How amateur and professional videos captured a series of historic moments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yemeni doctor Hamza Shargabi is also a blogger and an amateur filmmaker who has been carefully following his country's protests and the government's response in a series of web videos so polished they could be mistaken for Al Jazeera stand-ups. This April video, "Initiatives Echoes in change square," discusses Yemen's complex political situation in a personal, passionate way that outside news reports are unable to do.
On May 19, a 32-year-old information technology consultant Manal al-Sharif got into her car and went for a spin precisely because it is illegal. She ranted behind the wheel about the absurdity and cruelty of Saudi Arabia's gender laws, which forbid women from driving, as a friend recorded. The next day, she posted the video online, helping to spark the "Women2Drive" movement of Saudi women who openly defied the ban on driving. It was an incredible moment: though Saudi women are some of the most oppressed people in the Arab world, they did not let the state's often brutal treatment of defiant women stop them from resisting this small but significant indignity.
When Libyan rebels finally captured Qaddafi's Bab al-Azizya Tripoli compound in August, they found two things. First, a decadent and sometimes cartoonish world of palatial indulgence: zoo animals, gold-covered guns, a lavishly furnished underground compound. Second, the horrific cruelty that seemed to infect everything the Qaddafis touched. This CNN report is one of countless videos that showed the indulgence right alongside the woman who became a symbol of Qaddafi inhumanity: Shweyga Mulla, the personal maid and nanny for Qaddafi son Hannibal, and who described the torture that was commonplace in their household.
Brutality in Syria
Bashar al-Assad's crackdown has killed at least 5,000 people so far, according to the UN, including hundreds of children. Syrian activists are painstakingly documenting every atrocity big and small, trying to shake an indifferent world to care. In the process they have posted countless online videos, which are at once numbing and unbearable. Many can be found on the Storify page of NPR's Ahmed al-Omran. This September video, too graphic to embed here, capture a Syrian man's final breaths as activists wail in despair over the friends they're unable to save. This social media campaign to beam a violent crackdown directly to laptop screens around the globe has already helped prompt an historic Arab League initiative to send observers to Syria, though whether it does much more remains to be seen.
In the weeks before Tunisia's October election -- the fruit of the January revolution -- a handful of the country's artists and activists reminded the world that Tunisia really is different. As Egypt and Libya backslid, and as violence in Syria and Yemen worsened, Tunisia was filled with pro bono advertisements encouraging people to exercise their new right, which they did, thereby doubling the number of Arab democracies in the world. This music video, recorded by a handful of the country's pop stars, could be mistaken for an Arabic and French "Yes We Can" moment.
After months of slowly consolidating power and crushing the protests they had once protected, the Egyptian military sparked a massive backlash with this one incident of brutality against a young woman. As photos and videos of the event horrified people in and outside of Egypt, the military's slow devolution into dictatorship quickly became much harder to ignore. Cairene women quickly organized a march in protest, carrying banners of the poor woman some called "blue bra girl," and declared they were a "red line" for the military.