Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

The Arab Spring and us – ten years later

ESSAY / The Arab Spring has mainly been a revolt against inequality. What was the result?


From my house in Bari I can see my house in Beirut.

With all these concrete blocks of apartments intertwined.The windows with striped curtains.

I was born here on the Mediterranean. In southern Italy you are told that on cloudless days the gray haze you see on the horizon when you look out over the sea is actually Greece. That is what the word itself tells, after all: the Mediterranean – the sea between the countries. The sea that does not divide, but unites. The sea which is not just geography but philosophy. The sea as a metaphor.

A challenge for individualism and liberalism.

In 1989, the end of the Cold War was considered to be the end of history and the beginning of globalization, a united world led by the United States through the cultural and political supremacy of the great power. But then came 2001. With 9/11. We were reminded that the world is bigger than ours – that there are still many different worlds. If you want to fight fundamentalism, you have to start with your own world, with your own free trade fundamentalism.

At that time, the Arab world was only our gas station.

Who in 2001 had any idea what a hijab was? Or what a muezzin was?

Our world accommodated only the West, and nothing else.

I grew up in a Europe by the Mediterranean, an ocean that pretended to be an alternative to the Atlantic, an area with a rich history filled with expeditions and conquerors. I grew up with a sea of ​​fishermen rather than pirates, a sea where leaves washed up on the beach are perceived as a trace of other people, where a border does not mean the world ends, but where differences meet and relationships become real and complicated.

An ocean that always teaches you to agree a little in the opponent's perspective.

This area around the Mediterranean, where we are all a bit similar.

As in all other cities

In every city it is always like in every other city. If you come to Bari, you will see a beach with sand and gravel similar to Croatia, with glassy, ​​shallow water. At sunset, in the light of the beach promenade cast iron lanterns, the street vendors walk around with mussels just like in Istanbul. In the background are colorful boats, as on a postcard from Morocco.

These are the same voices. The same salty air.

The seafront was built during fascism and has many buildings reminiscent of the Roman Empire, with its pillars and arches of sandstone. Identical to buildings in Tripoli and elsewhere, because at that time Libya was an Italian colony. But then, a little further away, there is another style: the promenade is transformed into France – with theaters, music halls and round tables outdoors as in the bistros of Paris; posters for the latest entries hang on the brick walls. The nightlife is like in Spain, until dawn and it is reminiscent of a fish market in Tunis. These are the same voices. The same salty air.

Damascus (Photo: pixabay)

Then you enter the old town. In the oldest part of Bari, everything is made of limestone. As in the oldest part of Damascus. With geraniums blooming in the window sills and evergreen climbing plants up the walls, and closed shutters in the afternoon when everything is quiet. It's just like it was in Aleppo on my very first day of work, exactly the same silence, when a sniper suddenly opened fire from a house just like mine and everything fell apart.

The only thing the shooter had with him was a picture of his two-year-old standing and shooting some random passers-by. Then he stood waiting: for a father, for a friend, for a neighbor to come rushing to help the injured. Another neighbor came running, and another, more came. He waited steadily, and then he started firing in earnest. He slapped everyone down, one by one.

How do you feel? I asked for the very first time, and a man shows me the body of the daughter, while another man lies and gasps in the firing line.

What do you think? What will Syria look like?

The only thing I see is the body of the daughter, the blood flowing out of the little body, but then a police jeep arrives, and it's all reminiscent of Egypt.

Meanwhile, on the street corner, a young man is selling vegetables from a handcart. But how many Italians remember such handcarts today?

Who remembers Mohamed Bouazizi * today?

Ten years after the demonstrations in Cairo

As I write this, it's January 25th. How many Europeans remember what this date means?

The exception is Tunisia, which is admittedly a democracy. But still with hungry inhabitants.

Ten years after the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, in the countries affected by the Arab Spring, only one head of state is still in power: Bashar al-Assad. But in Syria, everyone else is dead. Libya and Yemen are also in ruins, in Egypt al-Sisi's regime is more brutal than the regime under Mubarak, and Iraq has even had a caliphate.

Lebanon is on the verge of bankruptcy, and Beirut is finally destroyed – not by Sunnis and Shiites, or by Israel, or by jihadists – but by the incompetence of the ruling class, which for many years left tons of explosives lying around in a warehouse.

The best example of describing these countries, where politicians of all kinds are always looking for an external enemy to blame, while the enemy is inside, is first and foremost the administration of public affairs as if they were a private enterprise.

The exception is Tunisia, which is admittedly a democracy. But still with hungry inhabitants.

In Tunisia, ten years later, Mohamed Bouazizi, the young street vendor who triggered it all by setting himself on fire out of despair, is not just hailed – his action is copied. Every other, every three weeks, and sometimes every two or three days, young people in their twenties take their lives in the same way. You can watch it on YouTube. They want the revolution to begin again.


Although many of the activists from ten years ago have died, or are in prison, and others are in exile, the Arab Spring is still alive. The demonstrations did not disappear. In 2019, people took to the streets, first in Egypt, and then in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan. For months. If 2020 had not been marked by a corona pandemic and a curfew, I would have written a completely different story now.

The question is not what is left of the Arab Spring ten years later, but: Ten years later, what is left of us? Of the Europeans?

Rebellion against inequality

In 2010, there were 21,4 million Syrians in Syria. Today it is 11,7 million. We decided to intervene. Not because of what happened to the Syrians, because of cluster bombs, chemical attacks or starving people, but because of the jihadists. Because of that can happen to us.

And now, try to look for the latest news from this region. We find a bit of everything: pictures from a business dinner in Damascus with blankets and silver cutlery, or pictures of refugees without shoes among the tents in flooded refugee camps in Lebanon. Appeals from NGOs for the 2,4 million children now out of school, and then a video of a rocket against Idlib, webinars on Al Qaeda, on Russia's role, on what can be changed with Joe Biden as president, a police raid in Homs. Tower being built in Raqqa, the new square in Kobane. The white helmets in the front line of the corona pandemic. We understand nothing. Are there still matches going on? Where? And how intense?

Today we have one of the bloodiest wars ever. A war we do not even care about whether it is over or not.

And ten years later, what is left of our rebellion, we who make up the 99 percent of the world's inhabitants?

The Arab Spring has mainly been a revolt against inequality. Towards political and social exclusion and exclusion. And that's from the Arab Spring movement Occupy Wall Street gained energy and inspiration. And ten years later, what is left of our rebellion, we who make up the 99 percent of the world's inhabitants? We understand the Arab Spring through concepts such as secular and Islamist rather than conservative and reformist, those who steal and those from whom they are stolen – murderers and victims. And we stood and watched.

The result is that today we can mention, as a trifle, that Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos can pay $ 105 to each of his 000 employees and still be as rich as he was before the outbreak of the corona pandemic.

Previously, this was a world that belonged to a Ben Ali type – where the family controlled 40 percent of Tunisia's economy. Today, this is a reality we see all over the world.

This is because the Mediterranean has never been a philosophy. It has only been rhetoric.

Lesbos (Photo: Pixabay).

Ten years later, in Bari, you are still told that on cloudless days, what is glistening on the horizon is actually Greece. But honestly, I've only seen Greece on the horizon once in my life. From Turkey.

I've seen Lesbos.

And then the tide came in and brought with it a fragment of wood – part of the hull of a boat.

* His full name was Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, the
Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010.

Translated by Iril Kolle

ALSO READ: Tunisia after the Arab Spring

Francesca Borri
Francesca Borri
Borri is a war correspondent and writes regularly for Ny Tid.

Related articles