Archive for March, 2011


What is going on in North Africa and the Middle East?

March 31, 2011

by Sarah Michele Ford

It all started in mid-December, when a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest mistreatment by police and municipal officials.  A month of protests later, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was in exile and a unity government had been formed.  The Jasmine Revolution had succeeded. Only days after Ben Ali was driven out of office, the January 25th Movement began in Egypt.  After three weeks of public protests and civil unrest, President Mubarak stepped down. And then the unrest moved to Bahrain, to Iran (just a little bit), Syria, and most notably at this point, Libya.  All of this leaves us asking, what is happening in the Arab world?

As sociologists, we can look at what’s happening on the other side of the world as a lens through which to study social change.  In fact, there can be no more dramatic example of social change than a revolution!  While the revolutions may have seemed sudden to those of us on the outside, they certainly did not come out of nowhere.  They almost certainly arose out of disconnects between the political elites (in each of these nations, the leaders targeted by the unrest was (or, in the case of Libya, is) a dictator) and the people of the nations.  The people were eventually able to capitalize on the dissatisfaction with the existing power structure to create that change, drawing on 21st century social media to communicate both with each other and with the outside world when the mainstream media were unable to report the stories.  While the catalyst may have been the frustration and outrage of that fruit seller in Tunisia, the revolutions were about much more than that.

It will be an interesting study in social change, social movements, and political sociology to see the shapes taken by post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt, and what ultimately happens in Libya.