Middle East

Arab Spring: 'It was the first time I felt I belonged'

It has been a year like no other for those living in the countries involved in the Arab Spring.

Sparked by the death of a fruit and vegetable seller in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, protesters in neighbouring countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, embraced the idea that they too could make a difference.

As well as the streets, they took to YouTube, Twitter and other social networks, or even contacted the BBC directly, to make sure their voices were heard.

Here is a selection of some of the stories of these ordinary people caught up in these extraordinary events.


Ahmed Raafat Amin, 22, Cairo

Image caption Ahmed Raafat Amin says he expects more sacrifices before Egypt sees stability

A year ago, I was a normal college guy - just focusing on my studies and hanging out with my friends.

I was also like many other Egyptians who were dreaming of change but never believed it could happen.

However our country's condition was getting worse and worse. There was corruption, torture, injustice, inequality and no freedom.

Someone had to stand up and say "enough is enough" - and that is why I decided to take part in the revolution.

At first I was afraid to take part.

But, as I realised the demands of the revolution were my own demands, I was willing to pay whatever price our freedom would cost.

I saw all kinds of people, rich, poor, young, old, men, women losing their lives for something they believed in.

Tahrir Square - the focus of the protests in Cairo - was like heaven. It was how you wanted Egypt to be.

In the past I only focused on personal dreams but now I'm focusing on a national dream that we all share.

The regime succeeded in isolating us as individuals for years. Once we stopped thinking as individuals and started thinking as a group, change became possible.

[President] Hosni Mubarak's resignation was a moment that I cannot forget. Although it was a dream that came true, I don't think the country is moving in the right direction as the new protests show.

It is so obvious to us that the regime has not fallen yet. Mubarak's men are still in power; they control everything.

To build a new Egypt, you have to remove corruption first. Power must be handed over to civilians and a new constitution must be made as soon as possible which must respect human rights.

We need better education, medical treatment, more jobs and development plans.

I see a brighter future for Egypt but I know it will come with more sacrifices.

Image caption Tensions continued to simmer in Egypt despite Hosni Mubarak's departure, with fresh bouts of violence emerging in December. Picture: Jeffery Bright


Aiman Abubaker Ahmed Abushahma, 43, Misrata

Image caption Misrata doctors, including Aiman Abushamahma, risked their lives to tell the BBC their stories

At the beginning of this year I was working as a physician specialising in intensive care. But on 17 February 2011, I helped to form the Misrata Medical Committee.

On 19 February, I felt something was going to happen - the revolution was definitely coming.

I went to the hospital at 13:00 (local time) to help prepare our team to deal with those people injured during the demonstrations.

One of the first people I dealt with was my cousin and dear friend Khalid Mustafa Ahmed Abushahma. He had been shot in the chest and died in the operating theatre that day.

Before then, life was normal but meaningless. We worked, we went home, we shopped.

When my cousin Khalid died and Misrata rose up despite a lack of weapons, we in the hospital knew we had to do something to get our country back.

But we did not know how far we could go or if changes were going to be possible in Libya. All we knew that our attempts to try would be hard and bloody.

Col Muammar Gaddafi knew we had no weapons and had faith he would win this war.

Although Gaddafi is dead, we still have a long way to go. Our medical committee is still working to build the city's health system. We have to take care of our city and our country. We do not need any more corruption nor more destruction of this country.

We in Misrata saw everything - guns, bodies, burns, shattered people, dead children, mercenaries, destroyed homes and lives. I lost four cousins, two neighbours and four friends.

But we in Libya have been able to cope because we know the dead are martyrs. They are in heaven where they protect us with their lives and the evidence of the blood they have shed.

We have to finish what they started and build the Libya we dream of.

The year has gone by quickly - I have learnt more than I ever imagined about different type of guns and politics. I watch the news obsessively.

I asked God all the time to see the end of Gaddafi and my wish was granted.

We need time to rebuild our army so our country is safe. Our priorities should be our health and education system so Libya has the incredible future it deserves.

All I want is a happy future when my children live in a democratic country where they will be safe and free.

Image caption Rebels spent a long time preparing and fighting in the mountains of Nafusa over the summer


Yet not all countries have seen their leaders toppled by sheer people power.

The government has continued its brutal crackdown on protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The UN has said that more than 5,000 people have been killed by security forces since March.

However, the president also has his supporters, who have frequently staged counter-demonstrations.

The majority of those we managed to speak to, or who were able to tweet or comment via Facebook or other social networks, feared for their lives for voicing their opinions.

In August, prolific tweeter @AlexanderPageSY told us that life in Damascus had changed irrevocably.

In The Libyan effect: Your stories, he said: "It's a war zone out there but, despite all the difficulties, people are risking their lives for a common goal: freedom."

He managed to leave Syria, and is now documenting the resurgent protests in Egypt.

Although it has generally been very difficult for foreign journalists to enter Syria and report freely, that has not stopped Syrians from managing to secure ways of getting mobile-phone footage uploaded to websites.

In June, we tried to give some sense of an overview of the demonstrations that took place at any one time in the country.

While it was not possible to independently verify the footage, BBC Monitoring, the BBC Arabic Service and foreign bureaux believed them to be credible. They translated the commentary, while places and people were identified by landmarks, regional accents and clothing.

Jisr al-Shoughour

Women fleeing Jisr al-Shughour in Syria curse President Bashar al-Assad and describe how their town was attacked by planes and tanks.

Women fleeing Jisr al-Shughour curse President Bashar al-Assad and describe how their town was attacked by planes and tanks. One woman says: "They poisoned our water and killed our men and children." Another tells how her cousins were killed and two of her children wounded.


Unverified footage said to show tanks in the Syrian city of Deraa

An armoured vehicle is seen in this video of the suburbs of Deraa, the city where the protests first began on 15 March. The person taking the footage holds up a local newspaper to establish the date - 8 June.



Unverified footage said to show protesters targetting snipers with water cannons in Hama

The person filming this protest in Hama states the date, 3 June, and location - outside the Ba'ath Party HQ. He says there are snipers on top of the roof and a water canon is being aimed at protesters. They chant insults at President Bashar al-Assad and warn others of snipers.



Demonstrators in Damascus call for end to oppression

A group of people sing national songs in Arnoos Square. A policeman is shown telling a woman to hand over her phone, but she refuses. At the end of the clip some people are filmed being bundled into a van and beaten.


Syrian protesters burn image of Bashar al-Assad

A crowd is filmed burning President Assad's picture chanting, "Leave!" In reference to a pro-government demonstration when an large national flag was paraded through the streets of Damascus, a white banner reads: "The Syrian flag was 2,300 meters long. Is that long enough to make shrouds for our martyrs?"


This unverified footage shows pro-Assad rallies in Damascus

This video was taken at a pro-Assad rally in Damascus. It shows protesters holding pictures of the president and standing next to an large Syrian flag estimated to measure some 2.4km in length.

Kafr Nabil

A furious crowd of protesters in the small town of Kafr Nabl, Syria, attack photos of President Bashar al-Assad.

A furious crowd of protesters in the small town of Kafr Nabil attack photos of President Bashar al-Assad with sandals.


Video footage showing protesters in Daraya, Syria, marching against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Angry protesters wave banners and chant anti-Assad slogans in the town of Daraya, which saw demonstrators clash with militia and security forces last month.


Image caption Yemenis too have taken to the streets in their thousands to display their anger at President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters

Yemen too has seen its political landscape transformed by protests.

The unrest has dominated Yemeni life and led to its ruler of more than 30 years, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreeing to transfer his power to his vice-president.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to show their anger and call for change. But, simultaneously, Mr Saleh - like his counterpart in Syria - was feted at rallies held by his supporters and regime loyalists.

In March, after the government declared a state of emergency, doctors in the country told the BBC that unidentified gunmen had fired on an anti-government rally in the capital, Sanaa.

The gunmen fired from rooftops overlooking the central square, which protesters renamed Taghyir (Arabic for "change") Square.

When Luke Somers moved from London to Sanaa earlier this year, he never expected to give up his teaching career to become a photographer capturing Yemen's year of turmoil.

Of the loyalist demonstrations, he said he worried that propaganda might have played its part: "Their message felt comparatively strained, and gave me little reason to doubt the rumours that many received payment for their shows of enthusiasm."


But back to where it all began, just over a year ago.

Image caption Mohamed Bouaziz's death in Tunisia was the catalyst for the uprising

In January, we spoke to Tunisians about their reaction to the President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's decision to step down. He chose to leave after unprecedented protests in the country by those angered by corruption, unemployment and inflation.

But the Tunisians' success in forcing President Ben Ali to go boosted the confidence of those elsewhere who felt repressed by the regimes they were living under.

We continued to speak to those on the ground about what they saw and experienced, returning a year later to find out how their lives had also changed.

In our Tunisia anniversary: Your experiences article, Nouha Tourki a French teacher from Susa summed up the feelings of many when she said: "I hope that we have made a real step towards the path of democracy and we'll all work for the good of the country.

"We now have a golden opportunity to prove to the entire world that we are at the height of our revolution."


Meanwhile, other countries such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and even Iran also felt the effects of the Arab Spring.

Although the protests were generally quelled, dissent remains an issue with protests continuing to erupt, albeit, perhaps, on a less regular basis than those elsewhere.

Anti-government demonstrators continue to take to the streets of Bahrain despite an ongoing crackdown by the authorities, with issues raised in February still not resolved.

Back then, Sneha in Manama told the BBC: "It's impossible to get a clear picture of what is going on because Bahrain TV is not broadcasting anything from the scene.

"I can't go out on the street and try to get a glimpse so I'm relying on information from friends and colleagues and looking at the BBC and CNN website.

"I don't know whether I do or don't support the government. I just hope that there is a peaceful resolution to this and a genuine attempt to get things better."

In Morocco, amateur video in February also showed the frustration felt by demonstrators had, in some cases, translated into violence.

The North African kingdom's constitution was changed and parliamentary elections were brought forward to November in response to the unrest.

The reforms granted executive powers to a prime minister chosen from the largest party, but King Mohammed is retained as head of the military, religious authorities and judiciary.

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