Arab Spring & Black Lives Matter: Mirrors and Reflections

Kyla Sloan is a student at the University of Tulsa, and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad and with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.

I can’t believe I didn’t learn about Arab Spring in my history class.

FOREWORD: I would like to start by saying that this short blog post in no way encompasses the totality and complexity of each movement. This is only a brief look at what I see as similarities between the two movements from my personal and educational experience. I am not an expert on these issues, thus I encourage you to thoroughly research them yourself. There isn’t a simple solution to fulfill the goals of these movements. Finally, this is not a police/white bashing article. Police are not bad, and many officers are great public servants who protect and serve their communities. However, I do not ignore the problems of police brutality and systemic discrimination in the United States within the criminal justice system.

In my “A World of Protests” class, we are studying various social movements that have occurred and are still occurring after the year 2010. The first unit was on Arab Spring, a wave of social movements throughout the Arab World in an effort to replace the regimes that oppressed civilians. The movement was sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi, a young southern Tunisian street vendor, who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in protest of police harassment and ill treatment by government officials. Many civilians saw themselves in his death as a result of the continued oppression, dehumanization, and a large percent of youth unemployment. Protests against totalitarian governments spread to other Arab countries including Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

Arab Spring Protestors, Houston, Texas, USA - Sloan Photo 1
A protester holds a sign saying “Hopeless” in peaceful protest against former leader of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement originated from the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012 while walking home from the local convenient store. The movement was popularized in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black teen, at the hands of Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. In both situations, the cases were taken to court and returned verdicts of “not-guilty” for the killers. BLM pushes for greater equality of underrepresented people in the United States. Though many assume it is simply a cop-hating group of “thugs,” BLM founders state that the movement seeks reform in systems that implicitly and explicitly perpetuate racism and discrimination, such as the criminal justice and education system at large.

Black Lives Matter, Austin, Texas, USA - Sloan- Photo 2
College students wear black and stand in solidarity and remembrance of black lives that have been lost.

Here are five similarities between the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements:

  1. Social Media

Extensive use of social media and technology has played an essential role in the spread and development of both social movements. In Arab Spring, Mr. Bouazizi’s cousin (Ali Bouazizi), shared a video of the immediate aftermath of the death of Mohamed on Facebook. In BLM, the footage of Eric Garner, a man killed by New York City police during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarretes, was seen across the globe as well. Most phones have cameras and video capabilities making access to record key events readily available. As a result, these and other raw videos of injustices have been shared within minutes and seen by thousands of people. Hashtags such as #ArabAwakening and #BlackLivesMatter also trended on the internet.

  1. Counter movements

In Egypt, government supporters became violent toward the anti-government protesters, reversing the majority of success the change-seekers had peacefully made. Some people in the Arab world were content with the regimes as a result of their stability. They blame Arab Spring for destruction and disorder. The argument of “All Lives Matter” is that BLM declares only black lives matter and are somehow superior; however, movement supporters assert that they are actually saying Black Lives Matter too. When looking at the historical and current treatment of underrepresented people in education, health care, or the criminal justice system, one can reasonably claim that black lives simply have not mattered or have not been equal to that of their white counterparts. It can be argued that All Lives Matter and pro-government dictatorship groups reverse the successful strides the movements make by enforcing, as revolutionaries may describe, out-dated and antiquated ideologies that promote inequalities by ignoring persistent injustices.

Libya Protestors, Houston, Texas - Sloan - Photo 3
Men, women, and children protest the massacres and rule of Gaddafi.
  1. “Lack of leadership and organization”

When looking at the organization of both movements compared to the Civil Rights Era, one may notice that there is not the presence of a clear leader or selected handful of leaders. This is on purpose. Both movements are network-based in an effort to include everyone who wants to take part in the movement without having to fit within certain restrictions. It also makes it difficult for governments to control the movement by arresting or killing critical leaders. Through social media platforms such as Facebook, activists from all political, social, economic, and educational backgrounds are able to voice their opinions, organize, and protest. These decentralized foundations also come at a cost as a result of movement goals occasionally seeming obscure, wide-ranging, and invalid even when key leaders do have specific goals.

  1. Protests and government response

Though both movements primarily seek to end inequality peacefully, there is no doubt that both have had issues of violence on both sides. Large fires, violence against police, and sometimes looting have occurred on a few occasions, even though significantly more peaceful protests are constantly occurring, contrary to what is shown by mass media. In both movements, peaceful protests have occurred and government officials such as police or military have responded by using tear gas or even live ammunition killing civilians as seen in Syria. In the Arab World, many regimes stopped at nothing to resist change, even arresting and shutting down independent journalists.

Student 'Die In' - Austin, Texas - Sloan - Photo 4
Students at St. Edward’s University hold a “die-in”, a form of protest, on their campus in response to the lack of indictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner.
  1. Ongoing hope and push for change

The Arab revolutions are still continuing as many of these countries have yet to formally find a replacement for their government, which has left many in civil wars or chaos. Though many have been killed as a result of this push for change, many Arabs continue the pursuit for a more representative and democratic government. The lack of fair policies and procedures in the United States government, criminal justice, and education systems has forced activists to continue protesting in hope of policy reforms. The school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, mass incarceration and high rates of unemployment still plague typically minority and impoverished communities.

Never Forget, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA - Sloan - Photo 5
Man holds sign in memory of Trayvon Martin, a symbol of the many black lives unjustly lost, at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The world awaits…discover it.

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