Recent Changes: Jessica Carpenter
Tunisia: • An uprising began in December 2012, when a fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the impoverished town of SidiBouzid to protest his lack of opportunity and disrespect of the police. It became known as the Jasmine Revolution. Street protest/riots began to happen more frequently. In the months after the revolution, Tunisia struggled with continued instability, new tensions between Islamicists and secular liberals and a still-limping economy. But of all the Arab states, it may have been the best positioned for a successful transition to a liberal democracy, with its relatively small, homogenous population of about 12 million, comparatively high levels of education, an apolitical military, a moderate Islamist movement and a long history of a unified national identity.
Algeria: • The country has a population of 35 million, mostly near the northern coast. Algeria’s government had been operating in a state of emergency for nearly two decades. In May 2012, the government announced that the ruling party had strengthened its rule in parliamentary elections, a result that met with widespread skepticism. In fact, most Algerians — anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent — boycotted the vote. In January 2013, Algeria was drawn into the conflict in Mali, its neighbor to the south, when militants seized dozens of hostages from an internationally managed gas field in Algeria, saying the act was in retaliation for a French military assault on the Islamist extremists who had taken control of northern Mali.
Egypt: • It is hard to make ends meet in Egypt, where about 45 percent of the population survives on just $2 a day. That is one reason trying to buy subsidized bread can be a fierce affair, with fists and elbows flying, men shoving and little children dodging blows to get up to the counter. Egypt is a state where corruption is seen as systemic.
Libya: • On Sept. 11, 2012, heavily armed Islamist militants stormed and burned the American Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing the United States ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three others: Sean Smith, a Foreign Service officer, and Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former members of the Navy SEALs who helped protect diplomatic personnel. Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, spent more than 40 years under the erratic leadership of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi before a revolt pushed him from power in August 2011 after a six-month struggle. On Oct. 20, 2011, Colonel Qaddafi was killed as fighters battling the vestiges of his fallen regime finally wrested control of his hometown of Surt.
Saudi Arabia: • Saudi Arabia is known for having some of the strictest laws in the world limiting women’s rights. Many women follow a strict dress code that requires them to cover their hair and faces, and most are not permitted to drive cars or travel without a male chaperone. A month after the King lifted the ban on women voting, the Crown Prince Sultan, who had been heir to the Saudi King since 2006, died of colon cancer in New York City. King Abdullah quickly declared the late Crown Prince Sultan’s brother, 78-year-old Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz al Saud, successor to the Saudi throne. There is a lot at stake for the stability of this U.S. ally, which wields great influence over Sunni Muslims through its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. Since the government in Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, the king ultimately decides on its laws. However, the monarchy has also given power to make political and social conduct decisions to a council of top religious leaders.
Jordan: • Jordan, one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East, was hit in late January 2011 by the waves of unrest that spread across the Arab world in the wake of the revolution in Tunisia. Protests were led by the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, but included leftists and trade unions. Demonstrators protested economic hardship and demanded the right to elect the prime minister, who is currently appointed by King Abdullah II. But in September 2012, angry protests erupted over a planned 10 percent increase in gas prices, part of an effort to reduce the subsidy burden on the state budget and fill a $3 billion deficit caused largely by a decrease in aid from Persian Gulf states.
Yemen: • Officially, the uprising, which was inspired by the Arab Spring and led to hundreds of deaths, ended last February when the former vice president, Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was installed as president. But many Yemenis do not believe that Saleh has entirely exited the political scene after 33 years of authoritarian rule over the poor, deeply divided country. ome progress has been made under the new president. By and large, change and uprising in Yemen are proceeding on parallel tracks, and unless the international community provides Yemen with serious support these tracks may collide — with dire domestic and regional consequences.
Syria: • In a significant policy shift, the Obama administration said Thursday it would for the first time provide non-lethal aid directly to rebels who are battling to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, announcing an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria's political opposition. The modest package of aid to the military wing of the opposition will consist of an as yet undetermined amount of food rations and medical supplies for members of the Free Syrian Army who will be carefully screened to ensure they do not have links to extremists.