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Five years on: Impacts of Arab Spring still being felt

Aicha and her children were forced to flee Libya and re-settle in Tunisia after the Arab Spring turned their lives upside down
Aicha and her children were forced to flee Libya and re-settle in Tunisia after the Arab Spring turned their lives upside down

January 2011 is a month Tunisians will never forget. Five years ago, on 14 January 2011, their President, Ben Ali, stepped down, giving Tunisia’s citizens – and people across the Arab world - a real sense of hope for a brighter, and more democratic, future. Today, despite initial democratic gains, much of this initial hopefulness in Tunisia has evaporated. The country continues to struggle with political turmoil, high unemployment, poverty and a lagging economy.

Across the border in Libya, the situation is even worse. Any semblance of law and order has completely evaporated and the country is now a mess of competing militias and constant bloodshed.

Five years after the Arab Spring erupted, we take a look at the continuing effects of the uprisings on people across the Arab world.

What was the Arab Spring?

Arab Spring uprising, Egypt
The Arab Spring saw people across the Arab world take to the street to protest against their governments
The Arab Spring was the name given to the series of uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East that erupted in late 2010 and continued well into 2011. From Yemen to Egypt, people decided that they’d had enough of the deeply entrenched, often dictatorial, regimes that ruled them and took to the streets to demand greater freedom and democracy.

The Arab Spring resulted in the overthrow of the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Yemeni rulers and prompted changes in the governments of Algeria, Jordan and Oman. But the human cost has been high. In Libya and Syria for example, people were forced to leave their homes and abandon their businesses as protests intensified and the authorities clamped down with violence.

Aicha’s story

Aicha and her family lived happily in Libya – Ismail, her husband was a successful businessman and their three children went to a good school and had lots of friends. Then, in early 2011, everything changed. The uprising in neighbouring Tunisia had spread to Libya and the country disintegrated into a brutal civil war.

Aicha and her husband made the difficult decision to flee to Tunisia. Quickly they packed up their belongings and headed for the border. A few miles from the safety of the crossing, they were attacked by a group of bandits who stole everything they had with them.

From bad to worse

Alone in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes they stood up in, the family were desperate. Ismail searched day and night for a job, but the only work he found was scavenging for plastic bottles to sell to a recycling plant. The job was tough and paid little, but Ismail hoped that better things would come. Then, just a few months after the family arrived in Tunisia, he was hit by a car as he was collecting bottles. Seriously injured, he died of his injuries a few days later in hospital.

Now completely destitute, Aicha and her children lost all hope for the future.

Aicha from the Family Strengthening Programme in Akouda, Tunisia
Thanks to SOS Children, Aicha is now the proud owner of a grocery store

Despite the progress made in Tunisia in the years since that momentous day in January 2011, for thousands of people life is as tough as ever. Many people, like Aicha, still slip through the cracks and live in extreme poverty.

Building resilience 

SOS Children’s Village Akouda became aware of the plight of the family and enrolled them into the local Family Strengthening Programme. Aicha received a small loan and support to help get her back on her feet and today she is now able to pay the rent of the little house she lives in with her three children. She is also able to buy food and pay school fees. “I have tried to be resilient, even when things were hard,” says Aicha. “SOS Children have helped me so much, now I have a grocery store in Sousse and I’m very happy!”

We have been supporting families like Aicha's in Tunisia since the 1980s. We also run four Children's Villages in the country, providing a loving home to children with no-one. Find out more about our work in Tunisia.