For years they had kept silent. But over the past few weeks they could not hold back.
They put decades of fear to one side and took over the streets, telling their leaders: ‘The game is up. We don’t want you any more.’
From north Africa and the Middle East to the Persian Gulf, popular uprisings have been rattling long running dictatorships.
The first domino to tumble was Tunisia, ruled by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali for 23 years. Population: 10 million, nearly half of whom are younger than 25. Unemployed: 13.3%.
Tunisians celebrated their victory on 14th January. Ben Ali left the country. Their bet had paid off. Ben Ali’s fate was sealed when the Tunisian army had refused to fire on its own people.
The message was received loud and clear in Egypt. Ruled by Hosni Mubarak for nearly 30 years, young people make up more than half of the 85 million inhabitants. Jobless rate: 9%.
Anti-government protesters held Tahrir Square for 18 days despite attacks by pro-Mubarak partisans.
They ignored the curfew and once again the army stood back instead of imposing it.
The crowds proved even stronger than Mubarak’s legendary stubbornness. On the 11th of February he cracked, and protesters celebrated through the night.
The Tunisian disturbances started alongside unrest in neighbouring Algeria – 35.5 million inhabitants, more than 10 percent jobless, and fury about the high cost of basic food and lack of decent housing.
Algiers began to rumble to the sound of revolution, despite the fear and the police barricades. A small group managed to demand publicly the removal of President Bouteflika.
Even Libya has been touched by revolution fever. Run by the iron fist of Muammar Gadhaffi since 1969, half of its 6.5 million inhabitants are under 25. The unemployment rate is not known.
Even Libya’s tight media control has not managed to prevent young activists posting these images on the internet showing demonstrators demanding the release of a human rights campaigner. Protests are rare in Libya, which has rich oil reserves.
Jordan has been ruled by King Abdullah II since 1999. He has 6.5 million subjects more than half of whom are young. Officially, there is 12.3 per cent unemployment.
Here too the grassroots dissent is springing from the high cost of living, but there is also a push for democratic reforms. The King has already replaced the prime minister.
Ali Abdullah Saleh has held sway in Yemen since 1978. It is a country of more than 24 million inhabitants – 65 percent of them below the age of 25. The unemployment rate is not known.
There is little ambiguity about what Yemenis are calling for. They want Ali Abdullah Saleh and his family out, and in an echo of Egypt’s revolt, opponents are not willing to accept his promise that he will stand down in 2013.
Bahrain is a tiny kingdom run as an absolute monarchy by the Al Khalifa royal family. A large part of the million or so inhabitants are young – the jobless rate is not known.
Most of Bahrain’s cabinet are members of the royal family.
Spurred on by events in Tunisia and Egypt, the wave of unrest hit the heart of the Persian Gulf.
There have been similar scenes too in Iran where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in power since 2005. Two thirds of the 75 million population are under 35 years old – and unemployment is running at more than 14 percent.
It is a reprise of the events of two years ago when protests against the regime in Tehran were put down with violence.