On Wednesday, Feb. 21, former UCR student and current UC Irvine sociology doctorate candidate Arman Azedi gave a lecture at UC Riverside focused on the cause of the Arab Spring. The lecture, sponsored by the Middle Eastern Student Center (MESC), took place inside HUB 260 with about 30 students in attendance.
The term Arab Spring refers to the beginning of a series of uprisings that have occured in 12 Arab countries since a 2010 demonstration in Tunisia where an individual lit himself on fire in order to protest poor treatment by the Tunisian police. The Tunisian Revolution influenced uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, where either the ruling regime was overthrown or major uprisings and social violence occurred. Azedi maintained that although each of the countries had unique circumstances leading to their respective uprisings, there is a significant amount of similarities between the situations in these countries.
Azedi first noted the commonalities in age distribution, which across the board favored young adults. With the tendency of this age group to be more willing to protest than people both younger and older, having more young adults in these countries led to more frequent uprising, explained Azedi.
He also mentioned Iran’s 2009 presidential election protests because, while elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the more popular candidate according to polls inside and out of Iran, uprisings occurred because more moderate candidates, such as Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were not elected. Azedi acknowledged that although these candidates were not favored by the majority of people, they did have the support of the younger demographic. In addition, he explained that this younger demographic had a high unemployment rate even though they were more educated than previous generations, resulting in young people’s frustration with diminishing returns for education.
Azedi also highlighted an acute food crisis in the lead up the Arab Spring, in which Arab countries, generally net importers of food, experienced radical price hikes of staples such as wheat. This food shortage was coupled with the prevalence of authoritarian republics or monarchies, rather than democracies, in the Arab world, leading to people demanding widespread change. He provided polls from the Arab countries showing that 49 percent of the population wants democracies while 43 percent are opposed to a switch.
In an email interview with The Highlander, Azedi explained his primary inspiration behind the lecture was for students to understand what factors led to the unrest. “I thought the Arab Spring uprisings were given a ton of attention but the actual underlying causes of it (sic) are relatively less known,” stated Azedi. He also explained that given the fact that it was a presentation targeted at university students, it would be relatable to learn about a global uprising that began with issues facing young people in other countries. Azedi wrote, “I thought it would be relatable to youth in the US how youth in Arab countries are going to college at unprecedented rates, but are simultaneously experiencing tremendous economic difficulty.”
Azedi encouraged students who found the lecture interesting to attend MESC events in the future or visit the center and discuss these issues with individuals who may have direct ties to the issues facing those regions. MESC is located in HUB 337.