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Long considered one of the few success stories that sprang from the Arab Spring, Tunisia has seen its president accused of staging a coup after he sacked his prime minister and suspended parliament with the help of the army.

President Kais Saied’s dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday followed violent demonstrations across the country over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has led to clashes between supporters and opponents of the president in the streets of the capital, Tunis.

President Kais Saied (pictured) fired the prime minister less than a year after Hichem Mechichi was appointed o the role. Pic AP
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President Kais Saied (pictured) fired the prime minister less than a year after Hichem Mechichi was appointed to the role. Pic AP

Mr Saied has said he will name a new prime minister, but his critics have accused him of a power grab that threatens Tunisia‘s young democracy.

Here is a look at the legacy of the Arab Spring and how protests and uprisings dramatically altered the political structure of much of the Arab world.

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring spread across much of the Arab world from early 2010 as demonstrators rallied against the region’s dictatorial leaders in protests over corruption, poverty and oppression.

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Escalating anti-government protests spilt over into uprisings and eventually civil wars in several countries as the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen, resulting in the ousting of the leaders in those countries, with the exception of Syria.

It has directly contributed to the refugee crisis and the rise of the Islamic State and has seen fresh authoritarian leaders seize power in many countries, leaving many with their hopes crushed as they struggle to live under increasingly authoritarian regimes in countries beset by greater levels of poverty and unemployment.

Tunisia

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People took to the streets in the capital, Tunis, to celebrate the PM’s dismissal – but others have called the move ‘a coup’

The roots of the Arab Spring can be traced back to Tunisia, where Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, set himself on fire in protest after police confiscated his goods and a female officer slapped him on 17 December 2010.

Footage of his self-immolation spread across the country and led people in his home city of Sidi Bouzid to take to the streets in rage.

Within a month, protests had forced Tunisia’s authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Despite the relative success of Tunisia’s revolution, the country has recently seen large protests over mass unemployment and many consider its parliament inefficient and stagnant.

These problems have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the economy hard as infection rates soared over the summer.

Egypt

Thousands of Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo on 29 July, 2011. Pic: Associated Press
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Thousands of Egyptians protest in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo in July 2011. Pic: Associated Press

Demonstrations in Tunisia following the death of Bouazizi inspired massive protests across Egypt, leading President Hosni Mubarak to leave office within weeks.

A presidential election in 2012 gave power to President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but Mr Morsi himself was later deposed when Egypt’s military generals seized power in 2013.

Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi then became president and imposed a police state, which has seen tens of thousands of Egyptians imprisoned and hundreds executed.

The country remains under military rule.

Syria

President Bashar al Assad with his wife Asma as she casts her vote
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President Bashar al Assad with his wife Asma as she casts her vote in Syria’s president election in May 2021

As unrest spread across Syria, Bashar al Assad’s government began using live ammunition against protesters, leading tensions to boil over and igniting a civil war in 2011 between the regime and rebel groups.

IS emerged from among the myriad rebel groups and expanded across the border into Iraq, where it declared a new Islamic caliphate in 2014.

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Sky’s Mark Stone visits refugee camps in northern Syria and hears of the growing influence of Islamic State inside

Syria’s brutal decade-long civil war has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and over 6.8 million Syrians become asylum seekers and 6.7 million displaced within the country’s borders.

Despite this, Mr Assad has managed to cling on to power with the support of Russia, Iran and Lebanon-based Shia-militant group Hezbollah, although fighting in the war-ravaged country continues and several areas remain under the control of rebels.

Libya

Members of the Libyan pro-government forces gesture as they stand on a tank in Benghazi, Libya, 21 May, 2015
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Members of the Libyan pro-government forces gesture as they stand on a tank in Benghazi, Libya, in May 2015

Similarly, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi decided to crack down on the largest protests in the country’s history with force.

The move sparked a civil war and a NATO-led coalition began conducting airstrikes in support of the country’s rebels.

Rebel forces deposed and later killed Gaddafi in October 2011. However, efforts to transition away from Gaddafi’s rule broke down and the country descended into a renewed civil war.

The internationally recognised Government of National Accord remains in control of Tripoli and the city of Misrata, while the Libyan National Army, commanded by General Khalifa Haftar, runs Benghazi and much of the oil-rich east. General Haftar’s forces are supported by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen

A malnourished girl at a hospital in Sanaa in October 2020
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Yemen’s civil war has led to one of the worst famines the world has ever seen

As protests spread throughout much of the Arab world, pressure on Yemen’s authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh led him to hand power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in 2011.

However, Mr Hadi’s presidency was beset by continuing problems of corruption, unemployment and an insurgency from the Houthi militia.

The Houthis took control of the capital, Sana’a, in 2014 and declared themselves in charge of the government. Yemen’s President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Aden, where he continues to lead Yemen’s internationally-recognised government.

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David Miliband criticises Yemen aid cut

Fierce fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi group and the western-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia has led to one of the worst famines the world has ever seen, with half of the population lacking food and almost 16 million on the brink of starvation in 2016.

Other countries affected

While the Arab Spring saw rulers deposed in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, it also led to street protests in Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman and Sudan. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, were able to use military force to effectively end revolts before they could seriously threaten the status quo.

Legacy of the Arab Spring

While the reverberations of the Arab Spring continue to affect life in the Arab World, continuing issues including corruption, authoritarianism and poverty are likely to be exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

Only Tunisia’s uprising resulted in a transition to a constitutional democracy, but with the country’s president ousting his prime minister, the shift away from authoritarian rule is looking increasingly fragile.

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Israel v Iran – Is escalation inevitable?

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Vietnam: Property tycoon Truong My Lan sentenced to death after country’s biggest fraud trial

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Vietnam: Property tycoon Truong My Lan sentenced to death after country's biggest fraud trial

A property tycoon has been sentenced to death in Vietnam after the biggest fraud trial in the country’s history.

Truong My Lan was sentenced on Thursday by a court in Ho Chi Minh City after being found guilty of embezzlement, bribery and violations of banking rules following a month-long trial, state media reported.

The 67-year-old chair of the company Van Thinh Phat (VTP) was accused of fraud amounting to $12.5bn – nearly 3% of the country’s GDP in 2022.

Lan and her accomplices were charged with illegally controlling the Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank (SCB) between 2012 and 2022 to siphon off funds through thousands of ghost companies and by paying bribes to government officials.

From early 2018 to October 2022, when the state bailed out SCB after a run on its deposits, Lan appropriated large sums by arranging unlawful loans to shell companies, investigators said.

The start of the trial featured prominently in state media, which showed pictures and footage of Lan in the courtroom surrounded by dozens of police officers.

Truong My Lan
Pic: AP
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Lan was sentenced after a month-long trial. Pic: AP

“Lan didn’t plead guilty and didn’t show remorse,” Thanh Nien newspaper cited the prosecutors as saying last month, while demanding the death penalty on the charge of embezzlement.

“The consequences are extremely serious and irreparable, and therefore, there must be a strict punishment for Truong My Lan and remove her from society,” it added.

The harsh sentence was due to the seriousness of the case, with the court saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences – with no possibility of the money being recovered, state media VnExpress reported on Thursday.

“We will keep fighting to see what we can do,” a family member told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity. Before the verdict was issued, he had said Lan would appeal against the sentence.

A total of 84 defendants in the case received sentences ranging from probation to life imprisonment, reported Thanh Nien.

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VTP was among Vietnam’s richest property firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centres.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam.

The crackdown, dubbed “blazing furnace”, has led to hundreds of senior state officials and high-profile business leaders facing prosecution or being forced to step down.

Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

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Nguyen Phu Trong, leader of the ruling Communist Party, has pledged for years to stamp out corruption in the country.

In November, he said the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term”.

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Risks of bigger war rising as Iran intends to hit back over suspected Israeli embassy strike – but Biden knows he can’t blink

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Risks of bigger war rising as Iran intends to hit back over suspected Israeli embassy strike - but Biden knows he can't blink

The risks of the Gaza war expanding into a much bigger regional conflict had seemed to have subsided. Not any longer.

Comments from Iranian and American leaders in the last 24 hours may be entirely predictable but they raise the prospects of escalation.

Iran knows it’s been directly attacked in the airstrike on its embassy in Damascus and unless it retaliates it is weakened.

And in this region that is dangerous.

So on Wednesday, celebrating the end of Ramadan, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei issued a stern warning that Israel must be punished and will be.

Middle East latest:
Iran attack on Israel could be imminent

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with members of the Air Force in Tehran, Iran 
Piv:WANA/Reuters
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Piv: WANA/Reuters

The US president knows the attack presumed by most to have been the work of its ally Israel violated international law which declares embassies ‘inviolable’.

And Biden’s relations with the man who almost certainly ordered it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are rock bottom.

But the US president also knows any sign of weakness on his part is dangerous, too.

It would only embolden Iran to do its worst and that in turn would provoke Israel to do the same – potentially setting the entire region alight.

Joe Biden during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pic: AP
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Relations are strained between Biden and Netanyahu. Pic: AP

So Joe Biden has declared his ironclad support for Israel and raised the prospect of America becoming directly involved if war were to break out between its ally and Iran.

It is exactly the same calculus that led the US president to send two naval carrier groups to the waters off Israel in the wake of the 7 October attacks by Hamas to warn Iran – ‘don’t get involved’.

That move was successful. This time Biden may need to do more.

Read more:
Three sons of Hamas leader killed in Israeli strike
Key element in path to peace still missing

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Biden: ‘We want to address Iranian threat’

Iran has shown remarkable restraint holding back in this war despite frequent attacks by Israel on its assets and allies in Syria and Lebanon.

It has done so by claiming those attacks were not direct strikes on Iran itself.

The logic is clear. The ayatollahs are weak at home after the biggest uprising against its rule since its revolution and a regional war would be devastating.

But a direct attack on an embassy can’t be overlooked. The Iranians have made that clear.

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They believe they have to retaliate.

But by the same logic, they may try to calibrate their response to avert a regional conflagration.

The region watches and waits.

The balance of stability in the Middle East hangs on Tehran’s decision.

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