In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a young vegetable seller, sets himself on fire in protest after police confiscate his cart and beat him. He later dies. Citizens take to the streets to decry high unemployment, corruption and police violence. Many are killed as the government cracks down on the protests. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president, flees the country in January. Protests continue under the new interim government. In October, for the first time in decades, the country holds democratic elections.
In January, food riots break out in the North African country. A series of men immolate themselves outside government buildings, echoing that of Bouazizi in Tunisia. Pro-democracy protesters clash with the police; a 19-year state of emergency is lifted. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announces constitutional reforms “aimed at deepening the democratic process.”
Inspired in part by the uprisings in Tunisia, 20,000 protesters flood Tahrir Square in January, demanding the ouster of longtime president Hosni Mubarak in a “Day of Wrath.” They use Twitter to spread the word; Tahrir Square becomes the symbol of the Arab Spring. Mubarak resigns on Feb. 11 and stands trial later that spring, from a hospital bed. Egyptians take to the streets again in the fall to protest the slow pace of reform. In November, they vote in the first parliamentary elections in 80 years.
In February, Republican Gov. Scott Walker announces plans for his “budget repair bill,” which would, among other things, restrict the rights of public employees to collectively bargain. Protesters occupied the state capital building for nearly two weeks. Some Senate democrats flee the state to forestall the vote. President Obama calls Walker’s bill “an assault on unions.” Now Walker’s opponents are collecting signatures to force a recall vote against the governor.
On Facebook, activists call for longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi to step down. Anti-Qaddafi uprisings spring up around the country; the government beats them back with aircraft. Qaddafi, who’d backed Egypt’s Mubarak, vows that he will not quit despite the enactment of a UN-sponsored no-fly zone. Libyan rebels fight with the help of NATO air raids. In October, Qaddafi and one of his sons are captured and killed.
The Arab Spring Continues
Throughout North Africa and the Middle East, civil unrest spreads. Often government authorities strike back with violence, and thousands are killed. Protests break out in Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Western Sahara. Syria, subject to particularly bloody crackdowns on its civilians, is expelled from the Arab League. Yemeni journalist Tawakkul Karman, the face of the Arab Awakening, is a co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the first Arab woman to win the award.
Spain's los Indignados
In May, millions of “the Outraged” hit the streets, demanding relief from the 21 percent unemployment rate (45 percent of the country’s youths are unemployed), reform in housing, banking, welfare cuts and government corruption. The protesters call for a boycott of the vote in Spain’s two-party election in November. “They don’t represent us” is their rallying cry. The Spanish protests are seen as a precursor to Occupy Wall Street.
The UK Riots
On Aug. 4, London police shoot and kill 29-year-old Mark Duggan, a black Briton, during the course of an arrest. A peaceful protest against police brutality two days later degenerates into violence. The country erupts into days of bedlam as rioters of all races loot and set fire to businesses. Several are killed; hundreds upon hundreds are arrested. Prime Minister David Cameron threatens to pull the plug on social media. Conservative columnist Damian Thompson blames “multiculturalism.”
Sharpton's Rally for Jobs
The Rev. Al Sharpton leads thousands of protesters, including Martin Luther King III, through the boulevards of the nation’s capital and onto the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 15. The focus of their ire: high unemployment, redistribution of wealth, an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits — and to pressure the Senate to pass President Obama’s jobs bill. Says Sharpton: “If you can’t get the jobs bill done in the suites, then we will get the jobs bill done in the streets.”
Occupy Wall Street
In July the publishers of Adbusters magazine call for an Arab Spring-style protest: “Are you ready for a Tahrir moment? On Sept. 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.” OWS protesters, calling themselves the “99 percent,” do just that, setting up camp in Zuccotti Park. Clashes with police follow, and OWS encampments spring up in cities around the country and around the world. City officials have evicted many protesters, but protesters have moved on to the next step: occupying foreclosed homes.