WASHINGTON – The fire that was the Arab Spring spread quickly across the Middle East in 2011, fanned by popular protests and the overlooked work of hundreds of women.
“Trials of Spring,” a series of six short films and a full-length documentary, seeks to tell the stories of those women. The short films were aired Wednesday at the National Press Club.
“We started it not long after the Arab Spring, and we all thought we were going to be making a film about triumph and the role women played in the triumph,” Gini Reticker, the project’s executive producer, said. “I think what actually happened is that we began to make a program about protracted struggle.”
When Tunisian President Zine Ben Ali fled the country after demonstrations and riots calling for his resignation, he became the first Arab leader in decades to be deposed by a popular movement. This was in part due to the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vender who set himself on fire to protest his mistreatment by government officials.
It was also due to the work of women such as Ghazala Mhamdi, a labor rights activist who helped sow the seeds of resistance in the region. Mhamdi is featured in one of the short films, detailing her role in the revolution and her campaign race for a parliament seat post-Ben Ali.
“She was very instrumental in organizing a couple of years before Bouazizi set himself on fire, so when that incident happened, this organization really leaped into place,” Reticker said.
In other countries, such as Libya and Yemen, women were also at the forefront of the resistance and oftentimes the catalyst for men to come out and protest, Manal Omar, acting vice president for the Center for the Middle East and Africa, said. But women were forced to step aside once the protests gained national attention.
“When you control women, you control society, and I think the wrong people understand that,” Omar said. “Women are the canaries in the mine – I’ve rarely seen in conflict where a woman’s issue stays a woman’s issue. If we paid attention as an early detection sign, then we might be able to do something productive.”
The full-length documentary “Trials of Spring” will premiere Friday at the Human Rights Watch film festival in New York.
Reach reporter Nadia Dreid at [email protected] or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Download photos: Arab-Spring.zip