Over the past week, in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s departure from office, protest movements have erupted across the Middle East, with the rallying cry from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions being heard in places as far away as Gabon. “The genie is out of the bottle,” according to one analyst for Al-Jazeera. The civil fear that would have prohibited such strong, public outcries in the past few decades is nowhere to be seen. Large-scale protests have materialized in the capitals of Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Jordan. A 5,000 person strong demonstration in Algiers was supervised by as many as 30,000 riot police. Tripoli, often thought of as Moammar Gaddafi’s stronghold and seat of power, has seen large demonstrations over the past couple days, which have been violently repressed by government forces. Earlier this past week Manama, Bahrain and Sana, Yemen were dominating the headlines.
Yemen: Yemeni President Ali Abullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years, announced at the beginning of the month that he will not run for re-election in 2013. His concessions and promises for constitutional reform were not enough for the thousands of anti-government protesters who have taken to the streets in the capital of Sana. Over the past ten days, largely peaceful demonstrations have been set upon by groups of pro-government supporters armed with sticks and other weapons. This past Saturday, on the ninth day of protests, a group of pro-government supporters opened fire on protesters wounding at least four people according to a New York Times report. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/yemen/index.html
Bahrain: “After using troops to clear the protesters from the Pearl Square on 17 February, in an operation which left four people dead, the government appears to have stepped back, allowing demonstrators to re-occupy it after initial resistance by police.” Anti-government protesters, mainly of the disaffected 70% Shia majority, surged back into the square two days ago after the Crown Prince Salman ordered government forces to end the deadly crackdown (in which at least five have lost their lives) and for the military to leave Pearl Square. Bahrain is strategically important to the US as it is the headquarters of the US 5th fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and is seen as a defense against Iran. Many thus see Bahrain as a bigger test of Obama’s will than Egypt and believe that the Obama administration will be able to exert more control over the Bahraini government’s policy. This past week Barack Obama has been on the phone with the Bahraini monarchy urging King Hamad to work towards a peaceful solution. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12482295
Libya: Over the past couple of days Libya has stolen the headlines of media outlets worldwide. President Gaddafi, who has been in power now for 42 years, has shut down the Internet and all mobiles and landlines have also allegedly been cutoff. Yesterday, a unit of the military from the capital of Tripoli opened fire on a Benghazi unit who refused orders to fire on the local protesters. 150 members of the Benghazi unit were reportedly killed and the rest were arrested. However, in response the protesters and other army units in Benghazi stepped up their efforts and the soldiers were eventually freed from prison. The Tripoli units dispersed or have returned to the capital.
According to conservative estimates, 300 protesters were killed across Libya yesterday with over fifty dying amid the struggle for Tripoli’s centrally located Green Square. The latest reports from eyewitnesses, who spoke with Al-Jazeera, say that the Libyan airforce fired on protesters today. These reports highlight the divisions and splintering within the Libyan military along local lines. Political loyalties in Libya are more tribal and the people less nationalistic than their Egyptian counterparts; a reality that Moammar Gaddafi’s son made sure to express in his nationally televised statement to the Libyan people. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on the front page of many major media outlets (Fox, CNN, Al-Jazeera, etc) after stating that the regime would fight on until the ‘last man, woman and bullet.’ He suggested that the regime could change a number of laws and begin discussions for a constitution. He then pointed to what he sees as an inevitable outbreak of civil war if the current regime were to step down and warned of the interruption in the flow of oil from the country, most of which goes to Europe, (five percent of which goes to the US) that would follow.
Timeline of Major Events in Egypt:
Sunday, February 20, 2011—The Army has announced it will not allow Mubarak to be prosecuted, which is significant given that Tunisia is now calling for the extradition of Ben Ali. For more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8336646/Egypt-army-promises-Hosni-Mubarak-he-will-not-be-prosecuted.html
Friday, February 18, 2011—Egypt gave permission for two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal for the first time since 1979. For more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/8336369/Egypt-Israeli-anger-as-Iranian-ships-head-for-Suez-Canal.html
Tuesday, February 15, 2011—The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces appointed an Islamist judge to head the new constitution committee. “Tarek al-Bishry, the chairman of the constitutional panel, is a respected judge who criticized former president Hosni Mubarak and is regarded as moderate in his views. But he has been associated with Al-Wasat, an offshoot of the Brotherhood. He has selected a committee made up mainly of judges and politicians, including a judge who is a Coptic Christian, but also a former Muslim Brotherhood MP. There are no women.” For more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8326469/Egypt-Islamist-judge-to-head-new-constitution-committee.html
Sunday, February 13th, 2011: The Supreme Council of Armed Forces dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution, and stated that it would remain in power for 6 months before carrying out free and fair elections.
Written by Otis Pitney a student at Middlebury College who was studying at the C.V. Starr Middlebury School Abroad in Alexandria.