Middle East Intifadas – by Stephen Lendman
Initially in Tunisia, popular revolt spread regionally across North Africa and the Middle East, erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Yemen. On January 27, Al Jazeera reported revolutionary fervor in Egypt, saying:
“On Thursday, protesters hurled petrol bombs at a fire station in Suez, setting it ablaze. They tried but failed to (torch) a local” Mubarak-controlled National Party office. Near Giza, on Cairo’s outskirts, police attacked hundreds of protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. In Ismailia, the scene repeated, police using similar tactics to disperse crowds. Ahead of expected massive Friday protests, Cairo was uncharacteristically quiet.
On January 28, Al Jazeerah headlined, “Fresh protests erupt in Egypt, saying:
Following Friday prayers, “angry demonstrators demand(ed) an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year presidency….(d)etermined protesters,” vowing to “carry on until their demands are met.”
In Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura and Sharqiya, “protesters streamed out of mosques shortly after prayers,” chanting anti-Mubarak slogans.
On Thursday night, former IAEA Director General and National Alliance for Change founder Mohamed ElBaradei returned home, saying he’s ready to lead “transition” if asked. In a late 2010 Al Masry Al Youm interview, he expressed support for an opposition alliance saying:
“I hope in the next phase we will have a united opposition, the NAC, the Al-Wafd party, the (Muslim) Brotherhood, the Gabha (Democratic Front party) – we need everyone. And of course we need to link the young people with the labor unions and the elite with the young people.”
On Friday, he reportedly was “prevented from moving freely by security forces.” AP reported water cannons doused him, and supporters who tried shielding him were beaten.
So far, seven are reported dead. Well over 1,200 were arrested, yet protesters aren’t deterred.
An international press freedom group said journalists were being beaten and arrested. Al Jazeera reported four French reporters apprehended. An AP photographer was attacked. The London Guardian said ElBaradei was “detained.” Earlier on Friday he said Mubarak’s regime was on its “last legs.”
A CNN crew had its camera smashed. Vodafone said cell phone service was suspended “in selected areas.” Internet service was also shut down. In Cairo and other cities, harsh crackdowns continued with tear gas, rubber bullets, some reported live fire, water cannons, sound bombs, beatings and arrests.
London Guardian correspondent Jack Shenker called Cairo a “war zone.” WikiLeaks released a cable from US Egyptian ambassador Margaret Scobey saying:
“Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread. The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders.”
Former US Middle East diplomat Aaron David Miller said:
“It’s one thing when this happens in Tunisia, a marginal Arab state, but you’re now talking about one of the two or three pillars of American security in the region being confronted with the ripple effects of a wave.”
Graeme Bannerman, former US State Department Policy Planning Staff Middle East analyst said:
“Popular opinion in the Middle East runs so against American policies that any change in any (regional) government….that becomes more popular will have an anti-American and certainly less friendly direction towards the US which will be a serious political problem for us.”
A circulated flyer said:
“Without beating around the bush or postponing or playing us for fools and without more false promises, we, the people of Egypt, demand all of our long forgotten rights to be granted and this time there is no turning back….we have learned our lesson….we have finally broken free of all fears.”
On January 25, Egypt’s “day of wrath,” copies circulated, containing specific political and economic demands, including:
— salary and pension increases;
— financial aid for unemployed workers;
— canceling the law of emergency, empowering authorities to arrest people without warrants;
— demanding Mubarak’s ouster and his son, Gamal, prevented from succeeding him;
— dissolving Egypt’s fraudulently elected parliament;
— holding free democratic elections; and
— banning Egyptian exports to Israel, mainly its natural gas.
From Alexandria, Dr. Ashraf Ezzat called Egypt’s events “historic,” perhaps signaling the end of repressive Mubarak rule and the nation’s “addiction to Authoritarianism.”
Events are fast-moving and breathtaking. Earlier, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to take part in street protests. That changed, the group saying it participated on Friday to control them.
On January 28, New York Times writers David Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell headlined, “Clashes in Cairo Extend Arab World’s Days of Unrest,” saying:
Pouring out of mosques after noon prayers, “thousands of demonstrators….across Cairo and other Egyptian cities….intensified their campaign to oust President Hosni Mubarak….” Police confronted them violently, Reuters reporting:
“Dozens of people were wounded as police and demonstrators fought running street battles in Cairo on Friday in unprecedented protests against” Mubarak’s three-decade rule. “Witnesses saw dozens of Egyptians bruised, bloodied and fainting.” Medical sources reported at least five deaths and hundreds wounded.
“Snatch squads of plain clothes security men dragged off suspected ringleaders.” Friday was the largest, bloodiest day so far. Reuters said, for the first time, army forces were on streets, but it wasn’t clear what role they’ll play. In Cairo’s Tahir square, people encircled a military vehicle, shaking hands with soldiers, and chanting, “The army and people are united. The revolution has come.”
On January 29, Al Jazeera headlined, “Protesters back on Egypt streets,” saying:
“Similar crowds were gathering in the cities of Alexandria and Suez….They are calling for regime change….The latest protests reflected popular discontent with Mubarak’s midnight address, where he announced that he was dismissing his government but remaining in power.”
On Saturday, Cairo streets again looked like a war zone. Army forces replaced police. People embraced them as allies. Events are fluid and bear watching.
So far, protests show no signs of abating. Across the region, events are truly breathtaking. Long-suffering people taste change and demand it. They’ve never had a better chance than now, but getting it won’t be quick or easy.
Popular Revolt in Yemen
On January 27, New York Times writers Anthony Shadid, Nada Bakri and Kareem Fahim headlined, “Waves of Unrest Spread to Yemen, Shaking a Region,” saying:
On Thursday, thousands “took to the streets of Yemen (where) secular and Islamist Egyptian opposition leaders vowed to join large protests expected Friday as calls for change rang across the Arab world.”
At issue – ending Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 32-year rule. From 1978 – 1990, he was president of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). Since then, he chaired the Presidential Council of the Republic of Yemen (North and South Yemen).
Throughout Sanaa, the capital, thousands demanded he go, protesters chanting, “Enough being in power for 30 years! Gone in just 20 years,” referring to Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Earlier demonstrations preceded Thursday’s mass one against a hated ruler of one of the world’s poorest nations where half the population lives on less than $2 a day. Wealth distribution is extreme. Governance is notoriously corrupt and brutal. Chronic hunger is a major problem. Illiteracy tops 50%, and perhaps unemployment matches it.
Journalist Patrick Cockburn once called Yemen:
“a dangerous place. Wonderfully beautiful, the mountainous north of the country is guerrilla paradise. The Yemenis are exceptionally hospitable….humorous, sociable and democratic, infinitely preferable as company to the arrogant ignorant playboys of the (rich regional) oil states.”
The capital Sanaa dates back to the 6th century BC Sabaean dynasty. However, it’s power is limited, given the strength of tribes, clans, and influential families in a society very much a gun culture and prone to direct action.
On average, Yemenis own three guns per person in a nation of 23 million people, including one or more automatic weapons, like an AK-47 as well as heavier arms. Yemeni Professor Ahmed al-Kibsi once told a British reporter: “Just as you have your tie, the Yemeni will carry his gun,” and isn’t at all shy about using it.
As a result, “Yemen has all the explosive ingredients of Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan,” so US entanglement there may become another quagmire, besides others in the region already, compounded by explosive revolutionary fervor.
Aided by Washington and Saudi Arabia, Saleh is waging repressive war against northern Shia tribes, causing thousands of deaths and many more displaced. In addition, he’s fighting armed secessionists in the South.
The New York Times calls Yemen “a haven for Islamic jihadists and the site of what amounts to a secret American war against leaders of a branch that Al Qaeda has established there.”
What’s at stake? At most, Yemen has four billion proved barrels of oil reserves and modest amounts of natural gas, hardly a reason for war. More important is its strategic location near the Horn of Africa on Saudi Arabia’s southern border, the Red Sea, its Bab el- Mandeb strait (a key chokepoint separating Yemen from Eritrea through which three million barrels of oil pass daily), and the Gulf of Aden connection to the Indian Ocean.
In late 2009, Saudi forces bombed and used tanks against Yemen. In addition, a rebel group called the Young Believers said US jets launched multiple attacks in Yemen’s northwest Sa’ada Province. Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported US Special Forces train Yemen’s army, and operate covertly on their own. The CIA also operates freely, using death squads and daily drone attacks.
Unlike Tunisia’s spontaneous uprising, an opposition coalition organized Yemen’s protests, hoping for US backing whether or not possible. However, once unleashed, popular anger has a life of its own, inspired for the same reasons as in Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, and Tunisia – deep poverty, mass unemployment, high food and energy prices, repression, and governments unresponsive to popular needs.
On January 27, Al Jazeera headlined, “Anti-government rallies hit Yemen,” saying:
“Tens of thousands (demanded change), call(ing) for an end to” Saleh’s government. In Aden, a 28-year old unemployed man, Souad Sabri, self-immolated, protesting economic hardships. Medical officials said he was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
Saleh is also accused wanting to hand power to his son, Ahmed, head of the elite Presidential Guard. In a January 23 television address, he denied it, saying “We are a republic. We reject bequeathing” the presidency. However, after decades of strongman rule, street protesters believe otherwise, wanting a clean sweep for change.
One banner read “Game over.” A student shouted “We want change like Tunisia.” Despite Yemen’s largest protests since Saleh got power, security forces have mostly kept a low profile. According to a government spokesman:
“No major clashes or arrests occurred, and police presence was minimal. The government strongly respects the democratic right for a peaceful assembly.”
On January 20, independent reports disagreed, saying clashes and gun battles erupted in Aden, injuring at least seven people. Government forces used tear gas and live fire to disperse protesters. Dozens were detained, including Tawakul Karman, a prominent human rights activist, accused of organizing anti-government demonstrations. Later released, she told CNN International that a Tunisia-inspired revolution was ongoing.
On January 28, Hakim al-Masmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post told the BBC that people no longer will put up with widespread poverty, and that protests will likely continue because people believe “all chances of a dialogue with the ruling party are vanishing.”
Uprising in Jordan
On January 28, Al Jazeera headlined, “Thousands protest in Jordan,” saying:
As in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Yemen, mass protests “demand(ed) the country’s prime minister step down, and (that) the government curb rising prices, inflation and unemployment.”
Denouncing Prime Minister Samir Rifai, many shouted, “Rifai go away, prices are on fire and so are the Jordanians.” Protesters were joined by members of the Islamic Action Front and the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing. According to Professor Ibrahim Alloush:
“We’re demanding changes on how the country is now run,” accusing officials of impoverishing working people, and imposing regressive taxes, forcing them to pay proportionally more than they can afford. He also accused parliament of complicity with the prime minister. As a result, “This is what had led people to protest in the streets because they don’t have venues for venting how they feel through legal means.”
Jordanian demonstrations will likely continue as so far they’re doing in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Egypt. Other eruptions may follow, including perhaps in the West Bank against repressive PA enforcers, serving Israel, not Palestinians.
Note: During Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice infamously told the Lebanese people they were experiencing “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Relatives of the dead, the injured and displaced weren’t amused. Today, in contrast, popular uprisings, for the first time, may produce real democracies that never before existed. Events are fast-moving and breathtaking. Only time will show how they play out.
A Final Comment
Unlike America’s major media, Al Jazeera provides important coverage of world events, including, of course, in the Middle East. On January 27, however, New York Times writers Robert Worth and David Kirkpatrick headlined, “Seizing a Moment, Al Jazeera Galvanizes Arab Frustration,” saying:
Middle East uprisings have a common thread “uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.” Calling it “Al Jazeera’s moment,” it helped “shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments” and Israel since established 15 years ago.
“That narrative has long been implicit in the channel’s heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banner and swelling orchestral accompaniments.”
George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch was quoted saying:
“The notion that there is a common struggle across the Arab world is something Al Jazeerah helped create. They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera.”
The Times writers accused it of “tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah (and) Hamas,” Tunisia’s uprising, earlier sympathy for Saddam Hussein, and most recently against Israel and PA authorities in the “Palestine Papers.”
“There is little doubt that Al Jazeera takes sides in the Palestinian dispute.” In fact, it produces credible journalism unlike The New York Times and rest of America’s MSM, supporting wealth and power, imperial lawlessness, tinpot dictators like Mubarak, Ben Ali and many others, and corrupt US politics under both parties. They deliver managed news, not truth on what people most need to know. Thankfully, they can access AlJazeera and other alternative media sources online to find out, what growing numbers now do regularly.
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.