The Arab Spring of 2011 and Its Aftermath; Politics and Religion; A Realm in TurmoilThe Arab Spring of 2011 And Its AftermathOn December 17, 2010, in the Tunisian capital of Tunis, a 26-year-old fruit-and-vegetable vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi became so distraught when police, following months of constant harassment, confiscated his unlicensed produce stand, that he set himself on fire. His act of desperation resonated with countless Tunisians whose frustration with their government had reached the boiling point. Bouazizi died soon afterward, but his self-immolation quickly came to symbolize Tunisia’s ‘Jasmine Revolution.’ Within a month, popular opposition to the regime had grown so fierce that Tunisia’s president was forced to resign and flee to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power.In Arab countries, according to conventional wisdom, not only democratic governance but even the desirefor such a political system was nonexistent. That myth now exploded as Tunisians of all backgrounds, including legions of women as well as youths, took to the streets to demand an end to official corruption, repression, cronyism, and economic mismanagement. The Tunisian people were insisting that they be heard—and their voices swiftly and loudly echoed across much of the realm.The Diffusion of Popular UnrestWhat began in Tunisia, as 2010 turned into 2011, rapidly diffused eastward across North Africa and into adjacent parts of Southwest Asia. Within a few months, popular uprisings had spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. The conditions in all these countries were similar: they were ruled by long-established autocratic regimes that failed to bring economic progress, repressed their own people, and had lost touch (most especially with the younger generation). Throughout the realm, people now closely followed these events via television and the Internet, and grassroots revolutionary fervor spread like wildfire. It may well have been the most spectacular domino effectin recent history.The pivotal tile in this row of falling dominoes was Egypt. The most heavily populated, historically prominent, and centrally positioned of the Arab countries, Egypt had for decades suffered from stunted economic growth and the stagnation of an out-of-touch, repressive government. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere, the masses boldly took to the streets and soon forced the ouster of President Mubarak, even though protesters were repeatedly confronted by harsh, bloody encounters with the police and military forces; nearly 1000 demonstrators were killed in these clashes. The events in Egypt generated an even more powerful round of shockwaves that reverberated throughout the realm. If the tide could be turned here at the Arab epicenter, reasoned the fearless throngs of protesters in several other countries, it could happen anywhere.