When revolution rocks North Africa and the Middle East

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The wave of revolt currently rocking the foundations of the Afro-Arab world is unstoppable. Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Mauritania … Encouraged by the Tunisian people’s revolution as well as the massive revolt underway in Egypt, Afro-Arab youths are calling for change. Some governments have recently stepped up efforts to calm tensions while committing themselves to greater openness. But is this enough?

The protest movement that led to the fall of Tunisian dictator, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, on January 14, has continued to send political shockwaves across the Afro-Arab world whilst extending its tentacles to the Middle East. The days of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, are seemingly numbered as the unprecedented popular revolt in country takes a new dimension. Algeria, Sudan, Mauritania, Morocco… Several other Arab-African countries are dealing with social unrest due to rising food prices in recent weeks. Protests, self-immolations, riots, among others, threaten the North African political status quo.


The government of Algeria has increased its efforts in recent weeks to prevent a spillover effect from its neighbours. Reflecting the concern of the regime, President Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, announced the lifting of a long running state of emergency. According to observers, it was a strategic move that was meant to cut off one of the main arguments of the opposition, National Coordination for Change and Democracy, which called for a protest march in Algiers on February 12 to ask for the lifting of the state of emergency which has been in force since February 1992. But despite the promise to lift the 19-year-old imposed laws, the authorities continue to place a strict ban all demonstrations. Bouteflika’s second concession came when the state news agency, APS, announced that both state television and radio will “ensure equal coverage for all legal parties and national organizations”. Following violent riots against rising costs of living, which caused 5 deaths and left over 800 persons wounded, the Algerian government announced a series of measures including subsidizing the import of basic commodities. Echoing the incident that sparked Tunisia’s popular revolt, in December last year, at least eight Algerians attempted self-immolation mid-January, three of who died as a result of their injuries.


To ensure that peace prevails, the Moroccan government, late January, announced its decision to increase the imports of basic commodities and also to maintain subsidies despite soaring prices on the international market. Officials have also argued that there are no similarities whatsoever between the Moroccan situation and those of Egypt and Tunisia, notwithstanding the recording of four attempts at self-immolation in the last fortnight. Recently, a group of young Moroccans on Facebook called for a “peaceful protest” on February 20 to demand “political reforms” in the north African kingdom. “We call on all Moroccans to protest on February 20 for the dignity of the people and for democratic reforms,” says the group.


Recent clashes between police forces and students amid political tensions and economic difficulties left one student dead on Monday. The unfortunate student was beaten to death by security forces a day before a demonstration calling for “change” was staged in Khartoum. Several dozen people were arrested after which President Omar el-Bashir gave a university chancellor the boot over the demonstration. Opposition elements claim that the clashes left five persons wounded. The non-Muslim South’s independence from the North, coupled with growing economic difficulties and concerns over the future of the Islamist regime under Bashir, has contributed in provoking the recent days’ protests which have resulted in 64 arrests and an undetermined number of injured persons.


“I am sure that after the Tunisians and Egyptians the people and youth of Mauritania will act in favour of the Mauritanian people,” said Ahmed Ould Daddah, president of the main opposition party, Rassemblement des Forces Démocratique (RFD), in a press statement on Tuesday. To avoid contamination from the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, Mauritanian authorities have launched an operation called solidarité 2011. The operation consists of subsidizing basic commodities like sugar, rice, oil and flour. Mid-January, several thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, Nouakchott, against rising food prices. Late January, a 43 year old Mauritanian businessman died at a hospital in Casablanca a few days after he had attempted self-immolation in front of the Presidential palace in Nouakchott to protest against the regime.


Although very little information has trickled out of Libya, a country that has been ruled with an iron fist by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi since 1970, it looks like the revolution from neighboring Tunisia has reached the shores of the north African country. Mid-January, many Libyans squatted new housing projects in cities across the country, while others attacked the offices of construction companies, mostly foreign, according to Reuters. The same source indicated that police forces had arrested several protesters. The Al-Jazeera news channel reported that cyber attacks from Libya had been directed at Al Manara, a Libyan news website, including its Facebook page, after they reported the protest. Thursday, 12 political prisoners were released by the Libyan authorities. “About six of them had been sentenced to life imprisonment and the remainder to jail terms of at least three years. The released are in their 20s, others in 30s and 40s,” Reuters quotes the chairman of the Libya-based Human Rights Association Mohamed Ternish as saying.

Here is what GlobalVoicesOnline had to say about the situation in Libya: Libyan leader Muammar Al Gaddafi managed to offend both Tunisians and netizens from across the world wide web in his address to the Tunisian people, following the fall of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime. With trouble brewing at home and Libyans taking to the Internet to vent off, could Gaddafi be foreseeing his doom as a “victim of Facebook and YouTube”? In a televised address, he regretted the end of Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, saying that he had hoped the Tunisian dictator would continue to run Tunisia “for life.” Gaddafi, who has headed Libya since 1970, also brushed off cyber-activism as “lies” fabricated by drunkards and netizens high on drugs, describing the Internet as a “vacuum cleaner,” that had the capacity suck everything. The Internet, he added, was a tool created by “them” – to ridicule “us.”

Panic in The Middle East

Egypt’s Middle Eastern neighbours are directly exposed to this unprecedented popular Arab revolt. Before last Friday, calm reigned in Syria, one of the most closed regimes in the world. That is, until a call for protests against the “monocracy, corruption and tyranny” of the Bashar el Assad regime was launched on Facebook, to which access in the country was blocked. A group, which gathered more than 7800 members, Tuesday called Syrians to protest under the slogan: “Syrian Revolution 2011”. Jordan, experiencing the worst economic downturn in its history, has sought to calm boiling tensions after weeks of protests, following the dismissal, Tuesday, of the country’s Prime Minister. Faced with weeks of popular protests, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has ruled the country for 32 years, Wednesday, promised to form a “government of national unity” while vowing not to stand for re-election. But his promises were not enough to appease the several thousands who demonstrated on Thursday in the streets of Sana’a to demand the departure of the head of state.

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