Elias Hj Idris
Turmoil in the Arab Countries

The world’s attention has been focused on a handful of countries - Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya - since the first popular protests broke out in Tunisia in December. But nearly a dozen countries in the region have seen political unrest, and the protest movement shows no signs of stopping.

Below is a summary of the demonstrations so far, and links to our coverage. You can also click a country on the map above for more information.


Tunisia


Protesters in Tunisia ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, their president for more than 23 years, after nearly a month of protests.

The protests started when a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after his cart was confiscated by police. His anger - over unemployment, poverty and corruption - resonated in Tunisia, and led to weeks of street protests against Ben Ali’s autocratic government. Security forces cracked down brutally on many of the protests, with more than 200 people killed. But the rallies continued, and Ben Ali eventually fled the country for exile in Saudi Arabia.

His departure on January 14 has not stopped the protest movement, though: Many Tunisians continue to demand the ouster of Mohamed Ghannouchi, the prime minister, and fellow members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Ben Ali’s party) who remain in power.


Egypt

After Ben Ali, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was the second Arab autocrat to resign, his nearly 30-year rule brought to an end by 18 days of protests.
The revolt began on January 25, when tens of thousands of protesters marched against Mubarak’s government. A “day of rage” on January 28 drew even larger crowds in downtown Cairo, where they were attacked brutally by Egyptian security forces. They stood their ground, though, and the police eventually withdrew, ceding control of Tahrir Square to the protesters.

That led to a two-week standoff between the protesters and the government, with the former occupying Tahrir Square and fending off a sustained assault from government-sponsored thugs. Mubarak was at first defiant, pledging reforms - he sacked his cabinet and appointed a vice president, longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman - but vowing to remain in office. In a televised address on February 10, he promised to finish his term.

Behind the scenes, though, Mubarak had clearly lost the support of the military, and Suleiman announced his departure in a brief statement less than 24 hours later.

Egyptians have continued to stage rallies, though, with hundreds of thousands demanding that the new military government pursue real democratic reforms.


Libya

All by the youngsters

Longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi has reportedly lost control of eastern Libya, and his army, supported by foreign mercenaries, is waging a savage war against civilians.

Small protests in January led to larger rallies in mid-February, mostly in the east - in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, and other towns like Al-Bayda. The protests continued to grow over the next few days, with thousands of people in the streets on February 17 and 18 - and dozens dead, many killed by snipers.

Less than a week later, Benghazi was reportedly in the hands of the protesters, and demonstrations had spread to the capital Tripoli. Eyewitnesses reported Libyan military jets bombing civilians, and gangs of mercenaries roaming the streets, firing indiscriminately.

Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, the longest in the Arab world, has been sustained by widespread political repression and human rights abuses. Protesters are also angry about his economic mismanagement: Libya has vast oil wealth - more than half of its GDP comes from oil - but that money has not filtered down. Unemployment is high, particularly among the country’s youth, which accounts for more than one-third of the population.


Algeria


The Algerian government has so far kept a lid on protests, most of which have been centered in the capital, Algiers.

Demonstrators staged several scattered rallies in January, mostly over unemployment and inflation. They planned a major rally in the capital on February 12, when a crowd - estimates of its size vary between 2,000 and 10,000 - faced off with nearly 30,000 riot police who sealed off the city. Dozens of people were arrested, but the rally remained peaceful; demonstrators chanetd slogans like “Bouteflika out,” referring to president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s ruler for the last 12 years.

A second rally, on February 19, attracted a smaller crowd - in the hundreds - which was again outnumbered by riot police. The government also suspended train service and set up roadblocks outside the capital. Several people were arrested.

Bouteflika has tried to head off further protests by promising to lift the country’s decades-old emergency law.


Bahrain

Anti-government protests have continued for a week, and show no sign of stopping. The demonstrations began on February 14, when thousands converged on Pearl Roundabout to protest against the government; they were later dispersed by security forces who used deadly force.

In the following days, funeral marches and other rallies also came under fire by police; they have since been withdrawn, and the army has allowed peaceful rallies to continue in the roundabout.

Protesters started out calling for economic and political reform, but many demonstrators are now calling for the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The protest movement largely draws from Bahrain’s Shia population, a majority group that often complains of oppression from the country’s Sunni rulers. They argue that the king’s economic policies favor the Sunni minority. Khalifa tried to defuse tensions by giving each Bahraini family a gift of 1,000 dinars (US $2,650), but the move won him little support.


Morocco


The first significant protests in Morocco broke out on February 20, when tens of thousands of people (37,000, according to the country’s interior minister) took to the streets. They were organised by a loose coalition of human rights groups, journalists and labor unions.

Demonstrators demanded not the ouster of King Mohammed VI, but instead a series of more modest reforms. They want the king to give up some of his powers - right now, he can dismiss parliament and impose a state of emergency - and to dismiss his current cabinet. “The king should reign, not rule,” read one banner held by protesters.

The rallies were peaceful, though acts of vandalism did happen afterwards: Dozens of banks were burned down, along with more than 50 other buildings. (The culprits are unknown.)

Mohammed has promised “irreversible” political reforms, though he has yet to offer any specifics.


Jordan

Protests in Jordan started in mid-January, when thousands of demonstrators staged rallies in Amman and six other cities. Their grievances were mostly economic: Food prices continue to rise, as does the country’s double-digit inflation rate.

Jordan’s King Abdullah tried to defuse the protests earlier this month by sacking his entire cabinet. The new prime minister, Marouf Bakhit, promised “real economic and political reforms.”
But the firing - Abdullah’s perennial response to domestic unrest - did little to dampen the protests. Thousands of people took to the streets once again on February 18 to demand constitutional reforms and lower food prices. At least eight people were injured during that rally.


Yemen


Rallies in Yemen have continued for nearly two weeks, with the bulk of the protesters concentrated in Sana’a, the capital; the southern city of Aden; and Taiz, in the east. Their grievances are numerous: As much as one-third of the country is unemployed, and the public blames government corruption for squandering billions in oil wealth.

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh conceded little during a news conference in the Yemeni capital on Monday. He promised reforms, but warned against what he called “coups and seizing power through anarchy and killing.” He also offered a dialogue with opposition parties, an offer that was quickly rejected.

He has also likened the protests to a “virus” sweeping the country. His security forces have responded to the rallies with deadly force, particularly in Aden, where at least ten people have been killed.


Iraq

Thousands of people have rallied in the northern province of Sulaymaniyah during four days of protests over corruption and the economy. At least five people have been killed, and dozens more injured, by Kurdish security forces who opened fire on the crowds.

Several other small protests have popped up across the country in recent days: Nearly 1,000 people in Basra demanded electricity and other services; 300 people in Fallujah demanded that the governor be sacked; dozens in Nassiriyah complained about unemployment.

Iraqi protesters, unlike their counterparts in many other countries, are not (yet) calling for the government’s ouster. Instead, they’re demanding better basic services: electricity, food, and an effort to stamp out corruption.

In response to the unrest, the Iraqi parliament adjourned for a week, its members instructed to travel home and meet with constituents - an odd response, perhaps, given that the government’s inaction is a leading cause of popular anger.


Iran

Opposition movements in Iran have tried to stage several protests in recent days, and the movement’s two unofficial leaders - Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi - remain under house arrest.

The first round of protests, on February 14, drew people to the streets for the first time in months. At least two people were killed, and several others wounded, according to Iranian officials.

Tens of thousands of people then tried to rally on Sunday, but were met by riot police wielding steel batons and clubs. Three more people were killed. More protests may be planned for the coming days, and Iranians have resorted to "silent protests," small marches aimed at avoiding conflict with the security forces.
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