Arab Spring: Power not giving up without bloody fight

June 18, 2011
Anti-government protest in Yemen, June 7.

“Power never gives up without a fight.” These words of United States civil rights leader Martin Luther King were quoted by US President Barack Obama in his May 19 policy speech on the Middle East.

The quote is certainly a true description of the response of the region's regimes to the Arab democratic upsurge. But Obama failed to mention that the biggest power in the Middle East is the US.

Arab dictators have continued suppressing pro-democracy protests with varying degrees of violence. Western politicians continue to silently supply the means of repression to friendly dictators while decrying the violence of those they deem “unacceptable.

Western military intervention has included NATO airstrikes and missile bombardments against Libya, ostensibly to protect the population from the Gadaffi regime's violence, and support for the Saudi invasion of Bahrain to protect the ruling Khalifa family from the population.

In Yemen, the US initially stood by dictator Abdullah Ali Saleh, whose regime has faced months of mass demonstrations that have brought millions of Yemenis onto the streets in defience of brutal repression.

AFP said on June 11 that at least 200 protesters had been killed in the more than four months of anti-government protests.

However, in the face of unrelenting protests and with Yemen's numerous other social and political fissure's being exacerbated, Washington began gently trying to ease Saleh out to save the regime as a whole.

Saleh is still recovering in a Saudi hospital from a June 3 nail-bomb attack. In his absence, the Yemeni elite has engaged in armed power struggles to fill the vacuum.

The democracy movement has continued its protests in Saleh's absence. On June 15, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Yemen to demanding Saleh's rule be replaced by a transitional government, said the next day.

The protests condemned reported attempts by Western powers to restart Gulf Cooperation Council -brokered negotiations with the regime for a “power-sharing” arrangement to end the crisis. Opposition groups described the talks as dead.

The US response to the crisis has been to resort to a surge in its drone strikes on Yemen.

Justified as part of the “war on terror” targetting suspected Al Qaeda militants, Yemen defence ministry officials confirmed that US has been launching drone strikes on a daily basis during June, with more than 15 confirmed strikes alreadyin June.

The deputy governor of Abyan Province said at least 130 people were killed in those attacks, PressTV reported on June 15.

The June 14 Wall Street Journal said the Obama administration was transferring control of the operation from the military to the CIA, responsible for drone attacks in Pakistan that have killed thousands.

In Libya, neither the propaganda of the Gaddafi regime nor the West is credible.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi claims to have always resolutely opposed the West's imperialism and the West claims to resolutely oppose Gaddafi's tyranny.

In fact, Gaddafi and the West were on good terms until the uprisings began in February and had been for the past decade.

It is not possible to know for sure the truth to the competing claims that Gaddafi has deployed cluster munitions against the city of Misrata or that NATO has deployed depleted uranium (DU) munitions in its operations in Libya.

What is known is that if Gadaffi did use cluster bombs, they were most likely supplied by the West.

Up until the imposition of sanctions in recent months, Libya was a major client for the Western arms industry, particularly those of Britain, France and Italy.

The West's closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, frequently uses cluster bombs both in ongoing low-intensity aggression against Palestinian ghettos and in bigger acts of aggression, such as the 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

Cluster bombs left over from this war are still maiming and killing civilians in southern Lebanon.

What is also known is that NATO routinely uses DU munitions in the type of operations it is conducting in Libya ― airstrikes against artillery and armour.

These radioactive weapons are even more capable than cluster bombs at killing and maiming long after conflicts are over. Not only do they leave long-lasting sources of radiation, but the radiation can cause genetic damage that shows up generations later.

With Syria, it is also difficult from the outside to distinguish reality from propaganda. The blog Gay Girl in Damascus was frequently cited in the media as an authentic source from inside Syria until an investigation by journalist Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada exposed the blog's author as Tom MacMaster, a middle-aged US man living in Scotland.

What is undeniably real is the presence of 10,000 refugees in Turkey who fled the scorched earth tactics being used by Syrian forces around the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour.

The town was retaken by government troops on June 12. The government said they had lost control of Jisr al-Shughour after 120 soldiers were killed in an ambush by terrorists.

Refugees told a different story.

Al Jazeera said on June 11: “An activist based in Jisr al-Shughour and trusted by experienced local reporters described how a funeral on June 4 for a man shot dead by plain-clothes security a day earlier grew into a large anti-government protest.

“'As the demonstration passed the headquarters of the military secret police they opened fire right away and killed eight people,' the activist, who was among the crowd, said. 'But some of the secret police refused to open fire and there were clashes between them. It was complete chaos.'

“All foreign media have been banned from reporting in Syria so it is impossible to verify the account firsthand. However, it tallies with other testimonies from residents of the area that clashes between security forces had taken place.”

There have been reports of defections from the security forces in other parts of the country.

Protests have peaked on Fridays, after Friday prayers. On June 17, Reuters said security forces killed 19 people throughout the country after tens of thousands protested.

Following these latest killings, “France urged tougher EU sanctions against Syria while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed UN action with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov,” AFP said on June 17.

Despites the US's verbal condemnation of the Syrian regime for its human rights abuses, the same regime has been used the US as part of its “extraordinary rendition” program in the “war on terror” ― whereby the US sends victims to third countries to be tortured.

Despite rhetoric, which have become routine as the violence in Syria escalated, the West is showing no sign of planning direct military intervention in Syria.

Western media are generally hostile to the Syrian regime, but have echoed some of the regime's propaganda, such as describing the conflicts convulsing Syria in religious sectarian terms.

Western politicians' statements on Syria and Libya contrast with the total lack of acknowledgement of ongoing struggles for democracy in the face of state repression by pro-Western dictators, such a the kings of Morocco and Jordan.

The level of repression in Bahrain has been great enough that some acknowledgement has had to be made by Western leaders.

However, at most, Western leaders have (as Obama did in his May 19 speech) simply called on the monarchy and opposition groups to hold talks. Obama balanced this by giving credence to the monarchy's lie that Bahrain's pro-democracy movement was an Iranian plot by also calling for an end to “Iranian interference” in Bahrain.

The democracy movement in Bahrain holds a particular threat to the West. Not only does Bahrain host of a major US naval base and an important oil terminal, the highly autocratic, oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf are central to Western concerns in the region.

This is why the West supports the military occupation of Bahrain since March by the most powerful of these monarchies, Saudi Arabia.

On June 13, the trial began in Bahrain of 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses, accused of trying to overthrowing the government.

Their actual crime was treating those injured by government and Saudi forces. They were also charged with the murder of protesters they were unable to save.

Renowned journalist Robert Fisk said in the June 14 Independent: “These are the very same doctors and nurses I stood beside four months ago in the Sulaimaniya emergency room, some of them weeping as they tried to deal with gunshot wounds the like of which they had never seen before.

“The surgeons were frightened that they did not have the skills to save these victims of police violence. Now the police have accused the doctors and staff of killing the patients whom the police themselves shot.

“The idea that these 48 defendants are guilty of such a vicious charge is not just preposterous. It is insane, a total perversion ― no, the total opposite ― of the truth. The police were firing at demonstrators from helicopters.”

The struggle for democracy continues to rage in many places across the Arab world ― as does the West's hypocrisy.

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