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 ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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