January 2011 Explained: The Arab Street Gets Its Moment

Monday, January 31, 2011

Market street (Fes, Morocco)
This month's events have turned the Arab world upside down—and have done so with a speed few ever could have imagined. January 2011 will be remembered in the region much like Europe's Summer of '68, if not like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Because of my interest in the region, I have spent a good part of the month glued to Al Jazeera English, but most Americans have not. Many might now be wondering: After years of stagnation, how did a region so "stuck in the mud" ignite so suddenly? And what does it mean for the future?

Act I: Tunisia

It all began in Tunisia, where a well-educated, globally aware population endured decades of repression under a police state. Thanks in part to satellite television and in part to strong European ties, Tunisians knew what they were missing. Their country's listless economy, chronic high