Noteworthy quotes from year of the Arab Spring

Twelve months of observations on a revolution that defies easy explanations.

December 14, 2011 18:41
defaced Mubarak statue in Egypt

Defaced Mubarak statue, Egypt_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Friday marks one year since Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed university graduate in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire because police confiscated produce he was selling without a permit. His protest ignited political turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa in what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. The unrest caught the Arab world by surprise – its people as much as its leaders –and has confounded nearly everyone who has tired to explain its causes or predict its direction. The Media Line samples what world and regional leaders had to say over the course of the year.

Biggest Miscalls

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“Why is Syria stable, although we have more difficult conditions? Egypt has been supported financially by the United States, while we are under embargo by most countries of the world. We have growth although we do not have many of the basic needs for the people. Despite all that, the people do not go into an uprising. So it is not only about the needs and not only about the reform. It is about the ideology, the beliefs and the cause that you have. There is a difference between having a cause and having a vacuum.” Syrian President Bashar Assad, January 31 in interview with The Wall Street Journal. Unrest erupted six weeks later in Daraa.

“Your demands are legitimate and right demands. Any political system can commit mistakes and any state can commit mistakes. What is most important is to acknowledge these mistakes and put them right as soon as possible and put those behind them into account, bring them to account … have expressed plans to get out of this crisis and also to implement the demands of people.” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, February 10, addressing the nation. A day later he was ousted from office.

From Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“NATO's intervention in Libya is out of the question.” March 2.

“If NATO is to step in, it should do so for the acknowledgement that Libya belongs to Libyans, not for distribution of Libya's underground resources among states.” March 21.

Turkey joined NATO Libya operations March 24.

“This Arab Spring is the fruit of a sense of responsibility. I need only point to the attitude of the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square. I met them last month during my visit to Cairo. I listened to them talk to me about their projects, hopes and fears. I was impressed by their calm, but also by their refusal to let a victory – that of their people, not a party or religion – be taken away from them.” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking an Arab Spring symposium, April 16. Egypt continues to be ruled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces over protestors’ objections as Islamist parties take the lead in parliamentary elections.

From Yemini President Ali Abdullah Saleh, rejecting calls to step down:

“You say, Down with the regime! Leave! Who must leave? Let’s say, Leave as the result of elections. We have no problems. Power for us is obligation and not a trophy.” February 22,

“Our power comes from the power of our great people, not from Qatar, not from anyone else. This is blatant interference in Yemeni affairs.” April 8, turning down a proposal by Qatar.

“I can assure you that I will resist.” May 5, addressing pro-government about calls for his resignation.

“I reject power and I will continue to reject it, and I will be leaving power in the coming days.” October 8, saying he would quite in the next several days.

Saleh agreed to step down November 23, turning over his powers to his vice president, though his loyalist and family members remain in government.

The Pessimist

"Egyptians can choose a state with secular reforms. However, there is also another possibility that the Islamists will exploit the situation in order to gain governance over the country and lead it backward. The third possibility is that [Egypt] will go in the direction of Iran.” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, February 7, addressing parliament.

The Optimists

“For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.  Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union.” US President Barack Obama, May 19, in State Department address on U.S. Middle East policy.

“We must support the potential for democracy with all our might without relaxing our efforts. Allowing the flame of hope kindled by the Arab Spring to go out would be vindicating the defenders of the clash of civilizations. It would be giving free rein to the incitements to hatred and appeals for withdrawal. It would mean allowing these values to be crushed.” Juppe, speaking at The Brookings Institution, June 6.

Islam - or not

“I recommend a secular constitution for Egypt. Do not fear secularism because it does not mean being an enemy of religion. I hope the new regime in Egypt will be secular. I hope that after these remarks of mine the way the Egyptian people look at secularism will change.” Erdogan, September 14, urging Egypt and Arab countries to adopt his country’s political model.

“We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader, but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future.” Essam el-Erian, deputy leader of the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, September 14, responding to Erdogan.

“If Muslim nations who have risen up accept [the term] Arab Spring they will have no alternative other than following the Westerners. However, the reality is that regional nations have cried Allah Akbar [God is great], attended Friday prayers, and then joined demonstrations,” Ali Akbar Velayati, former Iranian foreign minister and confidant of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, December 6, explaining why the upheavals of the past year should not be termed the Arab Spring.

Who’s in Charge Here?

“I want a very simple and clear message to come out of this summit, and that is that the most powerful nations on earth have come together and are saying to those in the Middle East and North Africa who want greater democracy, greater freedom, greater civil rights, we are on your side.” British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking about his fellow G-8 countries, May 17. A day later media reported that British officers were training Saudi snipers used to quell unrest in Bahrain.

“If the Muslim nations stand against those who interfere in their internal affairs, these nations will experience progress. But if the world of oppression and world Zionism, including the oppressive regime of the United States, take control, the Muslim world will experience major problems for decades." Khamenei, September 1, congratulating the “revolutionaries” of the Arab Spring


“We don't have such a policy to crack down or to torture people, you have mistakes committed by some people or we heard we have some allegations about mistakes, that is why we have a special committee to investigate what happened and then we can tell according to the evidences we have mistakes or not. But as a policy, no,” Assad, December 7, in interview with Barbara Walters, denying his government employs violence against rebels. A week later the United Nations raised the estimated death toll in Syria to 5,000, 3,000 of whom have been killed since August.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah on the Arab Spring on various dates:

“We must congratulate the Tunisian people on their historic revolution, their struggle, and their uprising.”

“In Tunis and Egypt, tyrants have gone away.”

“What is taking place in Libya is war imposed by the regime on a people that was peacefully demanding change. This people was forced to defend itself.”

“We praise the steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their commitment to their peaceful movement.”

“We call upon the Syrian people to maintain their regime of resistance, as well as to give way to the Syrian leadership to implement the required reforms and to choose the course of dialogue.”

Got it right (in a way)

“We will not surrender: we only have one choice to the end. Death, victory, it does not matter, we are not surrendering.” Libyan leader Muamar Al-Qaddafi, June 7, in phone interview with state television. He was found by victorious rebel forces hiding in a drainage pipe and killed October 20.

“This is the Middle East, where every week you have something new; so whatever you talk about this week will not be valuable next week.” Assad, January 31.

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