The Jasmine Revolution began in Tunisia on December 18th 2010. Within a month, the Tunisian President had fled.
Inspired by the Tunisian uprising, a global uprising began to seem imminent. Next was Egypt, whose President resigned after just eighteen days of protest. Encouraged by the early success of the Jasmine Revolution, there were mass protests by suppressed peoples worldwide.
Whilst progress in Tunisia and Egypt had been swift, their sister uprisings have since been crushed or have descended into stalemate. Libya is locked in a bloody civil war, and further east, China and her neighbors have long since silenced their protesters with ruthless efficiency.
In recent months, however, western powers have shifted their focus solely onto the Arab world, as have the media. The Jasmine Revolution has been re-branded the Arab Spring, and the wider uprising is all but forgotten.
The fact that both governments and the media have re-named the Jasmine Revolution as the Arab Spring may seem trivial at first glance. In fact it is crucial that we understand the wider implications of this linguistic twist.
This slight linguistic shift allows global uprisings to be portrayed as regional conflicts. ‘How can protests in China be part of the Arab Spring?’ goes the logic, ‘it’s in the Far East!’ But the fact remains that they are not unconnected. Each of these uprisings has partly been in the name of democracy, civil rights, and liberal values. Each was partly sparked by economic worries and the rising price of food and resources. Moreover, each was inspired by the events in Tunisia, and in particular their use of the internet for communication and organisation.
The latest dispute is happening right now, in Spain. (‘How could the protests in Spain be related to the Arab Spring?’ I hear you ask, ‘Spain is in Europe!’) The movement in Spain is huge: tens of thousands have defied a government ban on protesting and marched on Madrid, whilst smaller demonstrations have been arranged in over fifty locations around the country.
While the media portrays this protest as resulting from unemployment, the placards and banners in Madrid clearly show that what the protestors are calling for is a functioning democracy. Unimpressed with both the major political parties and the behaviour of the world’s financial institutions, the people of Spain are calling for real change.
Despite the size of the protests in Spain, they have received comparatively little coverage by the mainstream media. It has been portrayed as a regional conflict, and in a sense, this is exactly what it is. But the fact remains that the uprising in Spain is as linked to Tunisia just as much as the uprising in Tunisia is linked to Egypt or Libya. The grievances may vary, but the needs and aims of people everywhere are connected.
There is an extent to which the mainstream media choose what the people hear and see. (I wonder how many people heard about the forty-thousand strong protest in Prague last Saturday?) And it is only the people who can pressurise their governments into action. In this way, the media have shifted sympathy away from reformers around the world, and given the spotlight exclusively to one or two Arab countries with oil-based economies. Related struggles in Europe or in the Far East remain largely unreported, and when they are reported, they are depicted as isolated incidents, and thus receive comparatively little sympathy.
The media does not create truth, only politically driven interpretations. However, the truth of these matters is known by both trembling governments and by profit-driven media giants. More importantly, it is known by the protesters themselves. These are historic times indeed: the internet now links radical reformers worldwide, and the facts are easily available for those who are willing to search. There is perhaps some hope for global reform, but without solidarity throughout the international community of the governed, that hope is severely diminished.