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The Arab spring wasn't in vain. Next time will be different

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At the end of 2010, I was en route to Sudan for Christmas, scouring Arabic social media in search of scraps of information about a story unfolding in Tunisia; a story the Arab media was censoring and the western media was still ignoring. A street trader, Mohammed Bouazizi, had set himself on fire in protest at the government in the city of Sidi Bouzid, sparking demonstrations that spread across the country.

Weeks before the protests toppled Tunisia’s president-for-life, you could see that something about this uprising was different. There was something about the way the protests resonated in households around the Arab world, the intensity of the moral outrage and the force of the momentum that felt new and exciting.

But even as I wrote then about their promise and potential, I never imagined that they would become what we now call the Arab spring. At the time, it was simply unfathomable that peaceful protests would overthrow an Arab dictator. It had never happened before. No one even knew what that would look like.

A decade later, when the phrase “Arab spring” has become synonymous with shattered dreams of liberation, it is painful to think back on the early days and weeks of protests. It is painful now to remember the heady months of joy and optimism – the sense of power that we had as Arabs for the first time in our lifetimes.

Most of all, it smarts to remember the sense of camaraderie and excitement: when you cried in streets and cafes with strangers, crowded around a radio or a TV as the news of another dictator’s demise came through; when you congratulated them on their country’s revolution and they promised that this time your country would be next.

And it stings to remember all the acts of bravery: the moment when a friend called just before going down to join a protest, and left their parents’ phone number in case they never came back. When you consoled the families of those who had died, and found their parents were not grieving, not cowed; they were determined that their childrens’ deaths would not be for nothing.

And yet, when we look across the Arab world today, it is hard to believe this happened. Only........

© The Guardian

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