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Movements Rock the Arab World

I started to put together a synopsis of the protests taking place across the Arab world, only to find that Wikipedia had beaten me to it. Nevertheless I’m putting up my own map and summary of where things stand.

Red: Governments Overthrown

Tunisia and Egypt thus far.

Orange: Significant Governmental Change

Jordan is ruled by King Abdullah. Protests forced him to sack and replace his Prime Minister and cabinet; the new Prime Minister is not a popular replacement, and protests have continued.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged not to stand for reelection when his term ends in 2014, but protests continue. From Juan Cole:

Iraqis have been demonstrating against the al-Maliki government and lack of services for two weeks now. But on Thursday, a wave of rallies swept the country from north to south, leaving two dead in Sulaimaniya and government buildings torched elsewhere.

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that in the city of Kut in Shiite south Iraq (the capital of Wasit province), crowds threatened the provincial headquarters. This action came a day after they had burned down the provincial council building and saw 3 protesters killed by security forces.

In Kut on Thursday, dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of the mansion of the governor of Wasit Province, demanding the removal of the local governor. They demanded better government services, an end to administrative corruption (constant demands for bribes by provincial officials to do their jobs), accountability for the corrupt, and jobs. On Wednesday, police had shot dead three protesters and wounded more in Kut after they had set fire to a government building.

On Thursday, in the town of Nasar in Dhi Qar province, 490 km south of Baghdad, police chief Sabah al-Fatlawi said that a curfew had been implemented after government buildings were burned.

Also on Thursday, some 600 demonstrators in the southern port city of Basra in Iraq rallied in front of the provincial governor’s mansion, demanding his resignation over failure to provide basic services. They were pushed back by police.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has pledged that neither he nor his son will stand for reelection when his term expires in 2013. He has ruled North Yemen since 1978 and all of Yemen since it united in 1990. Protestors continue to call for his immediate resignation.

Algeria has pledged to repeal state of emergency laws in place since 1992. Protests over food prices and democratization continue; President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in power since 1999.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sacked and reshuffled his cabinet amid protests, although the Prime Minister has been asked to continue.

Yellow: Ongoing Major and Minor Protests

Iran saw massive protests following the reelection of President Ahmadinejad in 2009. Successfully repressed at the time, they have restarted, and opposition leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are under house arrest.

Kuwait has seen relatively mild protests thus far, calling for more rights for long-term residents and non-citizens.

Bahrain, a small island kingdom in the Persian Gulf, has been rocked by protests. The country is ruled by a Sunni monarchy but 70% of the country’s citizens are Shiite. Massive numbers of Sunni guest workers have been imported into the country in recent years, and while not citizens themselves, now make up 54% of its entire population. This – and the fact that the police and armed forces are also imported Sunnis, not native Bahrainis, and therefore not reluctant to use force – serves to prop up the regime against the demographic danger it faces. Protests in the past have been put down by force. Geopolitical danger abounds – Juan Cole lays out the implications well here, but in brief, the fear is that a Shiite Bahrain will be a Bahrain subject to Iranian influence. This worries the US – which has its Fifth Naval Fleet based in Bahrain – and Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by a causeway and has its own oppressed minority of Shiite citizens to worry about.

Recent protests in Bahrain have been both sectarian (Shiite) and class-based (Shiites are the poor and economically disenfranchised in Bahrain) as well as political. The response has been brutal, and Saudi Arabia may intervene if the protestors gain the upper hand:

And Saudi Arabia is even more nervous – a causeway links the kingdom to Bahrain.

An expert with close ties to the powerful Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef told me the Saudi government will intervene if the situation “gets out of hand”.

Gala Riani of Jane’s Weekly concurs, saying the Saudis would not be loath to lend support – and in a worst-case scenario to intervene directly – should the Bahraini authorities not be able to control the demonstrations.

Oman has been relatively quiet, with new class-based protests now calling for an end to corruption and a more equitable distribution of oil wealth.

Djibouti, a small country on the horn of Africa, has had the same President since 1999: Ismail Omar Guelleh. Ongoing pro-democracy protests there are calling for him to step down.

Mogadishu in Somalia has seen minor protests against the Transitional Government and the Islamist movement which controls much of Somalia

On 13 February, hundreds of youth marched in the long road between the KM4 and Banaadir junctions, in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, demonstrating against both the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), led by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and the Islamist insurgent group Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen (HSM), led by Sheikh Ibrahim “al-Afghani”, which controls much of the country. Protestors said they would continue until they overcame their leaders like in Egypt and Tunisia. At least 7 of the demonstration organizers were seized and taken into custody by the TFG.

Morocco has a reputation as a bastion of relative freedom and liberalism in the Middle East, and its King, who came to power in 1999, is relatively popular. Nonetheless economic difficulties abound and youth protests have been called for February 20.

Libya has been ruled by Col Muammar Gaddafi for 41 years, making him the longest-serving ruler in the Arab world and one of the longest in world history. Libya has reset its relations with the West in recent years but remains repressive toward dissent; 84 people have been killed in Libyan ongoing pro-democracy/anti-corruption protests thus far.

Syria has largely been protest-free and remains so, but a recent protest against police brutality may be a sign of more to come:

An estimated 1,500 people took to the streets of Damascus on Thursday, after a shopkeeper’s son was allegedly beaten by police.

Such a spontaneous demonstration is unprecedented in Syria. The authorities regularly allow gatherings in support of the president, or causes that the government approves of, like Palestine and Iraq. But an anti-authority protest like Thursday morning’s scenes in downtown Damascus has not been seen for a generation.

The demonstrators, who had come on to the streets of the Hariqa area in the Old City of Damascus, stood their ground for three hours. In a bizarre scene, the interior minister drove into the gathering and addressed the crowd.

“This is a demonstration,” he said, almost stunned as he stood among the protesters. He met the alleged victim of the attack and promised an investigation.

“It was a massive PR boost,” said Serge Hamsterian, a Syrian student. “The minister went right into the middle of the audience. The symbolism of a government standing with the people couldn’t have been better portrayed.”

Green: Marginal or No Protests

Qatar, a relative beacon of freedom in the Middle East and home of the controversial al-Jazeera cable network, has been quiet so far. But protests are planned for February 27.

The United Arab Emirates has seen no major protest activity.

Saudi Arabia is also relatively immune so far. From wikipedia:

In Saudi Arabia, an unidentified 65-year old man died on 21 January after setting himself on fire in the town of Samtah, Jizan. This was apparently the kingdom’s first known case of self-immolation.

On 29 January, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of Jeddah in a rare display of criticism against the city’s poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through the city, killing eleven people. Police stopped the demonstration about 15 minutes after it started. About 30 to 50 people were arrested. On the same day, an online campaign started on Facebook, making demands that included calling for Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy, and for “an end to corruption, an even distribution of wealth, and a serious solution for unemployment”.

On 10 February, a Thomson Reuters report claimed that 10 intellectuals, human rights activists and lawyers came together to create the Umma Islamic Party — considered to be the first political party in Saudi Arabia since the 1990’s — to demand the end of absolute monarchy in the country. On February 18 however, all ten members of the party were arrested and ordered to withdraw demands for political reform in exchange for their release.

Sudan witnessed brief protests in the capital, Khartoum, which were quickly broken up by police.

Mauritania is a relatively poor country in Western Africa currently under the rule of a military general elected after a coup in 2008. A self-immolation there in January is thus far the only major protest activity.

Unlike the copy-cat self-immolations in Algeria (and Bouazizi’s original) there was no apparent spark in his personal life and he was older and better off than several of the other men. Little is known about Ould Dahoud personally, though Mauritanians that crossed paths with him at various stages describe him as “a democrat,” by disposition. It appears he intended to mimic Bouazizi’s “spark” to revolution. His self-immolation will shock many in Mauritania but a Facebook page has already been set up called “Solidarity with Yakoub Ould Dahoud who burned himself for Mauritania,” with enthusiastic users changing their profile pictures to an image of the man burning on the street.

It seems clear that the event has the regime nonplussed, which had a rough time getting outsiders to accept its legitimacy. That some news sites and agencies have buried the story somewhat is not an accident.

Blue: Exceptions

Western Sahara is an occupied territory of Morocco.

Southern Sudan is about to become the world’s newest nation.

Somalia, Puntland, and Somaliland are the opposite of dictatorships – they are characterized by instability. With the exception of a few people in Mogadishu, the last thing most people want to do is overthrow what government exists.

Israel is excepted for obvious reasons.

Lenanon recently saw a revolutionary change of government itself, with Hezbollah dominating the new government. However this change occurred democratically and for different reasons and with different dynamics than the other changes taking place in the Arab world.

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