Demonstrations and protests in countries in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 have led to this term being widely used. As a metaphor for change through popular uprisings, it has also been applied to countries not part of the Arab world.
It was used first for the uprisings that led to changes of regime in Tunisia and Egypt, as a term of hope that a domino process might lead to similar changes elsewhere. Armed retaliation by the governments of Libya, Bahrain and Syria against their own populations has since tarnished that hope.
The term was coined early in 2005 in reference to unrest in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, probably as a play on Prague spring, the 1968 democratic uprising in Communist Czechoslovakia. In turn, that echoes springtime of the peoples and spring of nations (German Völkerfrühling and French printemps des peuples) that historians use as shorthand for the revolutions of 1848 in Europe. Many commentators have noticed parallels between the events of 2011 and those of 1848.
The Arab Spring, the great awakening, 2011’s equivalent of the fall of communism in 1989, is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East like water pouring from a broken dam.
The Times, 19 Feb. 2011.
The frightening spiral of violence in Syria and the determination of its ruler, Bashar Assad, to crush peaceful opposition are a bleak reminder of how far the Arab spring still has to go before summer arrives — and how easily the region’s hopeful mood could turn wintry again.
The Economist, 30 Apr. 2011.