The chain of dominoes has brought down the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, may topple Gaddafi in Libya… and other presidents and monarchs are in peril. What has happened in these other countries? Welcome to the Spineless Liberal’s fact-file on the Arab Spring.
Divided up into four, including a brief description of the protests and possible outcomes – in this post, we discuss where the crackdowns have been hardest and where we may yet see a change in government. Enter Bahrain and Yemen.
Protests in Bahrain, the monarchy ruled over by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa since 1999, started on the 14th of February. While there had been a death when police opened fire on a funeral on the 14th, the protests were generally peaceful. The Pearl Roundabout in Manama was a centre of the protests, and a deadly night-time raid by police on the 17th turned the protests ugly. According to opposition, they were attacked by riot police with tear gas and batons leading to four deaths – including that of a two-year old girl shot multiple times by police. 300 were injured or missing. The protesters included the Shia-based Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political party in the parliament in the 2010 elections.
The 18th was bloody, with one person dead and at least 66 wounded in clashes with police and the Bahraini army. On February 19th, the Bahraini army and police withdrew from the capital and the Pearl Roundabout was re-occupied.
Huge portions of Bahrain’s population protested between the 19th and the 26th, including reportedly 12% of the total population – over 100,000 protesters.
On the 26th, the King dismissed several ministers to apparently try and appease the opposition, without success. He did fulfil one of the protesters key demands, by not removing Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifah bin Salman al-Khalifah, a member of a ruling family which has been in power for 40 years.
The protests have often been characterised by a Sunni-Shia split. Bahrain is 60% Shia and while many Shia protesters want a constitutional monarchy, some calling for the King’s overthrow have alarmed the Sunni population – these include Wafa and Haq, major movements in Bahrain. Sunni’s are a minority but hold most power, and fear the incitement of Shiite Iran.
On the 14th of March, the Gulf Co-operation Council has sent troops from the Peninsula Shield Force to guard key institutions. 1000 Saudi troops and 500 United Arab Emirates police were deployed to Bahrain. On the 15th, the King declared a three-month state of emergency.
The Pearl Roundabout has been cleared by force, and the monument demolished.
The King has just ordered the Iranian ambassador to leave the country, and Iran’s government have responded in kind.
With the Peninsula Shield Force complicating matters in Saudi Arabia itself, it may be that it is withdrawn soon, giving the protesters a much-needed relief – however this is not as likely as we may hope. Bahrain will probably see concessions made, but a change of government may be prevented by this harsh crack-down on dissent.
The domino of Yemen is toppling even further in recent days – President Saleh may, it seems, soon see the end of his 32 year rule over Northern and then unified Yemen.
A country facing massive internal problems including the presence of Al-Qaeda, secessionists in southern Yemen and a Shia Houthi rebellion in the north, Yemen is a complicated situation. It is the least developed Arab state, with around half the population living on less than $2 a day.
Since mid-January, protests have been widespread. On the 27th, 16,000 protesters filled Sanaa, including at least 10,000 at Sanaa University. The government announced intentions for some political reform, but protesters also do now want Saleh or his son to rule indefinitely.
A “Day of Rage” on February 3rd brought 20,000 to the streets of Sanaa. On the 12th, police with clubs and government supporters beat protesters celebrating the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, now ex-President of Egypt. Protests and conflict continued, with seven MPs from the ruling General People’s Congress resigning in protest at police violence. Opposition parties also declared themselves in favour of Saleh’s removal – Saleh did offer some form of national unity government, but this was called a “tranquilliser” by Mohammed Saleh al-Qubati.
On the 18th of March, at least 45 people were killed and 270 injured as gunmen on rooftops opened fire on protesters outside the main university. A host of ministers and ambassadors have resigned in protest. President Saleh has declared where he will fire the entire cabinet and has declared a state of emergency.
Protests here do not seem to have the same Islamist ties as in other states, and more of a general anti-corruption, pro-freedom agenda. The incredible poverty here probably keeps that to the top of the agenda. The largest opposition party – Joint Meeting Parties – does consist of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also more tribal elements. Tribal divisions have been notable – the secessionist south has been a hub of protest, and major tribes like the Hashid and Baqil, the two most powerful tribes, have joined the protesters. Religious and tribal leaders have joined the protesters in demanding Saleh’s resignation.
Saleh has now, it seems, agreed to step down, but on his own terms. He has offered elections in January 2012, instead of September 2013 when he term ends, but it has been condemned as too little, too late. The Civil Bloc, an umbrella group of civil society organisations, has called for a “transitional council” to be set-up, in order to draft a new constitution.
The military further complicates matters – while General Ali Mohsen, commander of Yemen’s northwestern zone and possible the second most powerful figure in the country, announced that he would support the pro-democracy protesters, and some units have actively defended the protesters from Saleh’s forces. These include the loyal Republic guard – led by Saleh’s son, Ahmed. These clashes could force the country into a civil war, especially with Saleh claiming that he considers the protests a “coup” attempt.
Saleh will not go easily, but with such large protests and support from the political classes, religious leaders, tribal elders and the military waning, it seems that the Republic guard is the sole force propping up the Saleh regime. Only time will show if this final pillar of his power will be enough to continue his three-decades of dominion over Yemen.
- Saudi Arabia Abandons Yemen’s Saleh, Calls for Transition (news.firedoglake.com)
- Yemen: If President Saleh is ousted, what comes next? (slate.com)
- Yemeni Army Battles Its Own as Protests Mount (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
- Yemen’s elite guards clash with anti-Saleh army faction – The Hindu (news.google.com)