The massive protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East could be considered a slap in the face to the leaders of most of the countries in those two regions. The spark that set them off originated in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010, when an inspector tried to seize some fruit a man had purchased. The man tried to yank back his goods, and the inspector slapped the man in retribution.
U.S. college-aged youth should take note of what that one slap did.
Unable to recover his property, and after being beaten several times, the Tunisian man drenched himself in paint thinner in front of the governor’s high gate and lit himself on fire, dying a few weeks later on Jan. 4.
Protests then spawned across the country, leading to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing the country 10 days later. Credit for the revolution was attributed to the poor economic conditions in the country and governmental corruption.
Inspired by the revolt, Egyptians opposed to President Hosni Mubarak started protesting Jan. 25 and convinced Mubarak to resign Feb. 12. Like in Tunisia, Egyptian protesters were galvanized by unemployment, poverty and corruption. It was the most prominent of the protests so far in that it led to the deposition of a leader who had been in power for decades, similar to what happened in Tunisia.
The protests in Tunisia also sparked other uprisings in many other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, such as Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen. Smaller protests also occurred in Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. There were even protests in Lebanon supporting deposed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in contrast to the rest of the protests opposing the status quo. It has received global attention by the fact that uprisings in over a dozen countries started with a slap.
On top of that, another revolution making the headlines is in Libya. Popular dissent against Col. Muammar Gaddafi has been stifled by pro-government forces in the capital city of Tripoli and much of the western portion of the country. As a result, Tripoli is mostly deserted. The east is mostly in the hands of anti-government protestors, particularly in cities like Benghazi and Tobruk. While Gaddafi is much more stubborn than Mubarak in keeping his grip on power, it shows nonetheless that popular opinion can make a difference.
The protests have already had noticeable positive effects, such as overthrowing dictators who had been in power for decades and increasing freedom and economic prosperity in the region. They have been, and should be, supported by the international community. Even President Barack Obama defended the Libyan protestors against violent suppression by the government, calling the crackdown “outrageous and unacceptable” and encouraging the international community to speak with “one voice” against the oppression.
While it may seem like what happens in North Africa and the Middle East is isolated to the other half of the world, it also can be an inspiration to college-aged youth in the United States. Less than 23 percent of youth aged 18-29 voted in the 2010 midterms, but this number can be increased if youth become inspired by what’s happening on the other side of the world.
Like the man in Tunisia, perhaps the only thing the youth of today need is a “slap in the face.”