Middle Eastern Countries Megan McGuire
Tunisia • For years, Tunisia was known mostly as the most European country of North Africa, with a relatively large middle class, liberal social norms, broad gender equality and welcoming Mediterranean beaches. But in January 2011, it took center stage as the launching pad of the wave of revolt that swept through the Arab world and beyond. • The uprising began in December 2010, when a fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the impoverished town of SidiBouzid to protest his lack of opportunity and the disrespect of the police. • In what became known as the Jasmine Revolution, a sudden and explosive wave of street protests ousted the authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years. On Jan. 14, Mr. Ben Ali left the country, after trying unsuccessfully to placate the demonstrators with promises of elections. • In the months after the revolution, Tunisia struggled with continued instability, new tensions between Islamicists and secular liberals and a still-limping economy. • In December 2011, MoncefMarzouki, a doctor and politician, was elected as interim president of Tunisia.
Algeria • 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. • The next day, Algerian forces launched a raid that led to days of fighting in the maze-like complex. The following week, the prime minister said that 37 hostages had been killed, including three Americans, and that 29 of the kidnappers had been killed and three had been captured.
Egypt • Egypt remains locked in a protracted process of political transition after the resignation of the long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won the June 2012 presidential elections, but the military retains considerable power. • Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament in decades was dissolved in June 2012, leaving the country with no parliament and no constitution. This legal vacuum has created a political tug-of-war between the civilian president and the military, amidst questions over the impartiality of Egypt’s judiciary. • Political uncertainty and anxiety over the future have generated ongoing political protest, labor strikes, deep mistrust between Islamist and secular parties, and Muslim-Christian tension in some parts of the country. Violence and criminal activities have been on the rise in the poorly-policed Sinai peninsula, where militant Islamist groups stepped up attacks on security forces.
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. • It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault. The attack has raised questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring and has become a significant issue in the presidential campaign. Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, offered harsh criticism of the Obama administration for being slow to label the assault terrorism and faulted its overall handling of the attack. Republicans in Congress also charged that the White House had covered up important facts and had turned down repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi before the fatal attack.
Saudi Arabia • On January 5, in the ultraconservative heartland of Saudi Arabia, a small group of women held a demonstration calling for the release of detained family members. Their arrest, a short time later, caused great outrage and inspired even more people to take to the streets. • It was in the town of Buraida, where activists say mothers, daughters, sisters and wives -- many who brought children of their own -- gathered outside the Board of Grievances building and demanded rights they say their loved ones have been denied for far too long. • As Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where protests are prohibited, it didn't take long for the police to show up. One amateur video purported to show what happened next, with security forces encircling the women before they're taken away.
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. • In November, the government announced a new round of gas hikes and violent protests quickly broke out across the nation in what appeared to be an unparalleled show of anger directed at the king. The unrest went on for several nights and involved exchanges of rocks and tear gas. Unlike previous demonstrations, the protests called for ending the rule of King Abdullah. • The eruption came as the king struggled to contain a growing and increasingly diverse opposition by introducing electoral reforms ahead of balloting scheduled for January 2013 and by establishing a constitutional court.
Yemen • Yemen is a poor, deeply divided country that has been in turmoil since January 2011, when protesters inspired by the Arab Spring took to the streets in a violent uprising against the autocratic rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh — at a cost of hundreds of deaths and rising chaos. • The government has found itself overwhelmed by a set of dangerous new challenges to the country’s stability, including a series of bold attacks by a resurgent militant movement in the south, where many are eager for secession and a security breach has allowed an Al Qaeda affiliate to grow strong.
Syria • Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with anti-government protests in provincial areas. The government of President Bashar al-Assad responded with a bloody crackdown on initially peaceful gatherings, along with piecemeal concessions that stopped short of genuine political reform. • After almost a year and a half of unrest, the conflict between the regime and the opposition has escalated to a full-scale civil war. Army defectors formed armed groups that wage a guerrilla war on government forces. By mid-2012 the fighting has reached capital Damascus and commercial hub Aleppo, with growing numbers of senior army officers deserting Assad. • However, key army units remain loyal to the regime, and while Assad’s long-term survival chances don’t seem great, he is far from finished. A prolonged bloody civil war lies ahead, with possibly disastrous consequences for Syria’s multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.
Further Interest • The States has very good relations with Tunisia, which date back more than 200 years. The United States has maintained official representation in Tunisia almost continuously since 1795, and the American Friendship Treaty with Tunisia was signed in 1799. The two governments are not linked by security treaties, but relations have been close since Tunisia's independence. • If the United States were to get involved in the conflicts throughout Tunisia they could potentially help to stabilize them and get their country somewhat back to the way it was.