Middle East Protests Continue for Unmet Demands – by Stephen Lendman
So far, weeks of regional protests achieved nothing. Despite ousting Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, their regimes remain in place, offering nothing but unfulfilled promises.
On February 26, Egyptians again protested in Tahrir Square. This time, however, military forces confronted them, Reuters headlining, “Egypt military angers protesters with show of force,” saying:
“Soldiers used force on Saturday to break up a protest demanding more political reform in Egypt, demonstrators said, in the toughest move yet against opposition activists who accused the country’s military rulers of ‘betraying the people.’ “
New York Times writer Liam Stack headlined, “Egyptian Military Forces End to New Protest,” saying:
“Tens of thousands of protesters returned Friday to Tahrir Square….to keep up the pressure on Egypt’s military-led transitional government.”
Violence followed, including beatings, use of tasers, and live firing in the air, threatening perhaps harsher action if protests continue. Al Jazeera said:
“Protesters left the main (square) but many had gathered in surrounding streets….Witnesses said they saw several protesters fall to the ground, but it was not clear if they were wounded or how seriously.”
Participant Ashraf Omar said:
“I am one of the thousands of people who stood their ground after the army started dispersing the protesters, shooting live bullets into the air to scare them.”
He said soldiers wore black masks to avoid being identified. Military buses were used for those arrested. It’s “a cat-and-mouse chase.There is no more unity between the people and the army.”
In fact, there never was, only the illusion that unsympathetic generals were populists at heart. In fact, they’ve been regime hard-liners for decades, rewarded handsomely for backing state repression.
“They were using tasers and (batons) to beat us without any control,” said Omar. “I thought things would change. I wanted to give the government a chance, but there is no hope with this regime. There is no use. I am back on the street. I either live with dignity or I die here.”
Egyptians want the military junta-led government to resign and immediately release all political prisoners. They’re outraged by no reforms, and because Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq reshuffled his cabinet, leaving Mubarak cronies in power.
As a result, battle lines are again drawn. “Counterrevolution” comments are heard, protesters chanting:
“We do not want Shafiq any more, even if they shoot us with bullets….Revolution until victory, revolution against Shafiq and the palace….We won’t leave! He will go!” This isn’t “what hundreds of people died (for). Shafiq is a student of Mubarak. We have demanded a new beginning, and (he’s) not part of it. We refuse him.”
Reuters also said many thousands demonstrated in Ismailia, Arish, Suez and Port Said. Moreover, strikes continue across the country for better wages, decent living conditions, ending corruption, and workplace democracy. Involved are miners; steel, textile, chemical and pharmaceutical workers; others at an agricultural processing facility; teachers; bus drivers and other transport workers; religious endowment workers; and others long denied rights all workers deserve. They rarely get it anywhere, including in developed countries.
Egypt’s junta called the strikes illegal, saying it won’t let them continue because they “pose a danger to the nation, and they will confront them.” It also said “(t)he current unstable political conditions do not permit a new constitution.” Their expertise is repression, not democratic governance. None will be forthcoming.
Protests in Jordan
Barely noticed in the West, especially by America’s major media focusing largely on Libya, Haaretz writer Avi Issacharoff headlined on February 25, “Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated in Amman for sixth consecutive Friday,” saying:
Over 5,000 “demand(ed) political reforms and the dissolution of the lower house of parliament.” A week earlier, plainclothes thugs attacked them. Six or more were injured. Jordan’s government denied involvement. Many are skeptical. They demand change, shutting Israel’s Amman embassy, and restoring Jordan’s 1952 constitution, allowing representative government. In recent decades, democratic rights severely eroded. Protesters want them back. King Abdullah II promised reforms, so far not delivered and won’t be without continued pressure.
Mass Iraq Protests
On February 25, tens of thousands rallied throughout the country against occupation, oppression, corruption, unemployment, impoverishment, better services (including clean water, electricity and healthcare), inadequate food and high prices, and overall human misery after eight years under Washington’s rule.
Violence resulted, Iraqi security forces using live fire in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and elsewhere. At least 15 were reported killed, dozens wounded. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani spoke on Al Sumaria Television against demonstrations, saying it would benefit “infiltrators.” Moktada al-Sadr shamelessly said:
State forces “are attempting to crack down on everything you have achieved, all the democratic gains, the free elections, the peaceful exchanges of power and freedom. So I call on you….to thwart the enemy plans by not” demonstrating.
In fact, occupied Iraqis have no rights, no democracy, no freedom, few jobs, horrid living conditions, and no possibility for change without seizing it. One man spoke for many, denouncing the al-Maliki government, calling him a liar, and saying:
“I’m a laborer. I work one day and stay at home for a month. (Maliki) says (we’re better off than) under Saddam Hussein – where is it?” Tens of thousands across the country now demand it. Look for protests to gain momentum.
Days earlier, new protests rocked the country, tens of thousands in Tunis demanding Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and other Ben Ali holdovers resign. Police fired in the air to disperse them. Helicopters circled overhead. Marchers chanted “Leave!” and “We don’t want the friends of Ben Ali!”
The Interior Ministry banned protests, saying participants would be arrested. Washington and other Western countries back Ghannouchi’s regime, saying it guarantees stability when, if fact, it leaves old policies in place, largely under the same officials. Visiting Tunisia a week ago, Senator John McCain (one of the Senate’s four most reactionary members by his voting record) told Reuters:
“The revolution in Tunisia has been very successful and it has become a model for the region. We stand ready to provide training to help Tunisia’s military to provide security.”
In fact, nothing in Tunisia changed, nor in Egypt, Jordan or elsewhere in the region. Regime holdovers remain in charge. Moreover, only uprisings occurred, not revolutions. They’re far short of violent, convulsive, insurrections, removing old orders for new ones, except perhaps ahead in Libya where opposition forces now control parts of the country. More on that below.
Protests in Yemen
On February 26, Reuters headlined, “Two more die after protests in Yemeni city of Aden,” saying:
Security forces killed them and two others, wounding dozens. Weeks of protests have continued, daily since February 17 in cities and provinces throughout the country. “Unrest has been especially intense in the once-independent south, where many people resent rule from the north.”
Large demonstrations continued in the capital Sanaa after Friday prayers, protesters shouting, “The people demand the downfall of the regime.” Local media said up to 80,000 participated, including women, chanting, “Out, out!”
Large numbers of police and military forces confronted them. After weeks of protests, dozens have been killed. Yemenis, however, remain resolute, one on Friday saying “We are coming to take (Saleh) from the presidential palace.” Others said this is “the beginning of the end for the regime.”
So far, neither side’s yielding, but if demonstrations continue and grow, either Saleh and his cronies will go, or more bloodshed in the streets will follow. Resolution one way or other remains uncertain.
Protests Rage in Libya
On February 26, Al Jazeera said pressure is building for Gaddafi to step down. “Within the country, anti-government protesters said the demonstrations were gaining support,” including soldiers reportedly deserting the ranks to join them. So far, Libya’s Khamis Brigade, an army special forces unit remains loyal to the regime, fighting opposition forces.
Violence has been extreme. Hundreds are reported dead, many others wounded. Libya’s east is largely in opposition hands. “Security forces….fire(d) on anti-government protesters in the capital, Tripoli, after” Friday prayers. “Heavy gunfire was (also) reported (in) Fashloum, Ashour, Jumhouria and Souq Al.”
On February 26, Haaretz headlined, “US imposes unilateral sanctions on Libya, freezes Gaddafi’s assets,” saying, Obama did it by Executive Order against him, his family, top officials, and Libya’s government.
On February 26, New York Times writers Helene Cooper and Mark Landler headlined, “Following US Sanctions, UN Security Council to Meet on Libya,” saying:
Under consideration is imposing international sanctions, including an arms embargo and travel ban against Gaddafi, his family and all key government officials. “The tougher American response came nine days” after protests erupted. “American officials are also discussing a no-flight zone” to prevent use of military aircraft on threat of NATO intervention, meaning undeclared war if it happens besides others in the region.
At issue, of course, is defending Libya’s oil assets and the interests of Western oil giants in the country. As in Egypt, throughout the region, and elsewhere, it has nothing to do with replacing despots with democracy.
A Final Comment
Of special note is how America’s media react, especially television where most people get what passes for news and information. For weeks, demonstrations have occurred in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrian, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, and now Libya, as well as labor protests in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Only Egypt and Libya got extensive coverage, against their leaders, not regimes or policies.
Moreover, in recent days, large protests in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, and Friday’s in Egypt were largely ignored, except for occasional print accounts reaching small audiences by comparison.
In addition, except against Mubarak, no major broadsheet ran editorials like The New York Times’ February 24 one headlined, “Stopping Qaddafi,” saying:
“Unless some way is found to stop him, (he’ll) slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power.”
What about stopping other regional despots maintaining close Washington ties. What about denouncing America’s imperial madness, responsible for killing millions throughout the region (and elsewhere), directly or indirectly, since the 1980s alone.
What about defending democracy, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, and Palestinian rights under brutal Israeli occupation, oppressed daily by belligerence, land theft, mass arrests, targeted assassinations, and torture, as well as beleaguered Gazans under siege since mid-2007, suffering severely as a result.
What about supporting right over wrong and denouncing lawless US policies, including at home, instead of:
— ignoring unmet human needs;
— record numbers impoverished, homeless and hungry;
— sham elections;
— deep corruption at the highest government and corporate levels;
— colluding with corporate interests, federal, state and local governments are waging war on organized labor;
— a deepening social decay; and
— many other symptoms of national decline, recognized more abroad than internally, while, at the same time backing monied interests, imperial wars, and many other unprincipled policies.
Why not editorialize against American policies, calling for “harder (efforts) to stop mass atrocities,” and that “(t)he longer the world temporizes, the more people die.” Where more than in countries Washington occupies where Times coverage airbrushes out popular suffering, focusing only on regimes Washington opposes, not policies, it wants left unchanged.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. 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.