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The International Writers Magazine: Protest Movement

Get on the Revolution Train
Marwan Asmar
First it was Tunisia, now Egypt. The toppling of their leaders, in less than two months is heralding a popular cyclone in the region with many experiencing turbulence in Morocco, Algeria, and unexpectedly in Libya, Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain.


Despite the fact that many have said Jordan would follow next after Egypt, popular protests in the country today seem minuscule, in the face of the mass protests occurring in the region. Indeed, Jordan seems to be not only a stable place but an orderly one.   

But generally, all countries across the Arab world, except Iran whose opposition has an on-going issue with the present regime, are riding on the revolutionary fervor. Popular protests are "elastic" from the hundreds to the thousands that have come to dominate the Arab streets today from its north and western tips to its southern and eastern ridges.

During and after the popular uprising in Egypt, Yemen blew its horns, with thousands taking to the streets in its capital Sanaa, Aden and elsewhere, openly calling for the removal  of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been in power since 1978 over the then South Yemen, and later when Yemen became united in 1991.

But what may be surprising analysts and watchers is the stark revolutionary developments in Bahrain, with hundreds and thousands taking place in its capital Manama and other cities so soon after Mubarak was forced out of office in Egypt.

Unlike Yemen, they first started calling for constitutional reforms, and reshaping of the monarchical system ruled by a Sunni minority. However,  there are voices who are calling for the removal of family rule instead of making it a constitutional monarchy.

Unlike the rest of the Gulf countries,  70 percent of its people are Shia who feel they are discriminated against in the economy and the workplace, and are prone to greater unemployment and poverty. One contentious point being is that the political Suni elite to which the ruling Salman's family belongs to, have over the years naturalized many foreign Sunis to try and increase their equilibrium in the population. 

Like Egypt and Yemen, Bahrain has strategic value in the area as the home of America’s 6th fleet in the Arabian Gulf, and any popular uprisings, leading to the change in the political status quo would likely send shivers among American foreign policy makers who likened Iran as the “nuclear bogeyman" in that part of the region. They are additionally worried that any changes in this area of the Gulf, like it has been the case in Egypt, would turn the long built American strategy on its head.

Headaches for them increase further to the southwest in Yemen, an American anti-terrorism ally against Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. If Ali Abdullah Saleh goes, the US may not only lose such an ally, but worse still the country of 23 million could become the rallying ground for bringing back the communists, who had ruled South Yemen before it was united in 1991; it could further mean that the American so-called global war on terrorism would increasingly muted.

Further still, a change of regime in Yemen and at the very least a nationalist or pro-democracy government, might herald a new set of policy measures by its northern neighbor Saudi Arabia, and to Oman further its east. While nothing has yet been heard from these two countries, popular resentment might very well be simmering on the back burner.

Active mass popular movements are scary, they upset, bringing about change and lead to different tunnels which leaders, regional countries, and world politicians have long sought to avoid. In today's stage of Arab politics what is being shown is that many people of the region have passed the psychological barrier of fear and instability and they are no longer afraid to speak out.

In the face of Egyptian protestors, and Yemeni demonstrators back home Ali Abdullah Saleh, quickly sought reform, allowing his pro-supporters to rapidly occupy and tent his capital’s Tahrir Square, forcing anti-government demonstrators to the streets, and introduce political reforms.

These have seemed timid—he now won’t stand for president in 2013, would not hand power to his son, and dropped legislations making him president for life.  The street answer to that was more demonstrations and more banners calling for his removal, and this is despite the fact that Yemen has always been seen as tribal society where conservativism and loyalty overtake revolutionary politics.

In the light of these however, the Bahraini authorities are trying to act quickly, though it took them a while to fathom the mood of the street, and only after the shooting of two people by the country’s security forces, which fuelled public anger further. While the Bahraini Ministry of Interior quickly apologized to the “street” and appealed to the country’s national sentiments, with the King Sheikh Hamad Ben Salman personally coming television to appeal for calm and guaranteeing the right to demonstrations. 

While not a single bullet was fired by the army against the people in Egypt’s 18-day revolution, the contrast was being made that in Bahrain four young protestors were shot and killed in three days of demonstrations more injuries registered as the demonstrations continued with the police saying they had to use such tactics because dialogue with protestors was leading nowhere.

The region is at a boiling point, experiencing events never before in its modern history.  The United Arab Emirates is trying to introduce a modicum of reforms to it’s country’s consultative council, Kuwait has already given a JD 1000 for each of its citizens, Iraqis are taken to the streets to improve their economic lot, Jordan’s has new government together with the one promised by the National Palestinian Authority and the ball is rolling.

With all this commotion going on Syria, has been quiet with not a whimper heard, with the test of resolution waiting to be made. Algeria is witnessing many rallies against the rocketing prices and high unemployment, a situation that has intermittingly continued at the same time as the quest for regime change in Tunisia began in December 2010.

Today watching developments in the region Algerian President Abdelazziz Boutafliqa is promising to repeal the country’s Emergency Laws by way of a palliative, but he may have to go much more than that.

The country that could be on everyone’s lips as well is Libya whose cities, notably Benghazi  and towns like Al Baida, Shahat and Zantan near Tripoli are flaming in anger, wanting an end to the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who has been the country’s president since 1969, portraying himself as a long-established political fixture in the Libyan terrain.

While some experts are still doubtful that a repeat of the Tunisian-Egyptian revolutions is unlikely, the events on the ground show otherwise. Libya, for instance was never on the table for a potential toppling of the regime, yet news reports, and observer commentary suggest there are much more protest in the country than the regime and the government is willing to admit to. But figures speak for themselves as in the first three days of the protests 120 people were shot and killed and over a 1000 injured by the authorities in Benghazi and Al Baida, conveying the message they are not like their counterparts in Egypt, and they will continue to use the "iron fist". 

If Gaddafi does go—one report suggest he has left the Libyan capital Tripoli and is now on the Libyan-Chad  border, and his hired African mercenaries to do his bidding—the revolutionary ball might just continue to other regimes in the area.

So far the brunt has been against presidential one-party states as in Tunisia, Egypt under Mubarak, and Yemen

However with problems in Bahrain brewing, more and more are asking is it now finally the turn of the monarchies who have installed themselves in continuous line of power as the case in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan, bearing in mind what may happen in one country does not mean it will happen in another.

It's still early days, but Bahrain looks a very viable candidate for political, even revolutionary change were the authorities are yet to learn that the street can no longer be dealt with through authoritarian ways and harsh measures like they are doing against the thousands in Manama's Lulua's (Pearl Square) where tear gas, rubber bullets are being used to disperse the crowds.

What is becoming clear is that the Europeans and the Americans are not at all liking the "heavy-handed" tactics used to try and quell protestors used in such countries as Bahrain and Libya in particular. The German Foreign Minister have issued a statement emphasizing that the protestors have the right to rally and to hold assembly.

Such comments may serve to "dampen" the heavy-handedness with these regimes, but for the time being the popular ball is set to continue to spark fire across the region until the people's demands are met.

It's an extraordinary situation that probably have never been experienced before. We just have to wait and see if the "revolution train" will pick up speed, or will it be abruptly halted by state power. 
© Marwan Asmar Feb 19th 2011
Mubarak Steps Down
Marwan Asmar 
As Egyptian President Husni Mubarak stepped down and handed power to the High Military Council to rule the country, people in the streets shouted in jubilation.

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