The current events in the Middle East are disturbing for many reasons. Gruesome, indiscriminate violence by dictatorial regimes against their citizens is nothing new, nor is the desire by dictators to squash democratic uprisings. But never have so many democratic efforts occurred in the region simultaneously.
Uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen come on the heels of successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. You can read my post on the causes of the democratic effort in Egypt here, and my thoughts on the start of events in Libya in my show notes from Tim Corrimal‘s Episode 157, here.
Let me begin where I left off with Libya, then I’ll discuss Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, last.
As noted previously, the current situation in Libya began with a series of protests and demonstrations on February 15. Within a week these protests had spread and Gaddafi’s regime was significantly challenged. Similar to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the primary goal of the protests in Libya was the cessation of Gaddafi’s 42-year-long regime. Gaddafi has responded to the uprising with brute military force, censorship, and the blocking of communication outlets.
What has occurred since February 15 is essentially the devolution of Libya into civil war. Gaddafi has seen segments of his armed forces defect to a coalition of rebel organizations (a mixture of international entities (it’s alleged the Tunisia and Egypt are assisting financially and militarily), Libyan tribes, National Transitional Council, Free Libyan Air Force, Libyan People’s Army, etc). He has also seen the eastern third of his country fall out of his control and into the control of the hands of the opposition (this control is maintained in the coastal town of Benghazi). Gaddafi has maintained control of the western and central thirds of Libya and has maintained the largest city, Tripoli. I hesitate to call Tripoli the “capital” since it is becoming clear that Libya is divided in civil warfare and Benghazi is now the “capital” of the opposition forces’ National Transitional Council.
Gaddafi has tried to negotiate with the opposition leaders. But his continued use of international paid mercenaries, his violent attacks on his own citizens, and his and his son’s continued public petulance to calls for their resignation have kept the opposition leaders away from negotiations. The UN has taken several measures against Gaddafi and numerous members of his inner circle: freezing their bank accounts and restricting their travel. This was followed up with a resolution by member states to enact a no-fly zone over Libya. This was led, as we all know by now by France and the US (among others) before the US handed off control to NATO.
The efforts to squash political unrest in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt is no different then what is happening in the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan and Syria. Military dictators ruling in the Arab/Islamic World since the 1960s and 1970s under “emergency law” are rampant and have enacted vicious, heinous police states upon their people for decades. They have systematically raped their countries of financial resources and and have syphoned money away from their citizens and into their own pockets.
This is echoed through out the Middle East and is at the heart of the current uprisings. Take Bahrain, for example, a Sunni monarchy that presides over a predominantly Shiia population. While Bahrain is different from it’s neighbors, in that it’s protests are based prominently on religious minority ruling over a different religious majority, the concern is still over-extended leadership and the dangers that poses to a country’s citizenry. Bahrain’s protests were based on greater political freedoms and calls to end the monarchy. After all, as of 2010, more than half of the serving cabinet members in Bahrain came from the ruling family.
After a month of camping out in the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the Bahrani capital, the monarchy called in troops to violently confront the protestors. On March 15, Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. This pattern of cause and effect – protestors gather, present their demands, state responds by trying to squash protestors, violence ensues, martial law or emergency law is enacted as last resort – has been used consistently by Middle East dictators and despots to control cyclical uprisings.
In Yemen, the current protests began on the heels of the Tunisian revolution and simultaneous to the Egyptian revolution. Starting in Sana’a on January 27, a protest of 16,000 Yemenis kicked off the effort which has been aimed at addressing concerns about unemployment, economic conditions, corruption, and the government’s attempts to modify the state constitution. Protests soon escalated to calling for the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to resign.
Following the lead of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on February 2 that he would not seek reelection in 2013, but instead he would pass the role to his son. The following day, February 3, outraged Yemenis took to the streets by the tens of thousands in Sana’a and Aden, in a “Day of Rage” called for by Tawakel Karman. There were counter-protests organized in in Sana’a by pro-regime forces and organizations. Fridays of protests in Sana’a, in particular, but in other cities have continued throughout February and March.
The same concerns about a over-reach and a regime ruling under emergency law propelled Syria to unprecedented protests beginning at the end of January. After the Ba’athist overthrow in Iraq in 1963, the party took control in Syria. Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar have ruled Syria under emergency rule since 1970. Almost all of the constitutional rights afforded Syrians are squashed under emergency rule. It also squelches opposition to the party and the al-Assads. Furthermore, when Hafez al-Assad died in 2000 a controversial amedment was pushed through to lower the age requirement for president so Bashar could succeed his father. This kind of corruption and squelching of rights and free elections are at the heart of not only the current protests in Syria, but as I have discussed, all the protests, demonstrations and revolutions in the Middle East since the start of the year.