“The Winter Uprisings in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Yemen have shaken western and Arab confidence in the sustainability of the current models of “competitive” authoritarianism. These were not bread riots; they were illustrations of political gangrene…in the end the Winter Uprisings are political, not merely economic. They cannot be reduced to economic “reforms,” pice checks and micro-finance. They are putting strains on the Arab political order in its full diversity. And the youth driving the Winter Uprisings appear not to be satisfied when thrown a bone — they deserve steak. In the span of two months they have seen two long-sitting autocrats make shaken and desperate public appeals in response to their actions and watched one of them make a run for the Gulf. Whether Tunisia or Egypt or some other Arab polity turns out a revolution or a serious political change, these uprisings will be serious political and historical importance going forward. These are exciting, perplexing times indeed.” (TMND)
I, like not a few Americans, am excited and perplexed. To help me understand these times — and you, if you like — I’ve spent the last couple hours collecting and collating the best short-term, English language accounts I could find on what’s happening right now across the Greater Middle East and North Africa, in synchrony with (if not in imitation of) what’s been happening in Egypt.
There have been quite a few persuasive calls (particularly from historians) to resist the urge to see this as one thing, a single “Winter Uprising” as Kal put it above. Manan, for instance, and Gretchen Head. And I agree. But no one would deny that people in Egypt were watching what happened in Tunisia and interpreting it in their own ways, and the rest of the world is sure as hell watching what happened in Egypt. And while this is not exactly Nasser 2.0, the idea of an Egyptian led Pan-Arabism is certainly on the minds of at least some (and in the nightmares of others). As Lamis Andoni writes:
The Egyptian revolution, itself influenced by the Tunisian uprising, has resurrected a new sense of pan-Arabism based on the struggle for social justice and freedom. The overwhelming support for the Egyptian revolutionaries across the Arab world reflects a sense of unity in the rejection of tyrannical, or at least authoritarian, leaders, corruption and the rule of a small financial and political elite.
Arab protests in solidarity with the Egyptian people also suggest that there is a strong yearning for the revival of Egypt as a pan-Arab unifier and leader. Photographs of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president, have been raised in Cairo and across Arab capitals by people who were not even alive when Nasser died in 1970. The scenes are reminiscent of those that swept Arab streets in the 1950s and 1960s.
Palestinians protest in support of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia:
Gaza celebrates news of Mubarak stepping down:
And in a village in Galilee, watchers of Al Jazeera broke out in “spontaneous praise of Allah’s and Google’s miraculous feats, in exchanges of congratulations and backslapping and in happy laughter”:
In two more minutes the sound of fireworks filled the village evening hush. I stepped out for a fuller appreciation of the event and heard the distant sound of fireworks from neighboring Palestinian villages and the beeping of horns in our streets. We rang the late guests and were told that they have been held up at the entrance to Arrabeh, our village, by the flood of cars on its main street. Minutes later another nephew of mine returned and described the seen in the main square of Arrabeh as being in full spontaneous celebratory mode. He likened the atmosphere to that of the day Iran beat the USA 1:0 in the World Cup football tournament. Toufiq called to congratulate and to cancel our picnic. Al-Jazeera ran a steady listing of Arab capitals where the jubilant crowds broke out in celebration of Egypt’s historic achievement. Another nephew sent an MSN message that said: “Crowds pored out in the streets of Arrabeh.” But Al-Jazeera didn’t show it. Ali, a retired teacher from Arrabeh who happened to land in Cairo’s Independence Square on January 25 and whose Journalist son was detained overnight by the Egyptian police, jokingly took credit for “stirring things up there.” Then he added: “I am off to Amman tomorrow.” I told Toufiq over coffee this morning: “This is the most pan-Arab solidarity I have seen since 1970 when we walked in the funeral procession for Jamal Abdul Nasser.”
“But this is different,” he said. “This sets a precedence.” Then in a low conspiratorial voice he confided: “Mark my word: The day will come when scores of millions of young people from the Middle East and Europe will march peacefully as one man on Israel and Palestine and force freedom and civility on us. We have to start preparing to meet them at the borders. It may require another Mjaddara picnic for the current bosses. Who knows?”
(Worth noting: the Palestinian Authority has worked to suppress Palestinian protests in solidarity with Egypt)
In Algeria, thousands of protesters faced off against many more thousands of police who had created a defensive ring around the capital.
Al Jazeera reports that
“2,000 protestors were able to overcome a security cordon enforced around the capital’s May First Square, joining other demonstrators calling for reform…Protesters are demanding greater democratic freedoms, a change of government, and more jobs.
Earlier, police also charged at demonstrators and arrested 10 people outside the Algiers offices of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), as they celebrated Mubarak’s downfall, Said Sadi, RCD leader, told AFP news agency. “It wasn’t even an organised demonstration. It was spontaneous. It was an explosion of joy,” he said.
More video. And a ton of media collated here. Washington Post reports that more than 400 people were arrested (I’ve heard much higher figures) and that 28,000 security forces were deployed to disperse crowds. Here we have a picture — interestingly — of female police arresting a female protester (while male security people in the background arrest males); they’re trying to avoid inflammatory images, I’m sure:
The Moor Next Door will be your source for commentary on what’s happening in Algeria; his modestly titled “Incomplete thoughts on the Algerian Situation” and “More Incomplete Thoughts on the Algerian Situation” are highly informative, and “incomplete” only in the sense that the present tense always is. Highly recommended. And just because, here’s an aggregation of a series of his tweets from the last few hours (along with his retweets of other people; so very postmodern):
Algerian authoritarianism more smoothly mixes Arab & Eastern Bloc techniques than Egypt, Tunis. We must understand the lessons of Egypt and Tunisia but we must also read our own. Failure to do so will lead to failure.
Likelihood of Tunisian/Egyptian success is low but it will erode the regime’s ability to continue as is. If it continues or escalates the regime won’t be overthrown but will be forced to make concessions. How much loss can Regime recover: 100, 500, 1000 Algerians? Then convince the eyes of the world we’re killing each other AGAIN?
So far, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised to lift Algeria’s 19-year long state of emergency and cut the cost of some commodities.
Yemen is another hot spot, where those of us who have been focused on Egypt will hear some familiar slogans and names:
“Government supporters armed with traditional knives and batons broke up a pro-democracy march on Saturday by 2,000 Yemenis…Some 300 anti-government student demonstrators assembled at Sanaa University on Saturday morning. As numbers swelled into the thousands, they began marching towards the Egyptian embassy. “The people want the fall of the government,” protesters chanted. “A Yemeni revolution after the Egyptian revolution.” But a group of government supporters armed with knives and sticks confronted the protesters at the central Tahrir Square. Scuffles broke out and the pro-government activists used traditional knives and batons to force the anti-government protesters to flee.
Yemen’s President (for the last three decades) Ali Abdullah Saleh has made some familiar concessions, vowing not to extend his presidency after his term expires (in 2013), not to pass government reins on to his son, and promising to make some important concessions of electoral procedure.
Via the Angry Arab, this first-hand account gives a lot more details about Friday’s (more spontaneous) protest, the one seen above, set the stage for Saturday’s:
“Responding to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s decision to step down, independent Yemeni activists in the capital city of San’a called for a candle light vigil to celebrate the events. By 8:30 in the evening hundreds of Yemeni students, academics, activists and citizens gathered in front of the new university. It was very spontaneous. One activist told another activist ‘why dont you have a celebratory candle vigil for Egypt?” some phone calls were made and people gathered quickly. The timing was right in terms of the qat chewing cycle. People had been home chewing and talking and watching al Jazeera for hours. Soon their numbers grew to the thousands. People chanted in support of Egypt. Chants included: “The Egyptian people brought down Mubarak” “Long live the Egyptian people” “Revolution until victory” “One thousand greetings to al Jazeera” and other chants for Egypt which soon became chants focusing on the Yemeni regime such as: “yesterday Tunisia, today Egypt, tomorrow Yemen will open the prison” “down with the regime” “the people want the regime to collapse” “revolution oh Yemen from San’a to Aden” “the Yemeni people is fed up with Ali Abdallah Salih” They decided to march to the Egyptian embassy. It took an hour and as they marched their numbers grew to the thousands. They marched past neighborhoods and were cheered by onlookers. They were eventually met by soldiers guarding the Yemeni embassy and they turned around and gathered in San’a’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
By about 10:30 pm several trucks full of heavily armed soldiers began to arrive but until then the demonstration had been peaceful. At least ten army trucks carrying dozens of men in civilian clothing who are likely members of the Yemeni security forces arrived as did many security force pick up trucks and jeeps. Hundreds and hundreds of men in civilian attire carrying sticks, knives as well as automatic weapons arrived carrying pictures of President Saleh. They attacked some demonstrators with knives and sticks and at this the majority of the anti-regime demonstrators dispersed. Hundreds of uniformed members of the Yemeni security forces were present facilitating the arrival of those chanting support for Saleh. The security forces also closed off the roads in the area of Tahrir square, allowing only pro regime demonstrators in who came running with signs, sticks, knives and automatic weapons.
The remaining few hundred anti regime demonstrators lasted for a while with a few dozen of them sitting on the street. There was some pushing back and forth as the columns of pro and anti regime demonstrators met, and some water bottles thrown back and forth. But dozens of police in riot gear separated the two sides. Anti regime demonstrators burned pictures of Saleh. They shouted at the pro regime demonstrators “army wearing civilian clothes!” Pro regime demonstrators shouted “with our spirits with our blood we sacrifice for you oh Ali!” Anti regime demonstrators responded by chanting “oh oh leave oh Ali” and “oh god oh god down with Ali Abdallah” Demonstrators on both sides danced and sang. Then hundreds more pro regime demonstrators charged them and pushed them forcing them all to flee. This happened under the eyes of the chief of security for the area, hundreds of various security forces and the general secretary for San’a, Amin Jum’an. In the end thousands of pro regime demonstrators had occupied the square singing, banging on drums and dancing. At least ten anti regime demonstrators had been arrested. Demonstrations were more violently suppressed in Aden and there were said to be over ten thousand demonstrators in the central town of Ta’iz.”
In Jordan, weekly Friday demonstrations (like this one from January 28th) have been going on for some time:
Jordan shares many of the structural features and governing practices that have inspired the mass mobilizations in both Egypt and Tunisia. These are primarily authoritarian systems of rule that offer little in the way of accountability and civil liberties as well as a neoliberal economic development strategy that has disempowered the average citizen vis-à-vis meeting her basic needs. However, whereas demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia have been focused on regime change, protests in Jordan over the past four weeks have called for changes in the government (which is appointed by the regime) as well as serious (as opposed to cosmetic) reforms that would fundamentally address the political and economic problems facing Jordanian society.
…there has been an effective rhetorical separation between the Monarchy (i.e., the regime) and the government (i.e., the royally-appointed Cabinet). In other words, political discourse in Jordan has represented contemporary politics (whether the government, the formal opposition, or any of the state institutions) in the Kingdom as separate from the role of the Monarchy. This is partly a function of the legitimacy of the Monarchy [which is different than that of the “republican” regimes of Egypt and Tunisia; the Hashemite dynasty claims descent through the Prophet Mohammad as well as the leading role in the “Arab Revolt” against the Ottoman Empire]. It is also a function of the fact that law and violence have enforced this separation. Equally important, the Monarchy has in many ways set itself up as the vanguard of reform in the Kingdom, claiming to both plot the course of reform and manage its dangers. Barring some type of radicalization of the public, this separation and the legal violence that underpins it has had a real effect on the nature of political demands being advanced…One of the difficulties in gauging public perception of the King is that various forms of political speech, especially those concerning the Monarchy, continue to be criminalized. Thus, it is literally impossible to speak freely of the King. Feelings about the King and the Monarchy are probably much more complex than a dichotomy between unwavering loyalty and calls for its abolition offer. However, it is impossible to grasp this complexity absent the necessary conditions to protect the rights of people to freely express their position on the issue.
[In addition] the dynamic of top-down regime-managed political reform has offered several controlled outlets for public frustration (e.g., organized demonstrations, new media forums, parliamentary elections) while maintaining the concentration of power in both the polity and the economy. This strategy has sometimes responded to public demands (e.g., the sacking of the Cabinet of Samir al-Rifa’i) while at others has pre-empted them (e.g., calling for national consensus on a new election law). Thus, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the “reform game” is still playing itself out in Jordan.
One of the fundamental things that has been consistently ignored as Morocco is included in Tunisia’s and Egypt’s ranks is the populace’s view of its own government’s legitimacy, considerably more complicated than the Tunisian or Egyptian examples, both of which were/are characterized by the complete lack thereof. The Alaouite dynasty, however, stretches back to 1631 and claims descent through the Prophet, specifically through his daughter Fatima al-Zahra and her husband, ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph. The current king’s grandfather Muhammad V was not only the hero of the independence struggle — a figure who had defied the French, was exiled to Madagascar as a result, and who staged a triumphant return — he was, additionally, the amir al-mu’minin, or commander of the faithful. Muhammad VI holds the same title, and the dual role of political and religious authority, which is the characteristic feature of the Moroccan monarchy, continues to carry resonance with the population at large. In short, Ben Ali and Mubarak were/are reviled by the people whom they govern/ed; significantly, in Morocco, even among those who want reform, Muhammad VI is not.
In Kuwait and Bahrain, rulers are distributing cake for the masses to soften protests:
The ruler of Kuwait has announced the distribution of $4bn and free food for 14 months to all citizens, although his country is not facing any protests. Each of the 1.12 million native citizens will get $3,572 in cash as well as free essential food items until March 31, 2012, Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was reported to have said.
Bahrain’s king has decided to give $2,650 to each family on the Gulf island, the latest step the Sunni rulers have taken to appease the majority Shia public before protests planned for next week. Although most analysts do not see any immediate risk of revolt, the kingdom is considered the most vulnerable to unrest among Gulf Arab countries.
Bahrain reportedly has protests scheduled for next week, though it’s hard to find much about it.
But, as “Kholud” writes pseudononymously from Saudi Arabia:
…not all Arabs are rejoicing on the streets. In Saudi Arabia, most celebrated in the comfort of their homes, where they would not get in “trouble.” So we did the same and went to a friend’s house party instead. Um Kulthum’s “Lil Sabr Hdud” (Patience has its limits) was blaring from huge speakers. Women and men were dancing, hugging, smiling. Many were still crying tears of relief, of disbelief. Some were even tapping their forefinger at the bend of their elbows, like heroin junkies, to show that Arabs still have a pulse, that yes, despite it all, we are still alive. That despite it all, we crave more of the victories that the Egyptians and Tunisians have reminded us we are capable of. And yet, despite it all, I returned home alone with an overwhelming sense of defeat, hoping that some live footage of Arabs celebrating outside of Saudi Arabia would cheer me up, remind me how momentous this night is. And sure enough, it did, and I started shedding tears of joy again. Until my partner in crime called me, relaying what an aide to the Saudi King had just asked him in surprise: “Really? You still have hope that anything will change here?”
And in Syria, the response to Egypt and Tunisia has been similarly muted; as AJE reports, “in addition to the repressive state apparatus, factors such as a relatively popular president and religious diversity make an uprising in the country unlikely”:
…people in Syria are a lot more afraid of the government and the security forces than they were in Egypt,” Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Lebanon, says. “The groups who have mobilised in the past in Syria for any kind of popular protest have paid a very heavy price – Kurds back in 2004 when they had their uprising in Qamishli and Islamists in the early 1980s, notably in Hama.” The so-called Hama massacre, in which the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama in 1982 in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, is believed to have killed about 20,000 people. “I think that in the Syrian psyche, the repression of the regime is taken as a given, that if something [protests] would happen the military and the security forces would both line up together. I think that creates a higher threshold of fear.”
…Fawas Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, says Syria is one of the Middle Eastern countries least likely to be hit by popular protests, because of its power structure. He says the allegiance of the army in Syria is different than in both Tunisia, where the military quickly became one of the main backers of the president’s ouster, and in Egypt, where the army still has not taken sides. “The army in Syria is the power structure,” he says. “The armed forces would fight to an end. It would be a bloodbath, literally, because the army would fight to protect not only the institution of the army but the regime itself, because the army and the regime is one and the same.”
[Moreover] even if people dared to challenge the army and the dreaded mukhabarat intelligence service, analysts say the appetite for change of the country’s leadership is not that big. Many Syrians tend to support Bashar al-Assad, the president who came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez, who had ruled the country for 30 years. “An important factor is that he’s popular among young people,” Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of Syria Comment, says. “Unlike Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who’s 83, Bashar al-Assad is young. Young people are quite proud of him. They may not like the regime, they don’t like corruption and a lot of things, but they tend to blame this on the people around him, the ‘old guard’.”
But as Houry puts it:
“It will be interesting to watch how things are going to unfold over the coming few months,” he says. “The Syrians, like any other Arab household today, have their TVs turned on to Al Jazeera. They’re seeing what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt. Freedom is an infectious feeling and I think people will want more freedom.”
And finally, let’s dream for a minute: