The Middle East Channel

News Brief: Waves of protests spread across the region

Wave of protests spread across the regionBahrain: Despite a rare apology by the King of Bahrain for the deaths of two demonstrators, protests against the government continue into their third day. Demonstrators are occupying a square in Manama, the country’s capital, demanding political reforms and human rights. By Tuesday night, protesters began mimicking the 18-day ...

Wave of protests spread across the region
Bahrain: Despite a rare apology by the King of Bahrain for the deaths of two demonstrators, protests against the government continue into their third day. Demonstrators are occupying a square in Manama, the country’s capital, demanding political reforms and human rights. By Tuesday night, protesters began mimicking the 18-day protests in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators set up tents and sleeping bags and began passing out food, water and tea.”They are well organized and say that they will make Manama’s Pearl Roundabout Bahrain’s version of Egypt’s Tahrir Square,” said an Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain.

Libya: Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police in the eastern city of Benghazi in Libya, a country that has been under tight control by leader Muammar Gaddafi for more than 40 years. Angry over the arrest of a human rights campaigner, protesters demanded his release. Quryna newspaper, based in Benghazi, quoted the director of a local hospital as saying that 38 people were injured in the clashes, most of whom are members of security forces. Libyan activists have reportedly been using social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to organize protesters, and are calling for a major demonstration for today.

Iran: Fresh clashes have sparked in Tehran during the funeral of a student killed in protests on Monday, though both government opponents and supporters claim the student as one of their supporters. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed recent unrest in Iran, while members of the Iranian Parliament are demanding that the two most prominent leaders of the opposition — Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi — be executed. Meanwhile, President Obama praised protesters in Iran. “My hope and expectation is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government, understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt,” he said.

Yemen: Yemen has sent 2,000 policemen into the capital in attempts to disperse Yemenis protesting against the president who has ruled for 32 years. As demonstrations enter their sixth day in Sanaa, the capital, policemen blocked thousands of students at Sanaa University from joining protests elsewhere in the city. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and protesting against Yemen’s poverty, unemployment and corruption. “Years of trying to keep the Yemeni people in ignorance and poverty have failed,” said protester Jameel Awad, a 28-year-old taxi driver. “Tunisia and Egypt have shown us that nothing is impossible. The youth see that this is their time to claim the future…and we will not let the opportunity pass.”

Daily Snapshot

Anti-regime protesters gather near Sanaa University on February 16, 2011, on the fifth day of consecutive protests against the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images.

Arguments & Analysis
Egypt, Tunisia…and Iran (Shibley Telahmi, The National Interest)
“Of course, the aim of American policies toward Iran, Cuba, or North Korea may not be at their core to bring democratization, but other strategic priorities that have to do with changing those governments’ foreign policy behavior (which in the case of Iran is its nuclear program and support for groups that the United States identifies as terrorist organizations). But that just makes the point: the pursuit of strategic priorities as the United States has defined them for decades has had the consequence of slowing the natural indigenous drive for reform in the Middle East. With a changed regional environment and newly realized public empowerment in the Middle East, the real challenge is not simply to react to crises-and there will be many to come-but to rethink the way we define and pursue our interests in the region.”

‘Revolution and counter-revolution in the Egyptian media’ (Ursula Lindsey, MERIP)
“Only time will tell how serious the army’s commitment is to a democratic transition. The pace and extent of reform will also depend on the skills and determination of the protest movement, and its ability to form a coherent political front. Whatever additional concessions the protesters and their leadership are able to extract, somewhere near the top of the list should be a full accounting for the disinformation campaign and the coordinated attacks on journalists. They should also demand the appointment of a trustworthy reformist to head the Ministry of Information or the gradual dismantling of that ministry altogether, the curtailment of the government’s arbitrary power to shut down Egyptians’ means of communication and an end to state control over all terrestrial TV transmissions. Egypt cannot move toward democracy without guarantees that its citizens will have access to free, accurate information.” 

‘U.S. for U.N. on Israeli settlements’ (M.J. Rosenberg, al-Jazeera English)
The author lays out the case for why the U.S. should not veto a U.N. security council resolution calling Israeli settlements illegal. Even though it will likely veto or at best abstain, the argument should be simple: “…a US decision to support the condemnation of settlements would send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world that we understand what is happening in the Middle East and that we share at least some of its peoples’ concerns.The settlement issue should be an easy one for the United States. Our official policy is the same as that of the Arab world. We oppose settlements. We consider them illegal.  We have repeatedly demanded that the Israelis stop expanding them (although the Israeli government repeatedly ignores us). The administration feels so strongly about settlements that it recently offered Israel an extra $3.5bn in US aid to freeze settlements for 90 days. It is impossible, then, for the United States to pretend that we do not agree with the resolution (especially when its language was carefully drafted to comport with the administration’s official position).”

Wave of protests spread across the region
Bahrain: Despite a rare apology by the King of Bahrain for the deaths of two demonstrators, protests against the government continue into their third day. Demonstrators are occupying a square in Manama, the country’s capital, demanding political reforms and human rights. By Tuesday night, protesters began mimicking the 18-day protests in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators set up tents and sleeping bags and began passing out food, water and tea.”They are well organized and say that they will make Manama’s Pearl Roundabout Bahrain’s version of Egypt’s Tahrir Square,” said an Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain.

Libya: Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police in the eastern city of Benghazi in Libya, a country that has been under tight control by leader Muammar Gaddafi for more than 40 years. Angry over the arrest of a human rights campaigner, protesters demanded his release. Quryna newspaper, based in Benghazi, quoted the director of a local hospital as saying that 38 people were injured in the clashes, most of whom are members of security forces. Libyan activists have reportedly been using social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to organize protesters, and are calling for a major demonstration for today.

Iran: Fresh clashes have sparked in Tehran during the funeral of a student killed in protests on Monday, though both government opponents and supporters claim the student as one of their supporters. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed recent unrest in Iran, while members of the Iranian Parliament are demanding that the two most prominent leaders of the opposition — Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi — be executed. Meanwhile, President Obama praised protesters in Iran. “My hope and expectation is that we’re going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government, understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt,” he said.

Yemen: Yemen has sent 2,000 policemen into the capital in attempts to disperse Yemenis protesting against the president who has ruled for 32 years. As demonstrations enter their sixth day in Sanaa, the capital, policemen blocked thousands of students at Sanaa University from joining protests elsewhere in the city. Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and protesting against Yemen’s poverty, unemployment and corruption. “Years of trying to keep the Yemeni people in ignorance and poverty have failed,” said protester Jameel Awad, a 28-year-old taxi driver. “Tunisia and Egypt have shown us that nothing is impossible. The youth see that this is their time to claim the future…and we will not let the opportunity pass.”

Daily Snapshot

Anti-regime protesters gather near Sanaa University on February 16, 2011, on the fifth day of consecutive protests against the regime of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images.

Arguments & Analysis
Egypt, Tunisia…and Iran (Shibley Telahmi, The National Interest)
“Of course, the aim of American policies toward Iran, Cuba, or North Korea may not be at their core to bring democratization, but other strategic priorities that have to do with changing those governments’ foreign policy behavior (which in the case of Iran is its nuclear program and support for groups that the United States identifies as terrorist organizations). But that just makes the point: the pursuit of strategic priorities as the United States has defined them for decades has had the consequence of slowing the natural indigenous drive for reform in the Middle East. With a changed regional environment and newly realized public empowerment in the Middle East, the real challenge is not simply to react to crises-and there will be many to come-but to rethink the way we define and pursue our interests in the region.”

‘Revolution and counter-revolution in the Egyptian media’ (Ursula Lindsey, MERIP)
“Only time will tell how serious the army’s commitment is to a democratic transition. The pace and extent of reform will also depend on the skills and determination of the protest movement, and its ability to form a coherent political front. Whatever additional concessions the protesters and their leadership are able to extract, somewhere near the top of the list should be a full accounting for the disinformation campaign and the coordinated attacks on journalists. They should also demand the appointment of a trustworthy reformist to head the Ministry of Information or the gradual dismantling of that ministry altogether, the curtailment of the government’s arbitrary power to shut down Egyptians’ means of communication and an end to state control over all terrestrial TV transmissions. Egypt cannot move toward democracy without guarantees that its citizens will have access to free, accurate information.” 

‘U.S. for U.N. on Israeli settlements’ (M.J. Rosenberg, al-Jazeera English)
The author lays out the case for why the U.S. should not veto a U.N. security council resolution calling Israeli settlements illegal. Even though it will likely veto or at best abstain, the argument should be simple: “…a US decision to support the condemnation of settlements would send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world that we understand what is happening in the Middle East and that we share at least some of its peoples’ concerns.The settlement issue should be an easy one for the United States. Our official policy is the same as that of the Arab world. We oppose settlements. We consider them illegal.  We have repeatedly demanded that the Israelis stop expanding them (although the Israeli government repeatedly ignores us). The administration feels so strongly about settlements that it recently offered Israel an extra $3.5bn in US aid to freeze settlements for 90 days. It is impossible, then, for the United States to pretend that we do not agree with the resolution (especially when its language was carefully drafted to comport with the administration’s official position).”

Maria Kornalian is the executive associate for the Project on Middle East Political Science and an assistant editor for the Middle East Channel.

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