News Update: Egypt, Libya and Oman

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A brief news update on events in Libya, Egypt and Oman:

Egypt
Now that the revolutionary fervor has subsided, and life has begun to take on a semblance of normalcy in Egypt, the question of what next still remains.

Activist el-Bihiry

As early as the first day after Mubarak’s resignation, a dedicated core of protesters vowed to remain in Tahrir Square until all demands are met. They called in particular for the repeal of the decades old emergency law and the resignation of a government they perceive as one in the same with the old regime.

Questions concerning the legitimacy of the military council that now rules the country are being raised following the arrest of prominent Egyptian activist Amr Abdallah Elbihiry on Saturday morning. Elbahiry was among a group of protesters taking part in a peaceful sit-in, which was violently dispersed by the Egyptian military with sticks and electric shock batons. Despite an apology issued by the Egyptian military shortly thereafter, popular suspicion remains.

Just today, Al-Jazeera English reported that the military council governing the country has accepted the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq and appointed Essam Sharaf to Prime Minister. Shafiq was appointed to the position before Mubarak’s resignation and was largely identified with the old regime.

Sharaf on the other hand, although a Minister of Transportation under Mubarak, is likely to have the support of the opposition. Following a deadly train accident, Sharaf resigned in opposition to Mubarak and returned to academia as a professor at Cairo University. Shafiq’s resignation notwithstanding, protesters will go forward with planned demonstrations on Friday to call for an end to the emergency law and the release of political prisoners.

Libya
With the intensification of government-perpetrated violence against demonstrators and Libyan civilians, the international community has taken a stand against Qaddafi, publicly denouncing him, and even making preparations for a possible military or humanitarian intervention.

Amanpour and Qaddafi

Despite overwhelming protest by the Libyan people, and calls to step down immediately by the international community, the dictator continues to cling desperately to power. In a widely publicized interview with Chirstiane Amanpour that aired on ABC News Monday, Qaddafi laughed at the prospect of stepping down. “My people love me,” said Qaddafi, blaming the protests on foreign agents, al-Qaeda, and even hallucinogenic drugs.

The country is now split between East and West, with anti-government rebels in control of the East and headquartered in the port-city of Benghazi, and Qaddafi in control of the capital Tripoli. Increasingly, Qaddafi’s control has been limited to the areas around Tripoli, though his forces have led attacks on surrounding rebel-held areas, without success.

Opposition Forces in Libya Rush to Front Lines

The Pentagon announced Thursday that it has seen clear evidence of Qaddafi’s government using airpower in the conflict, which could induce western powers to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. The Qaddafi government has been using indiscriminate violence against civilians since the outbreak of the protests, even hiring non-Arabic speaking African mercenaries to intimidate and kill protesters. The use of violence has led the U.N. Security Council to refer Qaddafi and his inner circle to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for potential war crimes.

Update (3/4/2011 10:46) Events in Libya are moving quickly. To follow the movements of Qaddafi-backed and rebel forces, take a look at the NYTimes’ interactive map.

Oman

Protests are heading into their 6th day in Oman, with a variety of groups demanding jobs, higher salaries and freedom of the press. Most of the protests are confined to the northern port city of Sohar, though small demonstrations both supporting and opposing Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has ruled the country for almost 40 years, took place in the capital of Muscat. On Tuesday, a crowd of 200-300 protesters in Sohar’s Globe Roundabout was dispersed by Army troops firing into the air, with reportedly one wounded. More recently, thousands have regrouped in Sohar, dubbing the central square “Reform Roundabout”.

In response to the protests, the Sultan had performed the usual cabinet shuffle, while promising 50,000 new jobs and increased welfare support. Political parties are banned in Oman, with the Sultan wielding absolute power. Recently, the Arabic-language news has picked up that the leader of Kuwait, Sheikh al-Sabah, has brought the leaders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Muscat in order to meet with Sultan Qaboos and resolve long-standing differences. Mahmoud Ibn Rashid of Dubai and Mahmoud Ibn Ziyaf of Abu Dhabi pledged the UAE’s assistance in maintining the “security and stability of the sultanate”.

It is, however, important to note that Oman is not Egypt; protesters generally voice support for the Sultan, and would not even dream of violent protests.

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