Who first used the term Arab Spring?

My attention was struck yesterday by a blog post published by the U.N.'s Alliance of Civilizations, which states that the now ubiquitous term Arab Spring, was "first used by Foreign Policy Magazine and then adopted by journalists and activists in the US as a way to brand the revolution that has been transforming the MENA region for almost a year now."

I didn't recall FP coining the term, and was curious about whether that was true. The answer turns out to be, kinda, sorta, maybe.

It's not well remembered at this point, but the term "Arab Spring" was originally used, primarily by U.S. conservative commentators, to refer to a short-lived flowering of Middle Eastern democracy movements in 2005.

On Jan. 6 of this year -- only two days after the death of Tunisian fruit-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi -- FP's Marc Lynch wrote a post titled "Obama's 'Arab Spring,'" in which he remarked on the emerging "clashes through a diverse array of Arab states -- Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt":

Are we seeing the beginnings of the Obama administration equivalent of the 2005 "Arab Spring", when the protests in Beirut captured popular attention and driven in part by newly powerful satellite television images inspired popular mobilization across the region that some hoped might finally break through the stagnation of Arab autocracy? Will social media play the role of al-Jazeera this time? Will the outcome be any different? 

It's the earliest reference to "Arab Spring" on the FP site and the earliest one I can find from 2011, though I invite readers to submit earlier links.

According to Lexis-Nexis, the earliest use without reference to the 2005 events was a Jan. 14 editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, following the ouster of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. 

Arab spring? Or Arab winter?

That choice is now before the autocratic rulers in the Middle East and North Africa as they nervously watch a popular uprising oust a repressive leader in one of the smallest – but most stable – countries of the region, Tunisia.

The next reference is a Jan. 25 interview with  Egyptian opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei in Der Spiegel:

Perhaps we are currently experiencing the first signs of an "Arab Spring" (e.g. similar to the so-called Prague Spring of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1968). Our neighbors are watching Egypt, which has always played a pioneering role. I hope that my country will be one of the first in which freedom and democracy blossom. We Egyptians should also be able to achieve what the Tunisians have done.

The following day, French political scientist Dominique Moisi used it as the title of a syndicated column. 

By mid-March the term had entered wide use in the media including this site, ironically at the moment where it appeared to be running out of steam. 

Despite its wide use, many Arab intellectuals and activists have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the term. This shouldn't be surprising since it refers back to the "Prague Spring," a brief moment of democratic freedom that was eventually crushed by Soviet tanks. 

But for better or worse, and whoever first coined it, the term has stuck. 

When did you first hear or read "Arab Spring?" Let us know in the comments. 

STR/AFP/Getty Images


Libyan diplomat unloads on Qatar

The tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a Connecticut-sized thumb of a nation sticking out of the side of Saudi Arabia, played a huge role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, pushing for a no-fly zone and sending significant amounts of weapons, advisers, and supplies to support the Benghazi-based rebels. Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel cheered on the rebel fighters and hosted prominent opposition figures on its airwaves. The country also helped set up a satellite channel for the interim National Transitional Council, and provided its leaders with housing in swank hotels in downtown Doha. Last week, I attended a victory party hosted by Qatar in the capital city's restored souq, which was festooned with banners congratulating the new Libya on its liberation.

In recent weeks, however, some Libyan political figures have been ramping up their criticism of Qatar for allegedly favoring Islamist leaders like exiled cleric Ali Sallabi and Tripoli Brigade leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a former head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, over more secular-minded folks, and for circumventing the NTC.

Until now, such criticism has been couched in polite, but firm terms: Thanks for helping liberate us, but you need to butt out now. Qatar even signed an agreement pledging non-interference in Libya's internal affairs.

But yesterday, Abdel Rahman Shalgham, Qaddafi's longtime foreign minister and later U.N. ambassador who broke with the old regime in a dramatic, tear-filled speech in New York on Feb. 25, unloaded on Qatar. Shalgham, mind you, is still Libya's ambassador to Turtle Bay.

Emirati commentator Sultan al-Qassemi translated some of Shalgham's extraordinary remarks, which were broadcast by Deutsche-Welle's Arabic channel and published on YouTube:

On possible Qatar led coalition in Libya - Shalgam: I don't understand this coalition & I don't accept it

Shalgam: Even the Libyans don't understand this (possible Qatar led coalition) Qatar leading America & France? Who is Qatar?

Shalgam: Does Qatar even have an army? Qatar only has mercenaries, from Nepal & from Bangladesh & from Pakistan.

Shalgam: What capability does Qatar have? Our brothers from Qatar helped us but I fear Qatar will meet the fate of Gaddafi's megalomania.

Shalgam: Qatar might have delusions of leading the region. I absolutely do not accept their presence (in Libya) at all.

Shalgam: The number of Libyan martyrs & injured & missing, if you count them, is greater than the number of Qatar's residents.

Shalgam: What is Qatar doing there (in Libya)? Qatar isn't neutral with all parties. Qatar will gather these weapons & give them to others.

Shalgam: Libya is in no need of Qatar's money. It was Nato that played a decisive role.

Shalgam: The professionals who run the oil & banking industries in Qatar are Libyans.

Shalgam: What makes Qatar so special that it sets up an operations room (in Libya) to lead Britain & the US, this is totally unacceptable.

Shalgam: All of Qatar isn't worth a neighbourhood in Libya. The Libyan experts are the ones who are leading Qatar.

Shalgam: We don't need Qatar in anything, thanks for their efforts, we will decide our own destiny, we don't want them to interfere

Shalgam: We don't consider them neutral in Libya, they are backing certain people, we know their names.

Shalgam: We don't need America or Qatar, we have officers and everything. | Question from anchor - "Was Qatar forced on the Libyans?"

Shalgam: This is unacceptable. There was no document. They gathered in meeting in Doha. Qatar forced Qatar (on Libya)

Shalgam: Sheikh Mustafa Abdul Jalil (NTC head) went to Qatar with apolitical people who don't know the background & didn't read the document

Shalgam: They accepted the document. I warn our brothers in Qatar, if they continue this path to dominate Libya they would be delusional.

Shalgam: We will resist the Qataris by all means. We will not accept to be used by Qatar.

Shalgam: We will not accept to be a new emirate that belongs to the new "Emir of the Believers" in Qatar.

Shalgam: I do not rule out Qatar setting up a Hezbollah party in Libya. We don't want a foreign country to interfere.

So much for gratitude! Let's see how the Qataris respond.