By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Dawn of 2011 saw the Arab world getting engulfed in waves of protest marches. The first wave of uprising triggered in Tunisia as a consequent to self immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi on 17 December 2010. Fed up of state repression, corruption, unemployment and un-Islamic practices, the determined protestors forced Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila to flee on 14 January and thus ending his 23-year rule. More than 200 people died during popular revolt known as ‘Jasmine Revolution’, the ripple effects of which were felt across North Africa and the Middle East. The overall situation in Tunisia is still in a fluid state and promised elections have so far not been held. It is now up to the interim government to ensure smooth transition and bring a healthy change in the lives of deprived segment.
Young demonstrators in Egypt galvanized by events in Tunisia took to the streets on 25 January to get rid of 30-year old dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. On 18th day of the popular revolt, the youth-led protest movement achieved a monumental victory by forcing Hosni to abdicate power. He handed over power to his newly appointed Vice President Lt Gen Omar Suleiman and authorized Supreme Council of Armed Forces to run the state affairs. The Military has vowed to pave the way for democracy and to bring suitable amendments in the constitution but has so far not given a firm date for elections. Ailing and bed ridden Hosni Mubarak is currently under trials for ordering killing of protestors but he still has supporters who chant pro-Mubarak slogans.
On 28 January thousands of Jordanians propelled by Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated in Amman and other cities of Jordan to press for political and economic reforms and demanding resignation of the ruling regime. They demanded constitutional amendments to curb king’s power empowering him to appoint and dismiss prime minister. The situation in Jordon could have further deteriorated had King Abdullah not hastened to take preventive measures like dissolution of ruling cabinet and forming a new one, promising to give up some of his power and agreeing to carryout wholesome political reforms. Simmering is however continuing and may flare up again.
After Ali Abdullah Saleh took over power as President in 1978, he worked towards integration and succeeded in uniting southern part with Soviet influenced northern Yemen in 1990. Yemen is plagued by upheavals caused by rebellious Shia’s in the north and secessionist movement in the south together with heavy al-Qaeda presence. Central government controls only one-third of the country. Multi-directional threat to the regime is of concern to USA as well as to Saudi Arabia. Although Yemen has very little to offer economically but both are mindful of its geo-strategic location which helps in strategic economic gains. Yemen overlooks Gulf of Aden, connecting Black Sea to Arabian Sea.
The US positioned Special Forces, activated CIA and sent weapons and equipment and used drones and cruise missiles to crush movements for independence and to push out Al-Qaeda elements which are active in entire Arabian Peninsula. Saudi regime also took direct action to help pro-American Saleh. The US recently signed $60 billion weapons contract with Riyadh to enable it to support Yemen and to counter Iran.
Encouraged by the success of uprisings in Tunisia and in Egypt, Yemenis staged a mass demonstration in Sanaa in February calling on Saleh to quit. The ruling regime to an extent has been able to contain Tunis like uprising with the help of Saleh’s tribe armed with clubs and knives and backed by ruling General People’s Congress who countered the protesters successfully. Although Saleh promised to step down when his term ends in 2013, or to hold elections in end 2012, but his offers didn’t pacify the people and strength of protesters kept swelling. Ultimately Saleh agreed to GCC’s proposal to hand over power to vice president and form a national unity government.
Bahrain which had won independence in 1971 was ruled by King Hamad. In the 2001 referendum, the country was transformed from Emirate into a constitutional monarchy and led to elections in 2002. The King named Khalifa bin Salman as the PM. The country has Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni rulers. In the wake of protests in hpw several Muslim countries, people of Bahrain also got affected and came out on the streets on 15 February. Protest marches were led by opposition groups including Shiite bloc al-Wefaq in Manama and other cities. They demand resignation of the regime and amendment in constitution to allow people to elect the leader of the House rather than the King. They also demand formation of national unity government. Although protests have not gained any momentum, tempers are still high. In order to appease the protesters, he reshuffled the cabinet and released political prisoners.
Fearing that Bahrain’s Shia-led protests could have reverberations in Saudi’s province of Damam which is Shia dominated, Saud family in Saudi Arabia announced a hefty economic package worth $436 billion for welfare of the people. The King also promised to spend $400 billion on education and healthcare. It has 8% Shia of country’s 6.5 million population. Morocco and Gulf States are also feeling the ripple effect of Arab Spring, Oman. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Ali Said promised 50000 new jobs and $400 a month in economic benefits. He is benign ruler who unlike his autocratic father has brought about all round improvements. Sudan after a prolonged civil war in the south got divided.
Syria is also jolting under daily protests in several major cities and death toll at the hands of security forces supported by tanks has crossed 2000 and the situation is getting ripe for a civil war. Amidst calls by USA and European nations to step down, embattled President Bashar al-Assad is determined to crush the protesters including armed groups which he strongly feels, are aided by foreign powers. Assad has allowed opposition political parties and promised free and fair elections by end of this year. Although UN Security Council has condemned deadly crackdown and western nations have imposed sanctions, however, since Syria is militarily strong and is allied with Iran and supported by Russia, it is becoming difficult for the west to take physical action as in case of Libya.
Of all the Arab states caught up in the turmoil, Libya suffered the most. The uprising which began in eastern parts of the country led by Mustafa Abdul Jalil in February became ugly when western powers started to meddle directly into its affairs and provided complete support to the rebels. USA, France and Britain were in the lead role to aid the rebels and after getting no-fly-zone imposed by the UN Security Council in March, NATO airpower came into full action. Disregarding civilian casualties, the jets kept pounding the defence infrastructure and positions of Qaddafi’s loyalists with ferocity and in six months time toppled the ruling regime. While Qaddafi has gone in hiding probably in neighboring Niger, preparations have been made to capture last stronghold of Bani Walid. National Transitional Council (NTC) operating from Benghazi has taken over the reins of power and has been recognized by most countries. Libya on its way towards progression under a revolutionary and charismatic leader will now be up against difficult times.
People of Algeria languishing under autocratic rule of President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika since 1999 have also started to agitate to bring a change in their country as well. A beginning was made on 12 February when large number of protesters battled with the riot police in Algiers. Protesters want emergency imposed in 1992 to end, growing price hike and high unemployment to be controlled and democratic reforms introduced. Although the government lifted 19-year old state of emergency and brought down food prices, protests are likely to gather momentum, particularly after grant of asylum to family members of deposed Qaddafi.
Pakistan is saddled with similar problems. Internally, it is faced with Taliban insurgency in the northwest, secessionist movement in Balochistan, troubled Karachi, politically polarized Punjab, aggressive religious extremist forces, secular-Islamic divide, disturbed law and order situation, fragile economy, rampant corruption, increasing poverty, price spiral and unemployment. Externally, it is up against hostile India, unstable and not so friendly Afghanistan, unreliable and overbearing USA which is brazenly meddling in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. Beset with so many troubles, the government has done little to redress any of the social inequities. Unless emergent measures are taken, time is not far that social unrest may engulf the whole nation.
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