Growing protest movement across Middle East prompts crackdowns, vows to reform

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, February 1, 2011 12:26 EDT
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After revelations by secrets outlet WikiLeaks led Tunisians to overthrow the corrupt dictator Zine Abedine Ben Ali, the Middle East has been a pot at roaring boil, with brewing revolts in numerous nations, most notably Egypt.

Other nations’ governments have begun scrambling. In Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and across sub-Saharan Africa, leaders felt a distinctly new sensation thanks to the wave of uprisings: fear, of their own people.

The Tunisian uprising set a precedent for the region that has now recurred in Egypt — a bigger, more strategically important country.

Pascal Boniface, an analyst with the Institute for International and Strategic Relations, called Tunisia a “generic model” for challenging authoritarian governments, which could be reprised “in Africa, Asia, anywhere repressive powers dominate and appear worn out.”

Tuesday, as millions of Egyptians participated in the largest protests the country had ever seen, cities across eastern Libya went into a state of emergency, dispensing police to all government buildings and setting up militarized checkpoints in key areas, according to Al Jazeera.

The state of emergency included shutting down Libyan Football Federation matches planned for February. It came after a series of demonstrations called for Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi (pictured above) to resign.

Gaddafi, the subject of numerous leaked US diplomatic cables, allegedly travels everywhere with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse. Since that and other revelations about the Libyan leader began to trickle out, his inner-circle has reportedly become besieged with tamping down rumors.

Gaddafi has been in power over 40 years.

Similarly, Jordan’s King Abdullah II dismissed his government and named a new prime minister Tuesday, calling on the new officials to carry out “true political reforms,” according to AFP.

Jordan’s powerful Islamist opposition said on Monday that it had started a dialogue with the state, saying that unlike the situation in Egypt, it did not seek regime change.

In Yemen, protesters called for a “day of rage” on Thursday, over the country’s acquiescence to US military interests. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that Yemen officials had been lying to their people, saying they were behind a bombing campaign against radical Islamic fighters when in reality the US was secretly conducting a drone bombing campaign.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh was expected to address a special meeting of parliament head of Thursday’s planned “day of rage.” Saleh in recent days has taken dramatic action to extend government aid and enhance employment, and even ordered university students exempted from the remainder of their fees for the year.

“The African continent is at a special moment in its history, with 22 presidential and legislative elections due in the coming year,” a senior French official who asked not to be named recently told AFP.

“It is not a good time for dictators,” he said. “This could be contagious.”

With AFP.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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