Ten Years On from Tahrir Square

Freedom of Expression in the Middle East

Ten years ago, a wave of protest swept the Middle East and north Africa. Launched with an eyewitness account from Egypt’s Tahrir Square, IWPR’s Arab Spring reporting project featured voices from across the region; journalists, human rights defenders, activists and ordinary people caught up in a time of extraordinary change.

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Ever since, IWPR has continued to work with local media, activists and minority communities on the ground, from documenting the ravages of the Syrian civil war to empowering women changemakers in Libya and supporting civil society in Tunisia.

A decade later, we look at the state of freedom of expression across the region, and how citizens continue to work for positive change and meet the challenges the crises created.

Women cheer in Tahrir Square after it is announced that President Hosni Mubarak was giving up power on Feburary 11, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.
Women cheer in Tahrir Square after it is announced that President Hosni Mubarak was giving up power on Feburary 11, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. © Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Candle light vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate on October 25, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Candle light vigil to remember journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate on October 25, 2018 in Istanbul, Turkey. © Chris McGrath/Getty Images
A Tunisian journalist holds a TV frame on April 25, 2012 during a sit-in outside the municipal theatre in Tunis to protesting silencing Tunisian Television journalists.
A Tunisian journalist holds a TV frame on April 25, 2012 during a sit-in outside the municipal theatre in Tunis to protesting silencing Tunisian Television journalists. © Fethi Belaid/AFP via Getty Images

Why Local Voices Matter

The real heroes are those on the ground, fighting to bring truth to light.
Janine di Giovanni
Senior Fellow at Yale University

"Always when I think of press freedom I think of my colleague Jamal Khashoggi... Jamal’s work is not over – it lives on in the spirit of every reporter working to bring truth to light."

Egypt's Invisible Revolution

A profound social and cultural transformation continues, despite a sustained assault on political freedom.
Khaled Diab
Journalist & author
People head to a large rally in Tahrir Square against ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on July 7, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt.
People head to a large rally in Tahrir Square against ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on July 7, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"In the years running up to and since the 2011 revolution, women have become far more assertive in their quest for equality."

A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013.
A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013. © Zakaria Abdulkafi/AFP
A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013.
A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013. © Zakaria Abdulkafi/AFP
A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013.
A scene from Aleppo, photo from 2013. © Zakaria Abdulkafi/AFP

Syria: The Burning Man

From reporting on war in Aleppo to protests in the streets of Paris.
Zakaria Abdulkafi
Video-maker & photographer

"I wasn't sure when I would be killed, but I was pretty sure I would be - or at least injured. This was our reality in the city of Aleppo, because we didn’t know where or when the bombs would drop."

A man carries a child rescued from rubble after Syrian regime and Russian air strikes in the rebel-held town of Nawa in southern Syria on June 26, 2018.
A man carries a child rescued from rubble after Syrian regime and Russian air strikes in the rebel-held town of Nawa in southern Syria on June 26, 2018. © Ahmad Al-Msalam/AFP via Getty Images

Writing for Syria

“When I see the people I’m reporting on, I can't just give up in despair.”
Gehan Al Haj Bakri
Journalist

How Regimes Exploited the Social Media Revolution

The informational ecosystem that enabled dissent is now being used to suppress it.
Oz Katerji
Journalist & filmmaker
A man looks at a laptop computer displaying Facebook in a cafe on January 27, 2011 as anti government protesters take to the streets in Cairo, Egypt.
A man looks at a laptop computer displaying Facebook in a cafe on January 27, 2011 as anti government protesters take to the streets in Cairo, Egypt. © Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Tunisian journalists of Assabah daily hold signs calling for freedom of the press during a protest in Tunis on September 11, 2012.
Tunisian journalists of Assabah daily hold signs calling for freedom of the press during a protest in Tunis on September 11, 2012. © Khalil/AFP/Getty Images
INTERVIEW

Tunisia’s Media Awakening

Freedom of expression continues to prove key to defending other civil liberties.
Youssef Cherif
Political analyst
COMMENT

More Than Ever, Lebanon Needs Media Freedom

How can we recover from our crisis and rebuild our country if we cannot speak out?
Vanessa Bassil
Founder & president of the Media Association for Peace 

"Without freedom of expression, I really fear for our future. As Lebanon suffers, journalists must be supported to play their crucial role in speaking truth to power."

Protesters listen to speeches bout their hopes and plans for the future government on May 03, 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan. Thousands of demonstrators continued their mass sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum to call on the country's military rulers to cede control.
Protesters listen to speeches bout their hopes and plans for the future government on May 03, 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan. Thousands of demonstrators continued their mass sit-in outside military headquarters in Khartoum to call on the country's military rulers to cede control. © David Degner/Getty Images

Sudan’s Struggle For Reform

Many repressive laws have been repealed – but progress is slow.
Amal Habani
Journalist & women’s rights activist

Yemenis Still Demand Their Rights

Despite their suffering, people refuse to give up on fundamental freedoms.
Afrah Nasser
Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch

"I don’t regret taking part in the revolution, even though I had to leave my homeland. I was never forced to join the uprising, quite the opposite."

FIRST PERSON

Bahrain: The Inconvenient Uprising

Our geo-political importance left us side-lined; but this is a long-term struggle.
Maryam al-Khawaja
Human rights advocate
Anti-government protesters wave flags and demonstrate at Pearl Roundabout on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain.
Anti-government protesters wave flags and demonstrate at Pearl Roundabout on February 20, 2011 in Manama, Bahrain. © John Moore/Getty Images

"Bahrain has one of the oldest civil rights movements in the region. Almost half the population of Bahraini citizens took part in the protests, per capita the largest in the Arab Spring."

Libyan journalists protest to denounce violence against journalists, on January 20, 2019 in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Libyan journalists protest to denounce violence against journalists, on January 20, 2019 in the Libyan capital Tripoli. © Mahmud Turkia/AFP via Getty Images
INTERVIEW

Libya’s Media Needs Reform

Gaddafi-era laws continue to restrict independent journalism.
Mohamed Al-Najem
Libyan journalist & human rights defender

"Different media outlets are often subjected to attacks on social media and their journalists are vulnerable to assault or kidnapping or having their equipment smashed."

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