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Issue Guide: One Year of 'Arab Spring' Upheavals

Authors: Jonathan Masters, Deputy Editor, and Aimee Rawlins
December 12, 2011


On December 17, 2010, street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, an act of protest that would galvanize the Arab world and roil the region in a succession of civilian uprisings. The following materials provide expert analysis and essential background on the central issues facing the region as this upheaval passes the one-year mark. [For more on the revolutions in the Middle East, read the eBook: The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next.]

The Region

Arab Spring

Guardian: Interactive Timeline of Middle East Protests

This engaging interactive traces the Arab Spring protests and regime responses from December 17, 2010, to the present.

Arab Spring

Project Syndicate: Re-Orienting America

Even amid possibly historic upheaval in the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy is correctly refocusing on East Asia and the Pacific, says CFR President Richard N. Haass.

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Foreign Affairs: Writing Constitutions After the Arab Spring

Tyrants have fallen in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, but the countries must now forge constitutions to formalize democratic governments, writes Anthony Billingsley, and there's a risk that the drafters could dodge the very rules they're trying to create.

Arab Spring

CFR Video: Supporting Transitions with Democratic Aid

Underlying the protest movements are nagging budget issues. U.S. economic aid to Egypt and Tunisia is welcome, but the impact and duration is uncertain in a U.S. climate chilling on foreign aid, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.

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National Interest: Alarmism on Islamism

Paul Pillar challenges the "common" Western fear that Islamists will hijack the aspiring Arab democracies in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, citing "three basic problems with this outlook."

Arab Spring

The Arab Street: Why Salafis Are Not the Amish

The electoral success of Egypt's Salafis is a dangerous development; their literal interpretation of sharia, hatred of non-Muslims, and excommunication of Muslims can lead to violent extremism, writes CFR's Ed Husain.

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Washington Post: After Hope of Arab Spring, Chill of Arab Winter

The Arab uprisings have not achieved the outcomes the West has hoped for, writes Daniel Byman. "When dictators fall," he notes, "their means of preserving power do not necessarily fall with them."

Arab Spring

Brookings: 2011 Arab Public Opinion Poll

This poll assessed Arab public opinion on issues tied to the Arab Spring. A majority of those polled are ready for a two-state solution with Israel based on 1967 borders. U.S. favorability increased from 10 percent in 2010 to 26 percent in 2011.

Arab Spring

CFR Backgrounder: The Arab League

The Arab League has struggled to overcome dysfunction and disunity among its members, but the Arab revolts of 2011 offer the League a new opportunity to pursue necessary reforms, increase legitimacy, and prove its relevance.


Arab Spring

CFR Meeting: Tunisia's Democratic Transition

Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, co-founder of leading political party Ennahda, speaks in favor of women's rights and religious freedom and attributes Ennahda's success to its inclusive platform. "The state has no business in people's personal choices," he says.

Arab Spring

Al-Jazeera: The Calm After the Storm

With the historic inauguration of the Constituent Assembly, Tunisians will have the opportunity to put political and social theory into practice, writes Intissar Kherigi.

Arab Spring

Economist: Women and the Arab Awakening

In Egypt and Tunisia, women are both hopeful and fearful about what the Arab revolutions might mean for them. But as constitutions are being rewritten, women hope to push their own liberation.


Arab Spring

New York Times: U.S. Policy on Egypt Needs a Big Shift

Pre-election violence rocked Tahrir Square but began to dissipate after the vote. Washington should not be fooled by the renewed peace and should demand a transfer of power to a civilian government, write Marc Lynch and CFR's Steven Cook.

Arab Spring

Foreign Affairs: Egyptian Foreign Policy After the Election

The United States should realize the new Egypt will be less amenable to its demands regardless of who gains power, writes Geneive Abdo.

Arab Spring

CFR Backgrounder: The Muslim Brotherhood

The anti-government protests in Egypt will mean a greater political role for the Muslim Brotherhood, but debate persists over whether the Islamist group will choose a path of moderation or extremism.

Arab Spring

CFR Interview: Islamists and Egypt's Future

The Islamists' lead in parliamentary polls has aroused concerns over Egypt's democratic future. But the real threat, says CFR's Ed Husain, comes from secular elites who prefer the former autocratic regime or military rule over elected Islamists.

Arab Spring

Foreign Affairs: Is the Egyptian-Israeli Relationship Over?

A worsening of Egyptian-Israeli relations will threaten regional stability and jeopardize Egypt's transition to democracy. Egypt's military rulers must be careful to keep anti-Israel rhetoric from spiraling out of control, writes Daniel C. Kurtzer.

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New Yorker: Back to the Square

Wendell Steavenson unpacks the current tensions in Egypt's democratic transition, highlighting the unfolding dynamic between the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi hardliners, liberals, and the military leadership.

Arab Spring

CFR Video: Egypt's Democratic Quest

Egypt's revolution is the latest chapter in a longtime struggle for greater democratic freedoms. CFR's Steven A. Cook identifies the lessons that Egypt's emerging leadership must learn from the Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak regimes.


Arab Spring

CFR Expert Roundup: After Qaddafi, Libya's Daunting Path

Post-Qaddafi Libya will face difficulties with rebel infighting and the anger of Qaddafi loyalists, but the dictator's death also creates an opening for a more peaceful country. CFR's Richard Haass, Ed Husain, and Ray Takeyh weigh Libya's prospects.

Arab Spring

Foreign Affairs: The Future of Humanitarian Intervention

Qaddafi's defeat at the hands of Western-backed rebels was a triumph for Obama and the principle of humanitarian intervention. It's unlikely to be repeated any time soon, writes CFR's Stewart Patrick.

Arab Spring

Washington Post: Regime Trials Belong in Libya's Courts

Libyans should be allowed to choose whether they want to try members of the Qaddafi regime in their own courts, argues CFR's John B. Bellinger III.

Arab Spring

Contingency Planning Memo: Post-Qaddafi Instability in Libya

The instability in Libya could lead to a humanitarian disaster, a new authoritarian ruler, or even the country's dissolution. Daniel Serwer recommends in this CPA Contingency Planning Memo that the EU lead a post-Qaddafi stabilization force in Libya.

Arab Spring

Foreign Affairs: The Death of the Qaddafi Generation

Muammar al-Qaddafi betrayed his own revolution, just as the other Arab strongmen of his generation had, writes CFR's Mohamad Bazzi. His death marks the end of the rule of these old-style nationalist leaders.


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Foreign Affairs: How Assad Stayed in Power

Throughout the year, Assad relied on Iran and Russia to block international intervention, hoping to buy time to quash the protests without interference. It's not working, writes Tony Badran, but he has no other options.

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CNN: At Last, the Arab League Hears the Voice of the People

The Arab League's decision to impose sanctions on the regime of Bashar al-Assad shows its emergence as a regional actor in the Middle East and is a welcome development, writes CFR's Robert Danin.

Arab Spring

CFR Policy Innovation Memo: American Options in Syria

In this Center for Preventive Action memo, Elliott Abrams argues that the United States should work to bring down Assad by isolating his regime from Syria's Alawite and business communities.

Arab Spring

International Crisis Group: Thinking Through Syria's Dynamics

Syria is in its most dangerous stage, says this International Crisis Group brief. The global community and Syrian opposition have been ignoring issues that must be addressed, including Syria-Lebanon ties and the protest movement's militarization.

Arab Spring

CFR Interview: Pressuring a Defiant Syria

Syria faces increasing international sanctions for its bloody crackdown against protesters. The crises facing Bashar al-Assad are unprecedented, but the regime doesn't appear to be giving in, says CFR's Mohamad Bazzi.


Arab Spring

CFR Policy Innovation Memo: Resetting U.S. Policy on Yemen

Yemen is experiencing serious political turmoil after more than three decades of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's autocratic rule. To help stabilize Yemen, Gregory Johnsen argues that U.S. policy must include more than counterterrorism efforts.

Arab Spring

Foreign Policy: A House Divided

Despite President Saleh signing a power-transfer agreement, the threat of civil war is growing, write Tom Finn and Atiaf al-Wazir, noting that renewed violence between the north and south would be bad for Western interests and could embolden militant groups.

Arab Spring

CFR Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

A resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is exploiting the mounting political unrest in Yemen. U.S. counterterrorism operations continue to intensify against its members.

More on This Topic


The Arab Uprisings: Four Years Later

Speakers: Thanassis Cambanis, Colin H. Kahl, and Tarek Masoud
Presider: Lally Weymouth

Experts discuss the Arab uprisings, their aftermath, and their effect on today’s political landscape.