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‘Arab Spring’ movement goes viral worldwideBy ONG CHOR HAO27 December 2011All it took was a match from a 26-year-old Tunisian vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, in the city of Sidi Bouzid to start the fire of revolution sweeping through many parts of the Arab world.Within hours, Mr Bouazizi’s self-immolation on Dec 17, 2010, had triggered massive turnouts of citizens, setting in motion the ‘Arab Spring’, a modus operandi soon co-opted by neighbouring states: large-scale, sustained protests; rallies and strikes against rulers; demands for major reforms and freedoms.Persistently high unemployment, rampant corruption, surging inflation, tribal favouritism, oppression of basic freedom and rights, and low wages were all contributing factors - but protesters were also united by a fundamental pursuit of equality.Initially, authorities resorted to violence in an attempt to suppress the uprising - as they had done with great success in the past, blaming foreign intervention or antisocial elements for stirring up trouble.To force their silence and acquiescence, demonstrators were met with a strong show of force - and with most media state-owned, the press was gagged. But this time, the leaders of the Arab world failed to take into account the new world order that has since emerged.The rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the proliferation of blogs meant that anyone armed with a social conscience, a camera phone and an Internet connection could tell the world what was really happening, and coordinate protests and strikes - all without leaving their homes if they so wished.Indeed, a number of the activists were young and educated professionals who lived or worked abroad. Attempts to curb the Internet were circumvented by an online community that stood toe-to-toe, albeit virtually, with the protesters.Amid clashes with security forces, there was inevitable bloodshed. Tallied figures from the United Nations and aid groups such as Amnesty International put the civilian death toll from the movement between 32,000 and 37,000. In Libya alone, 25,000 to 30,000 people are believed to have perished in a protracted civil war that ultimately deposed Muammar Gaddafi after four decades of power. Thousands more died in Syria, Yemen and Egypt.The toll on the economies of the affected countries weighed heavily as well. To appease the protesters, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and Sudan offered or enacted major concessions and reforms, including cabinet reshuffles and welfare spending.Saudi Arabia announced a US$130 billion spending plan in the first quarter, on the heels of a US$384 billion plan in August 2010 to develop transportation, housing and education. Bahrain offered around US$2,500 to each family; Kuwait gave each citizen about US$4,000 and free food for 14 months; Algeria pledged US$156 billion to infrastructure projects; while Oman hiked the country’s minimum wage and promised a monthly stipend of about US$390 for each registered jobseeker.‘Fiscal deficits have widened, which raises concerns about sustainability. It pushes up interest rates, which makes it harder for the private sector to get credit to set up or expand businesses and start hiring people,’ International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde said in a speech just this month.The unrest also resulted in reduced revenue from tourism and oil exports. Egypt said that gross domestic product (GDP) will grow just 1.5 per cent this year, compared with 5 per cent before the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. Its tourism revenue this year is expected to fall a third to about US$9 billion from last year, and the falling Egyptian pound could prompt a currency crisis. European Union sanctions on Syria means that oil exports to its traditional market have been put in a chokehold.
Libya’s economy will contract more than 50 per cent in 2011 after eight months of fighting that paralysed its oil industry, the IMF said in October. And after months of protests and political deadlock in Yemen - already the poorest Arab country - oil supplies and electricity networks have been taken over by hostile tribes, The New York Times reported in June.While many states are cash-rich oil exporters, importers such as Syria, Tunisia and Egypt are staring at serious financial turmoil, the IMF noted in its World Economic Outlook report in September.Of 22 Arab League states, 14 saw significant unrest with the overthrow of leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Meanwhile in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned as part of an amnesty deal under the Gulf Cooperation Council. Protests continue in Syria for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, amid increasing prospects of a civil war.The Arab Spring inspired and spawned many similar protests around the world.Across Europe, citizens fed up with wave after wave of austerity measures, welfare cuts and high youth unemployment expressed their disgust with their governments by way of sustained street protests and strikes.In the US, the Occupy movement, which takes a loosely united stand against economic and social inequality, started out with about a thousand demonstrators condemning Wall Street in September and has since spread to 95 cities across 82 countries.In China, a call for a ‘Jasmine’ revolution failed as a result of strong action by Beijing. In Russia, what began as small-scale protests against electoral fraud quickly turned into the largest demonstrations in Moscow since the revolution in the 1990s.
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