Can Israel's war on Gaza trigger a 'Palestinian Spring' in the Arab world?

Can Israel's war on Gaza trigger a 'Palestinian Spring' in the Arab world?
Regional protests recall the 2011 uprisings, as Palestine becomes a rallying cry against Israel's injustice and Arab leaders' inaction, writes Sania Mahyou.
6 min read
10 Apr, 2024
In the streets of Tangier, Amman, Cairo and beyond, demonstrators have taken to the streets and mobilised against Israel's war. [Getty]

Despite being 4000 kilometres away, the Moroccan city of Tangier on the shores of the Atlantic ocean and Amman, Jordan’s bustling capital, recently shared the spotlight under a single headline in the midst of Israel’s aggression on Gaza.

On the first day of April, a video showing Moroccan protestors expressing solidarity with pro-Palestinian activists in Jordan went viral on social media, after the procession started chanting, “Tangier the brave salutes Jordan the chivalrous” while marching through the streets.

A few days earlier in Cairo, activists had also gathered to show solidarity with their Jordanian neighbours, who had been demonstrating in their masses outside the Israeli embassy every evening since the 23rd of March.

Answering their call to take to the streets, the small gathering echoed the chant, “Tell our comrades in Amman, Egypt is also awake”.

"The Palestinian Spring could emerge from the ashes of the movement of 2011"

The two videos, which may seem innocuous to an uninformed viewer, remind us of the scenes of the uprisings during the Arab Spring, which erupted in Tunisia in late 2010.

As they did over a decade ago, these protests could also serve as a catalyst in the region, as evidenced by the swift filling of the comments sections with messages calling for an 'Arab Spring 2024'.

Over 13 years after the self-immolation of 26-year-old fish vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose death ignited calls for social justice, economic opportunities, and the ousting of authoritarian leaders, the region is once again mobilising to defy oppression around a common cause: Palestine. 

And while many former participants in the revolutions became disillusioned seeing the poor improvements in the economic, political and democratic fields of their country, the Palestinian Spring could emerge from the ashes of the movement of 2011.

Although some scholars argue that the Arab Spring ended in 2014 with the start of the “counter revolutions” that succeeded to effectively crush the protests either by granting small concessions to the participants or by completely annihilating the resistance, others always insisted that the movement had never died and had only been put on hold until it could rise again.

In most of the countries that were touched by the revolutionary contagion back in 2011, the uprisings constituted a pan-Arab turning point. Even though each mobilisation was set in a specific national context, the demands gravitated overall around a common struggle, the one of freedom and dignity, regardless of whether the protesters were in Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, or Syria.

Similarly, the Palestinian cause has long acted as a strong bond between Arabs, a transnational cause that transcends the divides and differences between cultures, languages, and religions of the people of the region.

Over decades, the injustices inflicted on Palestinians by Israel have turned into what feels like personal injustices for Arabs.

Witnessing the Palestinians endure indiscriminate killings, apartheid, displacements, land dispossessions, and discrimination inflicted by Israel, Arabs have consistently empathised with these profound humiliations, feeling as if they themselves were directly affected.

It is thus no wonder that Israel’s horrendous aggression on Gaza that started on 7th October seventh and has already killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in the Strip, sparked immense anger among Arab populations.

Yemen aside, it is also no surprise that the countries where some of the most significant protests were held are countries whose governments have normalised ties with Israel.

In their rejection of these relations, protestors aren't merely opposing the security, economic, and diplomatic affiliations their nation maintains with the "Zionist state"; they are articulating their dissatisfaction with the current political regimes governing their country post Arab Spring.

"The decade separating both Springs succeeded in giving birth to a new political imaginary, in which Arab citizens do not only withstand oppressive systems, but topple them"

The slogans used in the demonstrations for Palestine allude to the memories of 2011. In Egypt, the iconoclastic demand for “bread, freedom and social justice” revamped into a demand for “bread, freedom and an Arab Palestine”, as Egyptians protesters also succeeded to briefly reach the revolutionary Tahrir Square in mid-October.

In Morocco and Jordan, demonstrators reappropriated the renowned slogan “the people want the downfall of the regime” to now ask for the downfall of the “normalisation” with Israel.

In the Hashemite kingdom, activists are particularly targeting the agreements of Wadi Araba signed in 1994 with Israel, sixteen years after the Camp David Accords that led, in 1979, to the Egypt–Israel peace treaty, which set a precedent in the region.

Reminiscent of the brutality of the Arab spring, the ongoing crackdown on protesters is just as fierce.

Earlier this month, at least ten pro-Palestinian Egyptian activists were arrested, after multiple protests in front of the Egyptian syndicate of journalists, an enduring rallying point in Cairo that has provided a limited space for freedom of expression.

In Jordan as well, dozens of protesters have been arrested and at least three journalists have been detained. But the mobilisation outside the Israeli embassy seems to grow with every passing night, with demonstrators reiterating their calls despite the repression.

“You come down on us with arrests, every time we write, talk or think. You force normalisation upon us. We want to liberate, we want to change!” chanted the protestors on the twelfth consecutive day of demonstrations.

But the most significant indication that a Palestinian Spring might ignite in the Arab world soon lies in the Occupied Territories themselves.

Whether in Al Quds, Jenin, or Ramallah, Palestinians are defying security forces, both the Israeli forces and the Palestinian Authority’s police, to show their solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza, and to call for an end to Israeli occupation.

These are more than symbols: they are history making its way to us. Without any doubt, it is the memory of the Spring, coupled with the transcendence of the Palestinian cause and the brutality of Israeli repression, that have catapulted the region into resisting the local guardians of the West’s remaining colonial bastion in the region. 

If anything, the decade separating both Springs succeeded in giving birth to a new political imaginary, in which Arab citizens do not only withstand oppressive systems, but topple them.

It is only a matter of time until the Palestinian Spring ignites the whole region once again, 13 years later years later, serving as a reminder that the fiercer the repression, the sooner the liberation. 

Sania Mahyou is a Belgian-Moroccan freelance journalist and a student at Sciences Po Paris. She writes about political struggles, culture and minority rights in the MENA region.

Follow her on Twitter: @MahyouSania

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.