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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/18/11

Ninety Days of Popular Uproar -- Taking Stock of the Arab Revolutions

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Author 59238
Message Esam Al-Amin

Saleh has made overtures similar to Mubarak in Egypt which proved unsuccessful, including pledging to step down at the end of his term in 2013, holding new elections, and forming a national unity government (see my article When Egypt's Revolution was at the Crossroads.) As Yemen increasingly follows the Egyptian course, it is only a matter of time before the regime's downfall is realized.

Bahrain, the tiny island in the Persian Gulf, has been in turmoil since February 14. The popular protests against King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifah have been led by the major opposition groups of the repressed Shi'ite majority. If the Egyptians were tired of Mubarak's 30-year rule, the Bahraini majority has been suffocated by the Al-Khalifa family's 230-year tenure.

The peaceful protests by tens of thousands were met initially by security, then army, crackdowns. As casualties mounted, the demands of the protesters escalated from calling for a change of government, to a constitutional monarchy, and then to demanding total regime change (from a monarchy to a republic). As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the threat against the Bahraini regime was considered a threat against all the other regional monarchies. Despite a promise by the other GCC countries (led by Saudi Arabia) of ten billion dollars in economic aid, the protesters declared that their main demand was centered on attaining their political rights not easing economic difficulties.

By the week of March 14 over two thousand soldiers from Saudi Arabia, U.A.E, and Kuwait crossed the border and joined the Bahraini security forces in attacking thousands of protesters in Pearl Square. The onslaught resulted in numerous casualties and widespread arrests, which promised to worsen the showdown between the people and the regime.

Other GCC countries, such as Oman and Saudi Arabia, also faced several protests and demands for political reforms. They, too, were met with security crackdowns and economic promises. The Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, promised his people economic relief close to $37 Billion, while the GCC countries promised the Sultan of Oman $10 Billion in economic aid.

Despite the transparent attempt to bribe their populations, hundreds of notable individuals in the GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E, have petitioned their rulers to enact real political and democratic reforms before it is too late.

Meanwhile, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Morocco's King Muhammad VI moved quickly to abort the protest movements in their countries. In Jordan, the King dismissed the government and held talks with major opposition leaders and tribes in an attempt to appease them. But large protests in the streets have been taking place on a weekly basis, demanding political reforms based on transforming Jordan into a constitutional monarchy. In Morocco, the King promised major constitutional and democratic reforms by early summer.

Meanwhile, major popular protests taking place in Algeria since early February have faced harsh repression, including beatings and arrests by the security forces. In an attempt to stem the tide, the regime promised future political reforms, but more importantly, it lifted the state of emergency that has been imposed in the country since 1991. This infamous law was used as a pretext to commit immense human rights abuses and stifle political activity by the opposition in the country. Similarly, upon major demonstrations across the country, the president of Mauritania promised to offer his people major political and economic reforms.

Several nascent protests by few hundred people in Syria were swiftly met with crackdown and arrests by the security apparatus. The country has been ruled by the minority Alawite sect since 1970, and placed under a state of emergency since 1963. But the extent of the vioence of the regime, when it killed over 20,000 during the 1982 popular uprising in the city of Hamah, is still fresh in the minds of the Syrian people. Meanwhile, the Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad offered limited economic relief to the poor, pardoned a small number of political prisoners, and pledged to pursue political reforms.

In Sudan, the opposition has been mobilizing for a major showdown with the government of Omar Al-Bashir in light of its monopoly on power, the break-up of the country in the south, and the potential split of Darfur in the West. They warned that unless a national unity government is established soon, a major uprising could sweep the country.

In Lebanon after the collapse of the pro-Western government of Saad Hariri, the new political majority led by Hezbollah has been trying to form a government that would address the economic, security, and political challenges facing the country. Meanwhile, a new movement led by the youth has been created. Its slogan is, "the people want the fall of sectarianism." How successful this movement will be in the face of a sectarian system that has been entrenched in society since 1943 is open to question.

But the sectarian system created in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in Iraq is less than eight years old. People in Iraq of all ethnic backgrounds and religious affiliations have taken to the streets to challenge the government's sectarian-based composition and protest the widespread corruption of the political parties. They have been met with deadly force by the security apparatus of the American-backed government without a whiff from their patrons in Washington, London, or other Western capitals. Perhaps a new, non-sectarian and inclusive movement out of the mess in Iraq could be established as a result of the new revolutionary spirit in the Arab world.

In the occupied Palestinian territories, the people's main demand has been "the people want the end of the division," in a direct reference to the split between Fatah and Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank led by Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas government in Gaza led by Ismail Hanniyeh.

In an attempt to corner Hamas, Abbas offered to travel to Gaza and meet with Hanniyyeh to form a new national unity government comprised of technocrats, if Hamas would be willing to schedule parliamentary and presidential elections within six months. While Hamas welcomed the initiative, the basis of the dispute, which is the Oslo process, the collaboration of the PA with the Israeli occupation, and the marginalization of the Palestinian Diaspora were totally ignored.

Soon the slogan sweeping the occupied Palestinian territories will be "the people demand the end of occupation." In this instance, the world would be put to the test to see whether it would again ignore or seriously deal with the expected Israeli violence and repressive measures against the upcoming Palestinian uprising against the occupation. But in light of the enormous regional strategic shifts in favor of democratic forces across Arab societies, Western countries would have to take definitive stands in favor of justice for the Palestinians if they want to maintain their credibility and protect their interests.

How far reaching such reforms the GCC countries, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and other countries are willing to put forward will most certainly depend on how much the people are willing to sacrifice and persevere. But an important indicator in the triumph of any revolution is the depth and development of the national character in society above all else.

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