What began in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, and now Libya, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The entire region is erupting in protests, mischaracterized as revolutions. They're not, falling far short convulsive, violent, unstoppable tsunamis for change, removing old orders for new ones. So far, they're absent in the region, not even close despite popular passion for change. More on that below.
On February 20, Al Jazeera said Libya protesters want Gaddafi's 42-year rule ended. He's violently suppressing popular anger to prevent it. On Sunday night, one of his sons, Saif El Islam, warned of civil war on state television, saying "we are not Tunisia and Egypt," then gave notice about a "fight to the last minute, until the last bullet." Attempting to diffuse popular anger, however, he offered new media laws, an amended constitution, changes in the penal code, other unspecified reforms, and, unrelated to street anger, a new national anthem and flag.
On Sunday, Warfala tribal leaders, representing 500,000 Tuareg people, said they're joining the anti-Gaddafi struggle. Al Jazeera reported they've been attacking government buildings and police stations. The common thread throughout the region is poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression, varying only by degree from one country to another.
Precise numbers aren't known, but some accounts say hundreds have been killed since violence erupted a week ago. As a result, divisions in Gaddafi's government got two diplomats to resign - Libya's China ambassador, Hussein Sadiq al Musrati, and Arab League representative Abdel-Monem al-Houni. Other reports say members of Libya's military have joined protesters, and army weapons and vehicles have been seized.
"Residents (said) at least at least 200 had died in Benghazi alone....Protests have also reportedly broken out in Bayda, Dema, Tobruk and Misrata. In the capital, Tripoli, government supporters and security forces prevented spreading anti-government demonstrations. On February 21, however, heavy gunfire was reported in central Tripoli.
Unconfirmed accounts say protesters attacked the headquarters of Al-Jamahiriya Two television and Al-Shababia, as well as other government buildings overnight. In addition, again unconfirmed, the government-owned People's Conference Center (where parliament meets) was set afire. Details are mostly sketchy but suggest intense anti-government protests spreading.
One witness called Benghazi a "war zone." A doctor, Mariam, said military forces used live fire against protesters, adding even the hospital is unsafe. Another doctor said bodies were piling up, and numerous people were being treated for bullet wounds. They've been coming in waves. Many have serious injuries, including to heads, chests, and abdomens from high-velocity rifle fire.
At the same time, dozens of Muslim leaders issued an "urgent appeal from religious scholars, intellectuals, and clan elders from numerous cities, towns and villages" against further violence. A Benghazi businessman called events there:
"big, a big massacre. We've never heard of anything like this before. It's horrible. The shooting is still taking place right now. We're about three kilometers away from it, and we saw this morning army troops coming into the city. You can hear shooting now. They don't care about us."
Mohamed Abdulmalek, Libya Watch chairman, a human rights group, said:
"The security presence in Tripoli, for example, was so intense that people gathered individually in the beginning....But eventually, the pressure on the capital started from outside (the city) and now you see the people revolting. We have no doubt that the east and the west (of the country) will unite."
On February 21, Al Jazeera said witnesses "reported that some cities, especially in the east, which is perceived as less loyal to (Gaddafi), have fallen completely into the hands of civilians and protesters."
Because of government control, reporting is restricted. Al Jazeera's signal is blocked. So are others, including most Internet service. So far, telephones are working, and some Tripoli Internet access was available. Issues are similar to elsewhere, including poverty with "two-thirds of (Libya's) 6.5 million population liv(ing) on less than $2 a day." People want some of Libya's oil wealth used for them. So do others in oil rich regional states.
On February 18, The New York Times said Tunisian protests continued outside various government ministries in Tunis, demanding resignation of interim government officials and release of imprisoned family members. On February 20, Reuters headlined, "Troops fire in air at Tunis protests," saying:
They failed "to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators in the capital calling for a new interim government," defying a government ban against rallies after earlier protests subsided.
For the second straight day, up to 40,000 gathered in front of the prime minister's office shouting, "Leave!" and "We don't want the friends of Ben Ali!" Others demanded pay raises. Protesters remained despite troops firing in the air and helicopters circling low overhead. So far, no injuries or deaths were reported. Over a month after Ben Ali's ouster, nothing in Tunisia changed despite mostly sustained protests demanding it.
On February 20, New York Times writer Thomas Fuller headlined, "Next Question for Tunisia: The Role of Islam in Politics," saying:
Weeks after Ben Ali's ouster, conditions remain tense throughout the country. Popular anger remains. "Police officers dispersed a group of rock-throwing protesters who streamed into a warren of alleyways lined with legally sanctioned bordellos shouting, 'God is great!' and 'No to brothels in a Muslim country!' "
In January, turmoil erupted over social, economic and political issues, including high unemployment, deep poverty, rising food and energy prices and state repression, not whether Islamism should be part of a new regime. Though 98% Muslim, Tunisia is very much secular. Abortion is legal. Wine is openly sold. Polygamy is banned, and women commonly wear bikinis on Mediterranean beaches. As a result, expect little chance of an Islamist movement for change. More on that below.
Protests in Morocco
On February 20, Al Jazeera said protests spread to the Kingdom of Morocco "where thousands of people have taken to the streets in the capital, Rabat, demanding a new constitution," jobs, better wages, as well as healthcare and education reform. Chants included "The people reject a constitution made for slaves!" and "Down with Autocracy!" They've had enough of one-man rule and want change.
Some also demanded prime minister Abbas El Fassi step down. So far, placards and slogans made no direct attacks on the king, but that may change if security forces use violence. Mustapha Muchtati of the Baraka (Enough) group said, "This is a peaceful protest to push for constitutional reform, restore dignity and end graft and the plundering of public funds."
A group called the February 20 Movement for Change initiated protests, attracting around 19,000 Facebook followers. Demonstrations are also planned in other Moroccan cities, including Tangiers, Casablanca, and popular tourist destination Marrakesh.
Officially, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, one with no power. In fact, the constitution lets the king, Mohammed VI dissolve it, impose a state of emergency, and be able to make government appointments, including for prime minister.
On February 21 from Bahrain, Al Jazeera said hundreds of protesters occupied Manama's Pearl Roundabout, including many there all night after another day of demonstrations. Chants included "Get out Hamad," demanding the king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, step down.
Abdul-Jalil Khalil, a Shia political opposition bloc leader, said protesters were considering the monarchy's call for dialogue after days of violence, deaths and injuries, enraging thousands to press on. After troops and other security forces withdrew, protesters erected barriers, wired a sound system, set up a makeshift medical tent, and deployed lookouts to warn if they returned.
Opposition demands include releasing political prisoners and giving residents a greater role in politics. In exile, Hassan Mashaima, leader of the opposition Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy told AFP he's returning to Manama even without guarantees for his safety. Nonetheless, he said, "under the current circumstances, I cannot remain outside my country."
Ahead of mass Sunday rallies, a planned general strike was called off, what may still happen depending on developments. Though calmer than before, tensions remain high among many wanting change.
Yemeni Protests Continue
On February 20, Al Jazeera reported that security forces used live fire against demonstrators in Sanaa. Clashes between protesters and government troops were reported, both sides firing weapons outside Sanaa University.
Thousands also staged sit-ins in Ibb and Taiz, demanding President Saleh step down after 32 years in power. In Aden, security was tightened with tanks and armored vehicles on city streets.
Correspondent Hashem Ahelbarra said Saleh told pro-democracy protesters there's "no way he can allow them to bring about change by taking to the streets. The government has also been saying, over the last few days, that calls for independence in the South won't be tolerated."
Protests in Algeria
Algerian protests also continue despite mobilized state violence against it. Nonetheless, unemployed workers, university students and others remain united for change, including jobs, a living wage, and basic rights denied. Representing Algeria's League for Human Rights (LADDH), Ali Yahia Abdennon said:
"yesterday the police (brutally beat) many protesters, amongst them pregnant women, old ladies, a journalist, young men and women, (so) we (must) carry on protesting until we get our rights."
As a result, struggles continue throughout the country - sporadically in Algiers, as well as ongoing in the Annaba wilaya region, oil-producing area Hassi-Messaoud, and several universities, including Universite Mohamed Boudiaf in M'sila.
Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN) addressed an open letter to "Brother Abdelaziz Bouteflika, saying:
"The voices which demand a change in this regime, who are concerned that it should take place in a climate of peace and free debate, are many."
Since early January, numerous protests and riots have occurred across the country over poverty, unemployment, and rising food and energy prices.
Protests in Djibouti
They've also spread to Djibouti in the strategically located Horn of Africa area. Around 30,000 protested in Djibouti City, the capital, against President Ismail Omar Guelleh. Earlier demonstrations were much smaller. This one presents greater challenges. Though peaceful, police attacked protesters with tear gas and batons, resulting in at least four deaths and dozens of injuries.
On February 17, opposition leader Ismael Guedi Hared said, "We are protesting against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and dynastic succession." Also at issue is poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition affecting thousands of families, especially in the poor Balbala neighborhood, home for 200,000 people.
Earlier, Hared was briefly arrested, then released, but reports confirm that 20 opposition Union for a Democratic Alternative members were arrested and about 15 Movement for Democratic Renewal ones.
AFP said Djibouti City protesters held banners reading "IOG (Guelleh's initials) out" and "No third mandate," meaning after two six-year terms, they've had enough and want his dictatorship ended.
Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier, one of many Pentagon bases in the region. Located strategically on the Bab-el-Mandeb strait through which three millions barrels of oil pass daily, it's a key regional chokepoint to keep open.
On Sunday, Tehran Vali-Asr and Enghelab square clashes were reported between protesters and security forces. Government officials denied one reported death. Similar demonstrations occurred in Shiraz and Isfahan.
Rahesabz.net said plainclothes Basij security forces arrived in Shiraz, carrying the Iranian flag and blocking entrances to some city streets. Arrests, tear gas, and beatings were reported near Tehran's Sharif University. In contrast, state news agency Fars said the capital remained calm.
However, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported large protests in various cities. The Human Rights House of Iran (RAHANA) said uniformed and plainclothes security forces manned several parts of the capital, and that at least 50 people were detained in Shiraz.
Spreading Popular Anger
Al Jazeera said it can't independently confirm variously reports In Iran or Libya.
Clearly, however, popular uprisings have spread regionally, including mass protests, violence, and strong security force crackdowns. Platts, "a leading global provider of energy and metals information, said:
"Saudi Arabia, the oil Goliath which holds in its hands the only significant spare production capacity that can meet any potential global supply disruption, has been besieged by bloody riots in neighboring Bahrain and a growing anti-government protest south of its border in Yemen."
Former Saudi ambassador, Charles Freeman, told Al Jazeera that the monarchy won't "tolerate excessive unrest" in Bahrain because of its proximity to its main eastern oil fields. Nonetheless, unrest spread to Saudi Arabia where foreign construction workers went on strike at the King Abdullah Financial District and King Saud University in Riyadh, the capital.
In Kuwait, hundreds of stateless Arabs demonstrated in Jahra, northwest of Kuwait City, demanding citizenship. Clashes erupted. Arrests were made, and numerous injuries were reported.
In Jordan, protesters clashed with thugs wielding batons, saying they were attacked after a march called for an elected government and end to corruption. In January, they forced King Abdullah to sack his cabinet, but appointing Marouf Bakhit, a retired army major general, new prime minister angered many, a man they want replaced and all regime members close to the monarchy.
Since regional January protests erupted, fig leaf changes left old regimes entrenched, resolving nothing about redressing deep-seated inequity, including poverty, unemployment and repression, especially against public anger.
On February 20, London Independent columnist Robert Fisk headlined, "These are secular popular revolts - yet everyone is blaming religion," saying:
Mubarak, Ben Ali, Jordan's King Abdullah, and others blamed Islamists and Al Qaeda for regional unrest. "How on earth do well-educated if singularly undemocratic men get this thing so wrong?"
In fact, they're fear-mongers, opportunists, pointing fingers at targets of choice despite their own regimes at fault.
"Bobbysocks Obama and Clinton have managed an even weirder somersault." They and past US regimes have backed dictator allies for decades. Now, rhetorically at least, they "support civilian calls for democracy in the Arab world," when, in fact, they won't tolerate it. In Tahrir Square, an Egyptian student told Fisk:
"The Americans interfered in our country for 30 years under Mubarak, supporting his regime, arming his soldiers. Now we would be grateful if they stopped interfering on our side." Bahrainians also him, "We are getting shot by American weapons fired by American-trained Bahraini soldiers with American-made tanks."
For decades, Washington's interference made numerous global enemies. No wonder its influence is waning. Perhaps worker protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and other US states highlight it, people reacting against anti-populist policies everywhere.
A Final Comment
In his latest article, Webster Tarpley said Washington ousted Mubarak because he opposed US regional war plans. Behind Egypt's military coup, CIA operatives did the shoving. "There is growing evidence that the threat in question involved the seizure or blocking of the Suez Canal....strong indications" point to Washington/UK antagonism over Mubarak's opposition to their plans "to organize a block of Sunni Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states - under a US nuclear umbrella (aligned) with Israel" to target Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and their Shiite allies.
At issue is "remov(ing) entrenched rulers who have been in power so long that they have acquired a significant degree of autonomy" from imperial Washington. Restoring waning US hegemony is planned. Others think America keeps shooting itself in the foot and is expert only at overreaching, fostering distrust, making enemies, and destroying its global influence by counterproductive policies. How this plays out ahead bears watching. No one knows for sure, but the more America interferes, the less credibility it has, and the more likely it will eventually fail. For global millions, it can't come a moment too soon.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.