A Rude Awakening: Free Speech and the Arab Spring

1027 views

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, sheep to the slaughter” – George Washington

In December of 2010, the world watched as Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his fruit cart by local police. This seemingly innocuous act set off a chain reaction that led to the fall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and many other states in the Arab world. The consequences of the Arab Spring remain to be seen, as many states are still experiencing transitions to democracy while others remain under totalitarian rule. However, one important factor continues to link the Arab countries involved, and that is the importance of free speech. Citizens of the Arab world used public protest and social media to express their desire for a change towards democracy, and continue to voice their opinions as new governments are set up. For many, the Arab Spring has presented the first opportunity in many decades to have their voices be heard, however, as new governments continue to establish, and new constitutions are written, many countries are facing a backlash regarding the freedom of speech. Governments fear the power that toppled the original regimes in the first place; therefore countries such as Tunisia and Egypt have seen a cracking down on the freedom of expression that has emerged since the fall of their dictators. Other countries, such as Syria, refuse to back down. While citizens in Syria may try to express themselves peacefully through protests, the government does not recognize a right to freedom of speech, and has responded violently.

While the self-mutilation of Mohamed Bouazizi may not have been the sole reason for the toppling of the government in Tunisia, it certainly was the catalyst that sparked the resulting protests. Tunisia under its former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had strict limitations on the press and did not tolerate dissent. By December of 2010, the citizens were fed up with Ben Ali’s totalitarian rule and took to the streets to protest. In January, Ben Ali stepped down and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took over as interim president until elections could be held. The inaugural session of the democratically elected assembly took place nearly one year after the start of the Arab Spring, and since then Tunisia has made moves towards further democratization and the implementation of a new constitution. A major point of debate regarding the new Tunisian constitution is its article stating, “Freedom of thought, expression, press, and publication are guaranteed while taking into consideration the sanctities of peoples and religions.” While this seems like a guarantee of the freedom of speech for Tunisian’s citizens, in reality it constitutes a huge loophole in which this freedom may be denied on the basis of Religion or the insulting of political leaders. Tunisia has also faced backlash regarding the freedom of the press. The government has been resorting to penalization of dissenters rather than democratically taking input from their opinions, a move that is eerily similar to practices in place under the Ben Ali regime.

The country of Egypt has taken a route similar to Tunisia’s with a few more bumps along the road. After protestors ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians democratically elected Mohammed Morsi. Under Morsi, Egypt seemed to be taking steps towards the expansion of free speech, however it was not actually the case. Morsi made heavy use of a law punishing those who insulted him, such as satirist Bassem Youssef, a comedian who was arrested for mocking the president on his show. Free speech continued to play a role in Egypt as citizens again took to the streets to protest Morsi, and the military stepped in to remove him from power. It remains to be seen how Egypt will proceed from here, however there are some clues that can be seen by looking at the draft of its new constitution. The new constitution outwardly seems to guarantee more rights and freedoms than the old one, however danger lurks around clauses that forbid insulting prophets and messenger of Islam, and the article guaranteeing freedom of thought and opinion contradicts with some of the other articles pertaining to freedom of religion.

Contrasting to protests in Egypt and Tunisia, the citizens who exercised free speech in Syria did not succeed in removing their dictator from power, and since the regime in Syria has many limits on free speech, the government has responded violently to protests. The current leader, Bassar al-Assad, has used methods such as shutting down the Internet and controlling the media to limit the expression of Syria’s citizens. He has also responded violently to protestors, inciting a civil war. In fact, during the Arab Spring, limits on free speech have become even tighter as Assad fears being ousted like his peers in neighboring countries. As the international community begins stepping in in Syria, the situation will continue to develop, and citizens will continue to see a change in their rights and liberties.

As the western world continues to watch the events unfolding in the Middle East, many organizations and governments have opinions over how countries undergoing change should proceed. The international community now has laws demanding certain human rights be given to all citizens, and it has high standards regarding freedom of expression and civil liberties. However, it is important to keep in mind that it has taken hundreds of years for these laws to be established and enforced in the West. The world has high expectations for the Arab world regarding its citizens’ rights, and moving forward it will be very evident that the reality of the situation regarding free speech is very different from what the West hopes will happen.

[Image Credit: http://www.csmonitor.com/var/archive/storage/images/media/images/0512-astepback-yemen-protesters/10143025-1-eng-US/0512-ASTEPBACK-yemen-protesters_full_600.jpg]

About author

Allia Calkins

Allia Calkins is a senior from Rochester, NY majoring in Economics and History with a minor in French. Aside from a brief stint with the local Democratic Committee in 12th grade, Allia has limited her political involvement to VPR and nightly dates with Jon Stewart (RIP). Her favorite Twitter personalities include Ezra Klein, Josh Groban, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Go Bills!

Comments
  • fortnite free skin#1

    April 30, 2019

    It as the little changes that make the biggest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Produse Vans#2

    April 27, 2019

    It as fantastic that you are getting thoughts from this post as well as from our dialogue made at this time.

    Reply
  • Wyatt#3

    April 25, 2019

    I’m developing a new blog site regarding literature (what I’ve read, what I read), yet I’m having trouble thinking about a title. I like the idea of something concerning a fixation with literature however I think bookophilia gets on the ordinary side. What do you think of Litophilia? Is it also comparable to “lithophilia” Which indicates the love of rocks? Any ideas? Thanks!.

    Reply
  • suba suba#4

    April 22, 2019

    b9Wq6m Major thankies for the blog.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

    Reply
  • Joane#5

    April 21, 2019

    I’m searching for out what the most popular blog sites are when it pertains to information as well as views and also cell phone stuff.

    Reply
  • John Deere Diagnostic and Test Manuals#6

    April 18, 2019

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

    Reply
  • John Deere Service Manuals#7

    April 16, 2019

    I always was concerned in this subject and still am, regards for putting up.

    Reply
  • Sanjuana#8

    April 12, 2019

    I am brand-new to web design as I have no previous experience as well as understand little HTML. I just would like to know what the most effective software is to purchase to design blogs. I have actually downloaded and install CS5 Style Premium with Dreamweaver and also Photoshop, but I understand this is a little advanced for me and pricey!!!. Does any individual have suggestions of software application or methods to construct blogs as well as sites easily as well as economical?. MANY THANKS!.

    Reply
  • John Deere Technical Manuals#9

    April 10, 2019

    Kudos on your wonderful posting… We certainly liked reading this, you might be a terrific source I will always take a note of ones weblog and definitely will come back down the road I want to motivate yourself to continue this good posts, enjoy your weekend? OMG how about Gaddafi notable news! Thx ! Online Website Builder

    Reply
  • John Deere Diagnostic and Test Manuals#10

    April 10, 2019

    Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any solutions to protect against hackers?

    Reply
  • Javier#11

    April 10, 2019

    Fair use provisions of the copyright law allow for limited copying or distribution of published works without the author’s permission in some cases. Examples of fair use of copyrighted materials include quotation of excerpts in a review or critique, or copying of a small part of a work by a teacher or student to illustrate a lesson.. . This is what a i found somewhere.. So can i upload short excerpts of copyrighted content there?.

    Reply
  • Visit Your URL#12

    April 8, 2019

    I live in Costa Rica and am about to publish a community newspaper, what are the steps to go about copyrighting the name and articles published in it? And also when can one start using the copyright symbol?.

    Reply
  • Tractor Workshop Manuals#13

    April 6, 2019

    Hi”your blog is full of comments and it is very active.  

    Reply
  • More Bonuses#14

    April 2, 2019

    I simply want to say I am beginner to weblog and certainly loved your blog. Most likely I’m want to bookmark your blog . You surely come with fabulous writings. Cheers for revealing your webpage.

    Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *