The catalyst for the wave of anti-government protests came on 17 December in Sidi Bouzid, central Tunisia when unemployed graduate Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight after police confiscated his vegetable cart. The suicide sparked days of rioting across Tunisia that spread across the region.

One man’s personal frustration at being unable to find a job ignited a tinderbox of social discontent in the Arab world that has been brewing for years. High unemployment, rising food prices and a lack of a political voice have left generations of Arabs feeling increasingly marginalised and powerless.

The subsequent protests in mid-January toppled the regime of Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power and has left the government of President Mubarak in Egypt teetering on the brink of collapse.

In scenes reminiscent of Eastern Europe during the fall of Communism some 20 years ago, demonstrators have taken courage from protests staged elsewhere in the Arab world. In addition to the riots in Tunisia and Egypt, people have taken to the streets in Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Oman and Yemen. In a modern touch, the demonstrations have been organised using SMS campaigns and social networking sites.

Fear of a domino effect sweeping across the region have caused some governments to rush through economic reforms, but those demonstrating on the streets have dismissed such gestures as too little too late.

For them, this has become a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to instrument real change; it is their 1989. 

The call for change: timeline of events

17 December 2010
Unemployed graduate Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself alight in Sidi Bouzid, central Tunisia, after police confiscate his vegetable cart, sparking days of rioting

24 December  
Violence escalates in Tunisia; a protestor is fatally shot in the chest by police, many more deaths would follow in the weeks ahead

28 December
Tunisia’s President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali condemns the violent protests as unacceptable, vowing to punish demonstrators

4 January 2011
The riots move into their third week in Tunisia. Bouazizi dies from his burns. Demonstrators take to the streets in Algeria to protest against rising food costs and unemployment

8 January
Three people are killed and more than 400 are injured in riots in Algeria

13 January
Low-level demonstrations are reported in Libya

14 January
Amid continued clashes between protesters and the police, Ben Ali flees Tunisia for Saudi Arabia, after 23 years in power. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi takes control. More than 5,000 people join a rally in Jordan to protest economic failings and call for the government to resign

16 January
Protests continue to spread across the region, with demonstrations beginning in Egypt. Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi condemns the uprising in Tunisia, saying there is no one better than Ben Ali to govern Tunisia

17 January
Tunisia’s Ghannouchi forms a national unity government, which includes members of Ben Ali’s party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, and the opposition. He also promises to free political prisoners. More than 200 Omanis demonstrate against corruption and high food prices. Unrest continues in Egypt with copycat self-immolations. Anti-government protests gather pace in Jordan

18 January
Angry at the presence of Ben Ali’s allies in the new Tunisian government, demonstrators gather to demand ‘clean hands’

20 January
A group on the social networking site Facebook calls for a ‘Day of Rage in Egypt’ on January 25

22 January
Dozens are injured during fresh protest marches in Algeria

25 January
Egypt’s ‘Day of Rage’. Thousands take to the street in cities across the country. Four people are killed during rioting. Some internet and telephone services are blocked. Gamal Mubarak, son of the president and widely tipped to be his successor, is said to have fled Egypt for the UK. Officials later deny this

26 January
Tunisian authorities ask Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for Ben Ali and his family to try them for theft

27 January
Although protests have been held daily in Yemen since the start of the month, today tens of thousands march on the capital, Sanaa, calling for the president to quit. Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei travels to Egypt saying he is ready to lead the transition. Jordan’s King Abdullah says the government must do more to ease the plight of Jordanians and urges a faster pace of political reform

28 January
Following Friday prayers, protests escalate in Egypt. Government buildings are set alight in Cairo as tens of thousands of demonstrators win a standoff against the police. President Hosni Mubarak sacks his government

29 January
Anti-government demonstrations move into their fifth day in Egypt. The death toll is estimated at 45 with more than 2,000 wounded. Mubarak appoints a vice-president for the first time – intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.The Saudi Press Agency says King Abdullah has telephoned Mubarak to express support. He is reported to have told the president: “No Arab and Muslim human being can bear that some infiltrators, in the name of freedom of expression, have infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilise its security and stability and they have been exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction, intimidation, burning, looting and inciting a malicious sedition”

30 January
ElBaradei addresses the crowds in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square during a sixth night of protests, saying “What we have started can never be pushed back…Mubarak has to leave today”

1 February
King Abdullah of Jordan dismisses his cabinet and appoints a new prime minister amid large-scale street protests. Mubarak says he never intended to seek re-election in Egypt’s presidential polls planned for September

2 February
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh tells parliament he will step down in 2013, ahead of a planned ‘Day of Rage’. Running battles between supporters of Mubarak and anti-government protesters in Cairo are beamed around the world. A ‘Day of Rage’ is planned in Bahrain for 14 February

3 February
Some 20,000 demonstrators gather in Sanaa to call for Saleh to step down. On the 10th day of turmoil, Egypt’s president says he is fed up of being in power, but he declines to stand down before September. The death toll since the protests began is estimated at about 300, with thousands injured. The Egyptian army says it will not shoot anti-government protestors as pitched battles between the two sides continue

4 February
The chaos in Egypt is estimated to be costing the country $310m a day. The protest organisers name today’s rally as the ‘Day of Departure’, but Mubarak says he will stay to lead the transition

5 February
A ‘Day of Rage’ in Damascus fails to draw the numbers organisers had hoped for, despite a week long build-up. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he does not intend to seek a third term when his mandate runs out in 2014

6 February
Egypt’s main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood says it is willing to start talks with the authorities to end the unrest. State television later reports that the government and opposition have agreed to set up a committee to study constitutional reform. Banks open for the first time in a week, but demonstrators remain on the streets of Cairo and other cities around the country

7 February
Mubarak announces a 15 per cent pay rise for public sector workers in Egypt in a bid to quell unrest. Protests continue regardless

8 February
A protest rally planned in Kuwait is postponed. The organiser of the initial demonstrations in Egypt, Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim is freed after being detained by the authorities for 12 days

10 February
Jordan’s King Abdullah swears in a new cabinet. Mubarak makes a televised address in Egypt, but rather than announce his resignation as had been expected, the president vows to stay in office until September, conceding some powers to his newly appointed vice-president. The protestors are dissatisfied and call for the president to stand down immediately

11 February
Crowds gather throughout the day in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace, demanding Mubarak’s resignation. After Friday prayers, thousands pour into the streets in other cities around the country. Reports come in of security being increased near Mubarak’s residence in Sharm el-Sheikh. After 18 days of anti-government demonstrations, Vice-president Omar Suleiman announces that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as president of Egypt. Mubarak had been in power since 1981. The military high command assumes control Mubarak is said to have left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh

12 February
Tension mounts in Algiers as opposition groups say they intend to defy a government ban on protests and stage a march. Celebrations continue on the streets of Cairo

14 February
Pro-democracy protestors convene at Pearl Roundabout in Manama for Bahrain’s ‘Day of Rage’. A protestor is killed during clashes with security forces. Rallies in Iran supporting Egypt’s uprising turn violent. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is placed under house arrest

15 February
A second man is shot dead in Bahrain during the funeral of the first protestor killed on 14 February. Bahraini authorities disperse protesters, using tear gas and rubber bullets

16 February
Libya’s ‘Day of Rage’ planned for 17 February begins a day early in Eastern city of Benghazi. The protests quickly turn violent

17 February
Riot police turn on sleeping protestors in Bahrain at 3am. GCC foreign ministers meet in Bahrain to discuss the unrest in the country. The first demonstrations are held in the Libyan capital Tripoli, with 14 reported killed. More than 6,000 take to the streets in Yemen to call for President Saleh to resign

18 February
Egyptians gather to celebrate victory. Libya shuts down all communications and imposes a media blackout, dozens more protestors are killed by security forces. Military units in Bahrain fire live rounds at demonstrators injuring 50. The king and crown prince of Bahrain make an appearance on state television promising dialogue

20 February
A crowd of 300 gathers in Oman to call for the government to raise minimum wage. Muammar Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi appears on state television and warns protestors: “We will fight to the last minute, until the last bullet.” He admits oppositionists have seized control of some military bases, taking tanks and weapons. Morocco’s ‘Day of Dignity’ turns violent as five people are reported killed

21 February
Violence escalates in Libya with reports of heavy gunfire and naval bombing in Tripoli. Qaddafi orders fighter jets to attack parts of the capital city. Snipers are said to be roaming the streets shooting indiscriminately. The Formula 1 Grand Prix due to be held in Bahrain on 13 March is cancelled amid continued unrest. Tens of thousands demonstrate in Yemen

22 February
In an hour-long televised address, Qaddafi vows to crush the revolt and says he will not leave the country, but will die a martyr. Bahrain releases political prisoners. Some 3,000 people take to the streets in Iraqi Kurdish city of Suleiymaniyah demanding an end to corruption. Heavily armed militia forces kill 3 and more than 100 are wounded

23 February
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah returns to Riyadh and immediately holds talks with Bahrain’s King Hamad to discuss the unrest in the region. He also announces extra benefits for Saudi citizens, including funds for housing, social security and debt relief. Oil production is interrupted in Libya and Qaddafi is reported to have lost control of up to 90 per cent of the country

24 February
Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh orders his security forces to offer protection to both anti-government and pro-government demonstrators. Expats continue to flee Libya. A ‘Day of Rage’ is planned in Saudi Arabia for 11 March. Oil prices hit more than $114 a barrel – the highest level since August 2008

25 February
Algeria lifts the state of emergency imposed in 1992. Following Friday prayers, anti-Qaddafi protestors come under heavy fire in Tripoli. Tens of thousands of Bahrainis gathers in the capital Manama for a 12th day of protests. Demonstrators are also out in force in Yemen. Violence continues to escalate in Libya

26 February
Governments in Bahrain and Oman reshuffle their cabinets in a bid to placate protestors. Three demonstrators are killed by security forces in Tunisia, as crowds call for Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannounchi to stand down due to his links to the former regime. The US announces sanctions against the Libyan government as forces loyal to Qaddafi fight to regain control of cities

27 February
Six people are killed in Oman as protests move to Sohar and Salalah. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannounchi resigns. Aid agencies warn of a humanitarian disaster with hundreds of thousands attempting to cross the borders from Libya into Egypt and Tunisia