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It's 10 years since the Arab Spring - so what?

Date(s) - 03/27/2021
10:00 am - 11:00 am

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At 11:30am on 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi poured a can of gasoline over his head and set fire to himself outside the governor’s office in a small Tunisian town. Bouazizi 26, earned his living by selling fruit from a cart which he pushed around the streets of Sidi Bouzid. He had been harassed for years by local police and municipal officials, who were extorting small sums of money from him. On the morning when he lit the match which caused him 90% body burns, his cart had been confiscated and he had been, allegedly, slapped across the face by a female municipal worker looking for a bribe.

Bouazizi’s desperate act of self-immolation triggered unprecedented protest and revolution in the Arab world, leading to the resignation and ousting of several leaders, including Muannmar Gadaffi and Hosni Mubarak, behemoths in the old Arab world, who had led their nations for a combined total of 72 years.

He was given several posthumous awards for his contribution to “historic changes in the Arab world”, accolades not usually expected by or bestowed on street vendors. But it was one of his sisters who, poignantly told Reuters in an interview in late 2011, “what kind of repression do you imagine it took for a young man to do that?” in her attempt to mitigate what happened next.

Reaction around the international community was mixed; some political leaders were unsurprisingly hesitant to comment, others did so in a standard diplomatic fashion. It was the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki who first spoke in a less measured voice. He unequivocally blamed the US for a chaotic ME policy and openly criticised outside intervention in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen. He also suggested that some of the protests were fuelled by the West and blamed the US and European governments for decades of toxic diplomacy. He went as far as to accuse the West of attempting create a new world order by manipulating organizations like the African Union and the Arab league into interfering with countries to the advantage of western countries

And it was the PM of Kazakhstan, Karim Masimov, whose words struck a real chord across the region when he tried to articulate why the same sort of thing wasn’t about to happen in his region: “What is the difference between them and us? The young people of Kazakhstan have hope, they can get a good education and they know they have opportunities to look forward to”.

A decade since Bouazizi’s suicide, those political resignations and as the ongoing conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen show little sign of resolution – do the young people of the region have any more hope?

We’re going to focus on the Maghreb during this panel discussion, with live contributions from North Africa.

The discussion will be chaired by Kathryn Kelly, a commentator and educational consultant who is based in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. Kathryn was based in Casablanca with the British Council in 2011 when there were several self-immolations and protests which went largely unreported in the international media. She was working in Tripoli when events deteriorated significantly, before being evacuated in March 2014 and spent time on assignments in Algiers, Cairo and Tunis 2010-2016.

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