Remembering the Arab Spring: In films

Ten years since the start of the uprisings, we revisit Al Jazeera documentaries that captured the spirit of the time.

In a January 28, 2011 photo, pro-democracy activists clash with riot police in Cairo, Egypt [File: AP/Ben Curtis]

In December 2010, anti-government protests erupted in the small Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, soon spreading across the country, and eventually triggering similar demonstrations in neighbouring countries. By February 2011, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria were engulfed in uprisings of their own, with their autocratic governments under growing pressure.

Ten years on, what the Arab Spring started has toppled governments and led to wars. But in those first months in the heart of the protests, there was hope, anger and revolution. These are some of the stories Al Jazeera filmmakers documented on the front lines of change.

Images of Revolution

“Images are like weapons. They can help topple a regime,” says Ali al-Bouazizi, a political analyst. In many ways, the Arab uprisings in 2011 were proof of that. Ordinary people used their mobile phones to capture photos and video that they shared on social media. And these images inspired revolutionaries in other countries, who also rose up to make their voices heard.

This film from 2012 revisits the stories behind some of the iconic images that came to symbolise the early days of the Arab Spring, as told by the people who filmed them.

Tunisia: The revolt continues

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, an act which triggered uprisings across the region that changed the history of countries including Egypt, Libya and Syria.

Protests that started spontaneously soon became well-organised as people united in support of a shared goal. This short film, part of the Revolution Through Arab Eyes series, follows Tunisians who came together to offer a sense of security to their families, neighbours and fellow protesters at the start of the uprising.

Tweets from Tahrir

Inspired by protesters in Tunisia, young pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt took to the streets in January 2011, calling for the downfall of the Hosni Mubarak regime. Mubarak stepped down 18 days later, but a year after Egypt’s protests started many young activists felt little progress had been made.

This film, made in 2012, follows the experiences of five young Egyptians whose tweets from Cairo’s Tahrir Square revealed the scale of the uprising by giving a minute-by-minute account of the protests. Using their posts, the film traces Egypt’s journey through the euphoria of the 18 days that ended in the fall of Mubarak to the harsh reality of the 12 months that followed.

Libya 2011: Through the fire

In February 2011, two months after protests erupted in Tunisia, demonstrations against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi began in Libya. In Benghazi, a city at the heart of the uprising, citizen journalist and independent broadcaster Mohammed Nabbous was fighting communications blackouts in an attempt to give people there a voice.

Through the eyes of Libyan-born filmmaker Abdallah Omeish, this award-winning documentary broadcast in 2012 explores the dark stories that emerged from the country during the first days of the 2011 Libyan uprising.

Hala Mohammad: Waiting for Spring

When people across the Arab World rose up and demanded change in 2011, they did it with poetry. And with verse, they continued to taunt regimes blind to the writing on the wall. Hala Mohammad, a renowned and outspoken Syrian poet, saw poetry as essential to the political awakening in the Middle East.

In this film from 2012, she watched the uprisings from exile in Paris, in despair at the deepening crisis in her home country. But even with her faith in politics exhausted, she retained her belief in the power of poetry to inspire change.

Ahmed Fouad Negm: Writing a revolution

The now late Ahmed Fouad Negm discovered poetry in prison in the 1950s. When the Egyptian revolution erupted in 2011, it was his words that were chanted by protesters in Tahrir Square. But as people looked to him for leadership, Negm found himself unable to write.

In this film, first broadcast in 2012, a year before his death, we followed the outspoken, irreverent and controversial 83-year-old as he sought his place in the revolution of the young while searching for words and inspiration once more.

Bahrain: Shouting in the dark

The island kingdom of Bahrain was the only Gulf country where protests erupted in early 2011 as part of the wave of uprisings sweeping through the Arab World. But the hope on the streets soon turned to despair, as the demonstrations that already seemed like a secret revolution were silenced for good.

In this multi-award-winning film from 2011, we tell the story of an Arab revolution that was abandoned by the Arabs, forsaken by the West and forgotten by the world.

Source: Al Jazeera