Protests shake Arab world

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Huge protest against the government in Yemen, February 19.

See also:
Revolt shows true Arab face
Egypt: Struggle enters new phase
Tunisa: fresh protests, violence
Sudan: Bashir denies fearing protests, tortures protesters
Emergency Libyan solidarity protests held in Sydney

The flames of discontent continue to spread across the Middle East, in the wake of the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes in recent weeks.

Demands for greater freedoms, relief from unemployment and soaring food prices are increasingly becoming intertwined with calls for the downfall of undemocratic governments and monarchies.

As well protests in the countries listed below, AlJazeera.net reported on February 18 that protests had broken out in the east African nation Djibouti demanding president Ismail Omar Guelleh quit. There are also reports that protests in Morocco had been planned for February 20.

Bahrain

At least 66 people were injured on the night of February 18 when soldiers opened fire on protesters gathered around Pearl Roundabout in the Persian Gulf island country’s capital, Manama, AlJazeera.net said that day. The day before, a police attack on protesters left four dead and more than 200 injured.

AlJazeera.net said: “Protesters described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover.”

Protesters defied a military ban on public gathering to chant “Death to Khalifa” (referring to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa) and “We want the fall of the government”.

The repression against the daily protests has led to them adopting more radical demands.

Protesters have demanded a weakening of the Sunni monarchy’s hold on top government posts and ending discrimination of the country’s Shia majority.

They began with calls to remove Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa (the king’s uncle who has held the position for 40 years). They have now begun calling for the ouster of the king — whose family has ruled Bahrain since 1783.

Earlier that day, thousands of protesters had participated in a funeral for the four people killed the day before as riot police broke up a tent city set up in the Pearl Roundabout area in a pre-dawn raid.

Thousands marched to Pearl Roundabout on February 16, with the aim of converting it into their own Tahrir Square.





Ahmed Makki Abu Taki, whose 27-year-old brother Mahmoud was killed in the pre-dawn sweep, told Al Jazeera: “We used to demand for the prime minister to step down, but now our demand is for the ruling family to get out.”

Despite attempts by the Sunni monarchy to stir up sectarian divisions, a growing number of discontented Sunnis have joined the protests led by members of the oppressed Shia population, which represents 70% of the country’s 1.2 million people.

Bahrain is strategic to US military interests in the region. Located near Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and critical for US monitoring of Iran, it hosts the US navy’s Fifth Fleet and a US air force base.

A recently-launched $580 million agreement to significantly expand the US navy’s presence could be jeopardised if Bahrain’s monarchy falls.

Large-scale unrest in Bahrain could also embolden marginalised Shias in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Yemen

Attempts by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to appease protesters by saying he would not stand for re-election in 2013 failed to stop about 20,000 people marching in the Arabian Peninsular nation’s capital, Sana’a, on February 3 to call on Saleh to step down immediately.

On February 13, inspired by the fall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak two days earlier, thousands gathered to call for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, chanting: “There is no way out, either leave or step down.”

Thousands more marched on February 18. The Guardian said that day that “at least five people were reported killed when security forces and government loyalists clashed for a seventh consecutive day in the capital, Sana’a, Aden and other cities with crowds demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule.”

Xinhuanet.com also reported that day that 7000 protesters stormed two local government buildings and a police station in Aden, setting them on fire.

Following the example of the Mubarak regime, Saleh attempted to also use pro-government thugs against protesters.

The Washington Post said on February 17, “several thousand demonstrators, some backing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and others demanding he step down, fought with rocks, metal pipes and daggers”.

Protests occurred in several towns, the article said. One anti-government protester was killed in Aden.

Similar scenes were repeated the following day.

Pro-regime thugs have taken control of Yemen’s own Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Sana’a, but thousands of anti-government demonstrators have occupied the main square in Taiz, south of Sana’a.

AlArabiya.net said on February 16: “Recent protests have been smaller than in preceding weeks, when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets. But they are erupting more spontaneously and violently, and have become more strident in calling for Saleh’s resignation.”

The government already faces a Shiite rebellion in the north-western region and a growing insurgent secessionist movement in the south.

Xinhuanet.com said: “Northern Shiite armed rebels vowed last Tuesday that they would support protesters against President Saleh if the ‘revolution breaks out’.”

Jordan

Facing increasing unrest, Jordan’s interior minister announced on February 15 that protests would no longer need government permission.

On February 18, protestors once again took to the streets for the seventh Friday in a row to demand constitutional reform and greater democracy freedoms.

Eight people were injured in clashes that broke out in Jordan’s capital “between government supporters and opponents at a protest calling for more freedom and lower food prices” reported AlJazeera.net.

Amani Ghoul, a teacher and member of the movement that organised the protests insisted: “We want a complete overhaul of the political system, including the constitution, the parliament dissolved and new free and fair elections held.”

Libya

Crackdowns on protests, blocking of telephone communication and internet sites such as Facebook and Al Jazeera Arabic, shutting off electricity to protest areas and a supposed pledge by “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” Muammar Gaddafi to replace some top government officials have failed to quell unrest against his 42-year-long rule.

Protests have been strongest in poorer regional towns and cities. The airport in Benghazi, the country’s second largest city, has been closed amid reports that protesters have taken it over.

On February 18, protesters mourning the deaths of 28 people killed in clashes the day before set government buildings and police stations alight. Fifteen anti-government supporters were killed in the clashes.

Amnesty International has reported that security forces killed at least 46 people in the three days before February 17.





The BBC reported on February 18 that “dissidents based outside Libya claimed that protesters were now battling security forces for control of another eastern city, al-Bayda”.

“Video footage from al-Bayda showed bloodstained bodies in a mortuary, and protesters torching a municipal building and demolishing a statue of the so-called "green book" - the collection of principles by which Col Gaddafi rules.

Xinhua reported that protestors in al-Bayda hanged two police officers on February 18 and set alight a police station.

The BBC also reported that in Darnah, all police stations had been evacuated following the deaths of numerous protestors on February 17, while rumours circulated that elite military units were closing in on the city.

Algeria

Despite heavy repression and promises by Algeria’s military regime to lift emergency laws in place for 19 years, protesters have remained defiant in the oil-rich north African nation.

Anti-government protesters pledged to take to the streets on February 19, one week after 30,000 police were sent out to break up a 2000-strong rally in Algiers.

Protesters have pledged to march every Saturday until the end of the authoritarian rule of the 73-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a newly formed umbrella group uniting opposition parties, social movements and unofficial unions, is organising the weekly rallies.

The February 18 Guardian said the protests built on events in January, when “riots over food prices, poverty and unemployment left five people dead and 800 injured and sparked a series of attempts by desperate youths to set themselves alight in the name of revolution”.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, protesters were able to overcome a security cordon enforced around the city’s May First Square on February 12.

In a statement issued after the protest, the CNCD said: “Despite the warlike offensive in place in and around the capital, thousands of citizens broke through the wall of fear.”

Iraq

Even “liberated” Iraq has not been immune to the spreading wave of revolt. Protesters have taken to the streets to rally against corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment.

About 1000 people rallied in Basra on February 18, AP said that day.

One of the protesters, Qais Jabbar, told AP: “We’re living in miserable conditions, no electricity, dirty, muddy streets. We have to make changes. We should not be silent.”

The same day, nine people were killed in protests in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq after security forces opened fire on the estimated 3000 demonstrators.

Protests also occurred in the southern city of Kut, where protesters chanted “down with [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki, down with thieves”. One banner referred to the ongoing US-led occupation of Iraq, reading: “Eight years of suffering, where are your promises?”

Protests also occurred in Nasiriyah, Fallujah, Sadr city and elsewhere in the country. Preparations are reportedly underway for a “Day of Rage” protest to be held in the capital, Baghdad, on February 25.

Iran

The Wall Street Journal said on February 18 that the Iranian opposition was calling for nationwide protests on February 20, labelling the struggle as a fight against “a religious dictatorship”.

The protests have received the support Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose defeat in rigged elections in 2009 sparked the “Green movement” democracy protests.

Thousands of people protested on February 14, with two students killed.

The Wall Street Journal said: “Kurdish Iranian groups announced they would observe a general strike in Iran's Kurdish provinces Sunday.”

From GLW issue 869

Comments

Hugo Chavez Football Stadium

I hope they don't change the name of the Hugo Chavez Football Stadium in Tripoli that Colonel Gaddafi dedicated in honour of the Venezuelan president during the 2009 celebrations of Gaddafi's fortieth anniversary .

I know how much President Chavez likes football.