From the Arab Spring to the Great March of Return | Arab Spring: 10 years in the news
When I reflect on my 35 years of living in besieged Gaza, I often think of the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 as one of the happiest times of my life. Although ten years have passed since the shocking events of this year and many heartaches and disappointments have occurred since then, I still remember the Arab revolutions in all their glory, vitality and hope.
When the first demonstrations started in Tunisia at the end of December 2010, I, like many Arabs who had little knowledge of Tunisian politics, did not pay much attention to it. But as the protest movement grew and shook the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime, I began to follow it closely.
The news of Ben Ali’s escape on January 14, 2011 shocked us as much as we were delighted. The idea that an Arab nation could come together, overcome fear and overthrow its tyrannical president, long ruling over it through intimidation and violence, inspired the rest of us Arabs who have lived in similar oppressive circumstances.
Soon the Tunisian flame a spark in Egypt. On January 25, thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square to denounce police brutality and call on President Hosni Mubarak to resign. We Palestinians were delighted.
Egypt has a special meaning for us. It is not only a gateway to the outside world for Palestinians living in Gaza, but it is also historically a guarantor of Palestinian rights. We believe that we are bound by fate to Egypt because of its leadership in the Arab world and its weakness is our weakness and its strength is our strength.
We believe that Israel’s growing abuses and aggressions against the Palestinians are related to the fact that Egypt has been weakening in recent decades and its ruling regime does not represent the will of its people.
So when the protests escalated, it hit us. We felt that these were not events in another country, but in ours. Between January 25 and February 11, I was one of the millions of Arabs who stopped following local news and took to social media and Al Jazeera for the latest news on what was happening in Egypt.
My heart trembled with joy every time I saw the number of protesters increase in Tahrir Square and the chants of the crowd grew louder and I held my breath whenever I saw the number of protesters decrease, as thugs attacked them.
I prayed for the Egyptian people to be victorious, for their country to be liberated and for a new government to come, linked to the will of the people and ready to support us in our own struggle for freedom and justice.
February 11, 2011 was one of the happiest days of my life. I was with friends when we learned that Mubarak had resigned. We jumped for joy and rushed to the store to buy some candy to offer on the streets.
The celebrations in Gaza were more important than in Eid. Thirty years of authoritarian rule and corruption had just ended in Egypt and we celebrated in solidarity with the Egyptian people. Their dictator and our oppressor – the man who kept the Rafah border closed, helping Israel lay a debilitating siege on Gaza – had fallen. The man who brought Egypt to its knees and sold the Palestinian cause was gone.
In the following weeks, revolutions erupted in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. The song “The people want the fall of the regime!” echoed in the Arab world. In Arab streets rebelling against the dictatorship, the Palestinian flag would be a regular feature. The Arab revolutions have awakened a feeling of unity in the hearts of the Arabs. The Sykes-Picot Accord had erected walls among the Arabs and divided us politically, but the revolutionary winds of the Arab Spring brought them down.
They also swept Palestine. Many of us young Palestinians have felt a renewed energy to continue our struggle against our own oppressor – the Israeli occupier.
Shortly after the fall of Mubarak, I had a conversation with a group of friends. We said, “We don’t have a ruling system that we can overthrow in the same way as other Arab peoples. But we have a big problem which is to be refugees in our own homeland. We want to return to our homes, and therefore, let’s say: “The people want a return to Palestine”. “
On February 24, 2011, I published an article titled “15-5-2011: Date of the historic march in PalestineIn the Arabic online newspaper Elaph.
In this article, I have proposed that the day we mark the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, be an opportunity for a peaceful demonstration by Palestinian refugees to claim their right to return home.
Here is what I wrote:
“We are in a time when dreams quickly turn into realities, which prompts us to dream and persevere in the pursuit of our dreams. And because I firmly believe that the will of the people is stronger than any challenge, and that nothing is impossible when there is faith and perseverance, I hope this idea will quickly find people who will embrace and push it. to its realization. “
The response to my article exceeded my expectations. Within weeks, Palestinian refugee groups in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and occupied Palestine-1948 embraced this call and began to rally to stage a demonstration on May 15.
When the time came, tens of thousands of refugees gathered at the point closest to Palestine’s borders in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It was an unprecedented event and a symbolic achievement. Hundreds of Palestinian refugees residing in Syria were able to penetrate the barriers of the Golan Heights and enter Palestine, waving Palestinian flags and the keys to their Palestinian homes.
The Israeli army reacted violently, shooting at the crowd and killing and injuring a number of protesters. That day, Israel estimated that the winds of the Arab Spring had reached the Palestinian territories it occupies and it expressed concern. He knew that the Arab people are overwhelmingly opposed to their occupation and the colonization of Palestine. An Arab awakening was going to be bad news for his colonial project.
Our moment of joy and feeling of freedom, however, was short-lived. The Arab revolutions had only decapitated regimes, but the body – the deep state – remained. Canceling decades of dictatorship was going to take more than a few weeks of mass protests.
The remnants of the regimes joined forces with outside counterrevolutionary forces and began to systematically undermine the peaceful and democratic dynamics of the Arab Spring protests. In Syria, Libya and Yemen, these forces have successfully used local sectarian and tribal divisions to destroy society-wide protest alliances and plunge those countries into bloody civil wars.
In Egypt, the military, supported by outside forces, carried out a coup against the democratically elected government. This has helped to stifle the revolutionary spirit in the region and thwart efforts to establish a new Arab reality.
Our disappointment turned to despair as the counterrevolution imprisoned, tortured and killed with impunity. Meanwhile, Israel rejoiced at the defeat of the Arab Spring and the renewed interest of Arab regimes in normalizing relations. Arab despots felt they needed Israeli support to ensure their own security amid the lingering legitimacy crises they faced. This alliance seems natural: both Israel and the Arab dictatorships vehemently oppose Arab democracy.
In Palestine, we felt suffocated. It was not only a moral suffocation, but also a physical one. Shortly after General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in Egypt, he ordered the destruction of all the tunnels under the border between Gaza and Egypt. They were the vital channels through which Palestinians in Gaza brought food, building materials and other essentials that Israel had prohibited by its debilitating siege on the Strip. Then Israel launched another deadly assault on Gaza, killing over 2,000 people, including hundreds of children, and destroying everything it did not have in its 2008 assault.
As a result, the humanitarian situation in Gaza began to deteriorate rapidly. The economy was on the verge of collapse; services, such as electricity, sewage and drinking water, were almost absent. In 2015, the UN released a report saying that by 2020 the strip could become “uninhabitable”.
Anger, frustration and despair have increased in Gaza. And in 2018, he was ready to explode. It was that year that in the midst of suffocation and misery, we decided to resuscitate our call for a return march. The massive mobilization we witnessed in response was a clear sign that despite the brutality of the Israeli siege, occupation and colonization, the Palestinians were not going to give up fighting for their rights. It was a statement that the Arab dream was still alive.
After faltering in Palestine, several months later, it erupted in Sudan. Protests erupted across the country against the misery to which the Sudanese regime had reduced its population. Soon after, Algeria rebelled. By the end of spring 2019, two more Arab dictators had been overthrown. The revolutionary torch was then passed on to the Iraqis and the Lebanese who carried it with pride.
What some have called the “second wave” of the Arab Spring has also resulted in a great deal of death, destruction and despair. The Arab people continue to pay a high price for their stolen revolutions. But they are also learning. They tasted freedom – if only momentarily – they saw what the power of the people can accomplish, but they also understood their failures – that anger and enthusiasm are not enough to defeat regimes oppressive deeply rooted.
For people who lived through the Arab Spring, it remains more than just a thrilling memory or a beautiful dream. The events of 2011 awakened something in the Arab world.
Today the Arab streets may seem calm, but this burning sense of injustice, this search for freedom is still there, simmering beneath the surface, ready to erupt and once again sweep away the Arab authoritarians and their allies.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.