployment were the main phenomena the Arabs were facing.

In addition there was much corruption of Arab leaders as shown by some of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables. The main reasons of the Arab revolts are not limited to internal causes, so it is important to analyze the international causes such as the failure of the war on terror, the Iraqi war and the U.S.A - European strategy of the imported democracy. Another possible reason could be the failure of the peace process in the Israeli- Arabic conflict.  

1. The internal causes:

Throughout history, any revolution is a result of many events that completely change the nature of the society and its political life. The French revolution (1789-99), for example, was due to many factors such as economic difficulties, political rights and rising food prices (Sydenham1997). 

William Shaub, in his article, The Roots of the Revolution in Egypt, has highlighted on the average per –capita and it's possible affect on the revolution. He wrote, “Egypt has had a massive income gap throughout Mubarak’s control, which is clearly the root cause of the original uprising. One half of Egyptians live on $2/day or less. The average per-capita income in the country is just $6,200." The two Russians researchers, A. Korotayev and J. Zinkina, in their analysis on the Egyptian revolution, affirmed that Egypt was one of the most fast growth of the world food prices, and that definitely had influences on destabilization of Egyptian sociopolitical system (Korotayev et al: 011).

Unemployment in the Arab region is also a major source of economic insecurity and for destabilization of any political system. According to Don Tapscott, "twenty-four percent of young people in the region cannot find jobs" (Guardian:2011). This percentage of young unemployment is very high and the Arab countries in the region have not been able to change this situation and create new jobs, especially after the world financial crises.

Political and human rights are fundamental for any society and Arab region lives a situation well described by Hisham Sharabi in his book Neo-patriarchy.  " Even when most states arrived a very high level of democracy and political rights, the Arab region still suffers from bad political systems based on corruption, state of emergency laws, the lack of free elections and freedom of speech and religious fundamentalism "  (Sharabi: 2006).

Egypt was no exception to this corruption and lack of political freedom. After the 1967 'Six Day War', for example, the emergency law number 162 of 1958 was issued. This law limited the freedom and  "[gave] greater powers to the police, suspend[ed]certain constitutional rights in the name of security, allow[ed] the state to detain individuals and censor and close newspapers more easily and allow[ed] authorities to try civilians in front of military and security courts under certain circumstances” (Sehata: 2004). It is also important to bring to the light that in Egyptian political history many events outside of Egypt had an impact on democracy and political freedom, such as 9/11 attack in the U.S.A. This event and the ongoing “War on Terrorism” have been used as an excuse to increase the violation of the human rights and facilitated the role of the military court (ibid).

After all these internal causes of the Arab revolt, it is important to not underestimate the role of the technology and the social network (Facebook, Twiter ) that facilitated the communication between the protesters. For this reason, the governments in Egypt and Tunisia shut down the Internet during the last protest against Mubarak and Ben Ali, in order to limit communication between protest groups.

2. The international causes:

The geographic position of many Arab states protagonist of the “Arab Spring" lead us to analyze also the International causes of these revolts. Egypt is the biggest Arab state and it is the first state that signed a peace accord with Israel. At the same time Cairo during Mubarak regime enjoyed a solid alliance with the United States in addition to the high influence on Palestinian parties. To understand better the 25 January revolution in Egypt we have to focus on the relations between Israel and Egypt before the revolution. The best vision on the relation between the Hebrew state and the Pharonic one is the article of Benn Aluf, Israeli journalist, published on Haaretz.

The article, which appeared under the title "A prayer for the health of the rais," began by stating that "of all the world's statesmen, the one closest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak" (Benn, 2010). Thanks to Mubarak, Egypt became a strategic ally of Israel, as well as Israel's primary supplier of energy. Egypt has also ensured Israel’s stability and security. As a result of all of this the author concludes, "were Israel's leaders given one wish, they might ask that Mubarak be granted immortality."( ibid).

This article show how much the ideals of Mubarak were from Egyptians will and dreams. Egyptians have always refused the Camp David peace agreement, and since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, “calls have grown in Egypt for ending the 1979 peace treaty with Israel” (Guardian, 2011).

In fact, on Friday 9 September 2011, “a group of 30 protesters broke into the Israeli embassy in Cairo and threw hundreds of documents out of the windows” (Ibid). The failure of the peace process between Palestinian and Israeli, the last aggression against Gaza on 2009 and against Lebanon on 2006 and the Lebanese victory against Israel, gave more reasons and courage to the Egyptians and Tunisian to demonstrate against their regime.

After the resignation of Ben Ali  in Tunisia, and Mubarak in Egypt, much has occurred. Manifestations agianst governments have increased in number, seectarian clashes in Egypt have multiplied, and elections have been held in both countries amid an Islamic - elite political rule. Rather than holding a political position, this article wishes to go further - to give a scientific analysis of the events that have taken place, and evalutate  the post-revolution period. The key question to adress is whether policy in Egypt and Tunisia changed in this transitional period?

It is perhaps too soon to adjudicate the work of the new political elite in both countries. However one thing is clear: The Arab people have changed and they will not accept the undemocratic politics of their countries' past. Should they be forced to, they will revolt again to protect their rights and claims.

Hamze Abbas Jammoul is researcher in conflict resolution.

Al-Manar is not responsible for the content of the comments. All opinions expressed are those of the posters not Al-Manar’s or its staff. Al-Manar reserves the right to exclude comments that contain expressions falling beyond the bounds of decency.


References and Bibliography:

Ashley, J.(2011). ‘The Arab spring requires a defiantly European reply’, Guardian [online], available from <> ,[23Novmber 2011].    Aljazeera.(2011),’The Arab awakening’,Aljazeera channel, [online], available from, <> [23 November 2011].

Fahim, K.( 2011 ), ‘Slap to a Man's Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia’, New York Times,  [online],available from <>, [23 November 2011].   Korotayev et al.(2011), ‘ Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis’, EntelequiaRevistaInterdisciplinar 13, [online],available from, <> [22October 2011].   Sydenham M.J.(1997),’ The French revolution‘ discover France, [online], available from, <>,[ 25November 2011].
Sharabi, H. (1988),A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society, New York: Oxford University Press.
Shehata,S.(2004),‘ Egypt After 9/11: Perceptions of the United States’, Contemporary Conflict,[online] available from,<,[26November 2011].  The guardian.(2011), ‘Egyptian protesters break into Israeli embassy in Cairo’ The guardian, [online], available from <>, [27 November 2011].


Source: Al-Manar Website

12-02-2012 - 16:23 Last updated 20-02-2012 - 15:26 | 103127 View
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User Comments Number of comments: 13
1 - ms.
missouri gal | USA 21:31 2012-02-12
the usa is no longer democratic with much the same events as loss of rights. as i see it, the problem
here as in the middle east is racist/zionist israel. I pray egypt does not fall prey to the econmics of
bankster corruption. altho there are few jobs and scarce food please hang on. do NOT allow the
corrupted banks to get their hold on you. avoid the imf, central banks and remember the Quríanic ban on
usury which is the work of racist/zionist israel.
2 - Areab revolts
Ahmad | Lebanon 18:55 2012-02-29
The Arab people will not more accept undemocratic regimes....................
3 - Correction
Nour | Tunesia 00:18 2012-04-24
Just to let you know Tunisia is not spelled Tunesia and the government in Tunisia did not shut down the
Internet during the protest against Ben Ali.
4 - Arab Spring, America\ís Problem?
Amos | USA 22:00 2013-02-08
I believe the United States should stay out of Africa\\ís problems. We are already fighting two wars in
the Middle East, where we are not welcome, why get involved in Africa when its not our problem?
5 - The Gulf has been the main impediment for democracy
Wim Roffel | Netherlands 23:35 2013-04-14
I donít believe all those fashionable explanations for the uprisings. In my opinion these were primarily
\"bread\"-uprisings caused by the combination of high grain prices, high oil prices and an economic
crisis in the West. People were frustrated and exploded. But without massive support from the West and
the Gulf Tunisia would have been the only country with a change of government.What has always held back
the Arab countries was that - thanks to support from the Gulf States - the undemocratic Muslim
Brotherhood was the main opposition force. This made it unattractive for governments to cede power and
deviated political discussions away from the economy.
sjffvioj | Kyrgyzstan 14:09 2013-06-11
Hi :)
7 - the lie of a century
digida | Kenya 14:56 2013-06-21
the truth is the west is always greedy of middleeast vast oil wells.they cause an uprising insert puppet
president and siphon oil shame on them
8 - A question to the arab and non-European people
Big | Gemany 17:25 2013-07-18
Ever since I was a child we were urged to help people in Asia and Africa with my pocket money and have
carried on doing this throughout my life. Why is it impossible for these countries to make their land
liveable with vast donations given by the west. I also would like to know how very pious people praying
five times a day have no qualms after visiting their mosque to kill as many people as there are about
afterwards. A god of any description surely could not agree to that. I would very much appreciate an
answer from a knowledgeable source. Donít blame other people from other traditions. Look at yourself and
your society first and sort yourself out.
9 - Western powers are backing Arab Spring
Muhammad Faisal | Pakistan 22:56 2013-09-11
Its the usa and other western powers game. Arab spring did not just come naturally! Its common sense
please use it! The want to influence thier dominance in this region to get economic and political
10 - biased approach
shahrukh singh | Yemen 21:24 2013-11-30
you have stated one side of the mirror without discussing the other one. one steps taken by the arab
governments were very much required at that time in order to ensure peace. it was the only way to curbing
the violence at that time. the people were provoked by the opposition to overthrow the government in
tunisia and the other countries also strike the iron when it was hot
11 - Self-Inflicted Injury.
Odili Michael | Nigeria 11:51 2014-03-10
Itís a shame to state that the revolution which occurred in the Arab world was as a result of the
mobilization of the west who took advantage of the ill situation that involved the death Mohammed
bouazizi..They have always wanted to take control of the Arab Region due to the vast numbers of oil
endowed upon the region by Nature,to a considerable extent they have succeeded, but unknown Couprites,
that their nation will never witness stability in years to come.
12 - student
noxy | South Sudan 10:52 2014-03-31
the revolutions marked a very important era in our lives, the significant context led to the youth taking
charge and making it possible to live in democratic states where they can practice freedom of expression.
If it wasnít for the oppression faced by these young citizens it would have not been known just how far
the youth can fight on their own instead of being spoon fed opportunities... I would like to thank
Mohamed Bouazizi for his courageous move in making the youth realize just how capable they are.
13 - Arab Awakening
john | Nigeria 11:27 2014-06-17
it is an established fact that the current upheaval and unrest in arab world started in in 2010 and this
is not unconnected with the agitation of people of the region that demand freedom.The slogan of the
people that led the upheaval in Tunisia Libya Egypt syria demanded for freedom and they unanimously say
no to authoritarianism.This type of revolution will have happen in some west African countries but
because most of these country operate democractic machine but the machine refuse to move.


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