The Arab Spring, Year One, in Videos

How amateur and professional videos captured a series of historic moments


Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim surprises a nation with his tearful speech during the height of protests / YouTube

These first 12 months of the democracy movements transforming North Africa and the Middle East have been too sweeping, too complicated, and too emotional to capture in a single article. Even just the December 2010 self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi, which set off the world-changing events still ongoing, is too big a story.

Perhaps better, then, to look back over the past year not as a single story -- though that's what it is -- but as a series of moments. Some of those moments were captured on video, whether by professional crews or more often by the handheld and cell phone cameras that have become the tools of revolution. Viewed individually, they are a reminder that the Arab Spring is as much personal as it is political, a movement of millions of Arabs who decided individually but near-simultaneously to risk it all for something that had long seemed impossible.

These videos below, a small selection of the dramatic and often moving footage that has chronicled every step of the Arab Spring, portray a more human side of history. This post may be updated with more videos. Please feel free to suggest additions in the comments.

Martyrs of the Egyptian Revolution

This video, produced by the remarkable Egyptian citizen journalist collective Mosireen, chronicles the struggle of Egyptians to endure in the face of horrific violence from the government, both before and after Hosni Mubarak's February departure. It is a reminder of the challenge that Egyptian protesters face: to show up every day and put their lives on the line, and peacefully, not despite but precisely because of the dangers of non-violent protest. A translation -- worth reading for the mother's comments on her son's violent death -- can be found here.

Egyptians Battle for Control of Cairo Bridge

After decades of uncontested and often brutal control over Egyptian society, the feared state security forces suffered their first real defeat on January 28, the third day of mass protest, on 6 October Bridge in Cairo, near Tahrir Square. As tens thousands of protesters pushed back the heavily armed security forces, fellow Egyptians, fellow Arabs, and others around the world watched live as Cairenes accomplished the impossible. This was perhaps the first signal that Tunisia's revolution, which had succeeded two weeks earlier in ousting President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, would become a pan-Arab movement.

Wael Ghonim's Tearful Speech

In what is perhaps the one video that most impacted 2011, the Egyptian activist and Google executive appeared on Egypt's Dream TV on February 7, shortly after being released from prison, where security forces had put him on January 28. Ghonim's Facebook page, "We Are All Khaled Saeed," had been an early organizing point for activists, and his tear-filled interview here helped galvanize Egyptians outside of the liberal dissident core. His passion for peaceful resistance and his grief for the many protesters who had been killed roused many otherwise indifferent Egyptians to the cause, swelling protests beyond what even the murderous state security could manage. Four days later, Mubarak resigned.

Qaddafi's 'Zenga Zenga' Speech

Muammar Qaddafi's speech pledging to retake the eastern city of Benghazi and hunt down dissidents "inch by inch, room by room, home by home, alleyway by alleyway [zenga zenga]" did two things. First, it was autotuned by an Israeli musician named Noy Alooshe into the Arab Spring's most viral video. And, after that, the speech and its threats of murder served as a basis for the United Nations resolution supporting a no-fly zone, which NATO launched one month later and quickly escalated into the outright intervention that toppled Qaddafi's 42-year rule.

A Mother's Hunger Strike in Bahrain

Zainab al-Khawaja, a 27 year old member of a prominent Bahraini dissident family, stopped eating for 10 days in April to protest the imprisonment of her father. Her father was never released, nor was her husband, who is also imprisoned. But the young mother's hunger strike exemplified the personal sacrifices that families have been making in this year's democracy movements. It is also a reminder of the devastation and danger of living under dictatorship. Her sister, 24-year-old Maryam, is profiled here.

Syria's Protest Anthem

In June, a young cement layer in Hama climbed on stage during one of that city's massive anti-regime rallies to chant -- not to sing, really -- a song called "Come on Bashar, Leave" that has become an unofficial anthem of the protest movement there. The fury of the Syrian opposition is unmistakable in the video, but so is the regime's brutality. A few weeks later, the young singer's mutilated body was dragged from a nearby river, yet another signal from Syrian security forces that even singing against Bashar al-Assad would be met with torture and death.

A Doctor Documents Yemen's Crisis

Presented by

Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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