Sunday, 20 February 2011

World Socialist Website - Popular uprisings spread across Middle East despite brutal crackdowns

World Socialist Website 
- Popular uprisings spread across Middle East despite brutal crackdowns

By Mike Head
19 February 2011

Mass demonstrations and pitched battles with the military and police continued 
across the Middle East and North Africa yesterday, despite brutal massacres of 
protesters by autocratic-Western backed regimes. As well as Bahrain, Libya and 
Yemen—where there was fierce street fighting and many deaths—anti-government 
protests and strikes spread to other US client states in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait 
and Jordan.

The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have triggered protests across the region, 
from Algeria to Iraq, causing consternation in the Obama administration and 
among the major European powers, which have long relied upon the regional 
dictatorships to suppress their respective populations and maintain order 
throughout a strategically crucial, oil-rich part of the world.

For the fifth day in a row, there were bloody clashes in the tiny island 
monarchy of Bahrain, where the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based. At least three 
people were killed when the army opened fire on demonstrators. Some 25,000 
people, a huge crowd for a country of less than a million adults, had turned out 
for a funeral march for protestors killed the day before.

It was the first protest in the centre of the capital, Manama, since the police 
stormed the Pearl Roundabout before dawn on Thursday, killing four people and 
wounding around 200.

A Salmaniya hospital doctor told Al Jazeera that the hospital was full of 
severely injured people: “We need help! Our staff is entirely overwhelmed. They 
are shooting at people’s heads. Not at the legs. People are having their brains 
blown out!”

A protester told the news agency: “They had machine guns, not rifles or hand 
weapons, and they shot people who ran away.” Another demonstrator, Hussein Ali, 
said: “They started firing from the bridge without any warning, then they 
started firing from their cars ... It was terrifying, a nightmare. Small 
children and women were falling over.”

Bahrain’s monarchy, no doubt acting in close collaboration with Washington, is 
trying to stabilise itself. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa appealed 
for a “national dialogue” once order was restored. Any such “dialogue” would be 
aimed at salvaging the regime—even if in a slightly modified form, with the help 
of officially-tolerated opposition groups, as the Egyptian military has tried do 
since the fall of Hosni Mubarak a week ago.

Bahrain, located in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is also home 
to the US Naval Forces Central Command. It is of vital importance to Washington 
because some 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through the Gulf. The US has 
been an ardent supporter of the wealthy royal family and elite that controls the 

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday made 
statements of “deep concern” about the violence in Bahrain, as well as Libya and 
Yemen. “The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against 
peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur,” Obama said.

Just last December, however, Clinton visited Bahrain, praising it as a “model 
partner” in the region. “I see the glass as half full,” she said when asked 
about the arrests of prominent opposition politicians and reports of torture. 
She said she was “impressed by the commitment that the government has to the 
democratic path that Bahrain is walking on”.

The responsibility of the US and its allies for the repression in Bahrain was 
underscored by reports that the security forces used UK-supplied weapons against 
demonstrators. A British government business department report, cited by the 
/Independent/ newspaper, said London had given approval for British arms 
manufacturers to sell “CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and 
thunderflashes” to Bahrain.

Not least of “concern” to Washington are the implications for the neighbouring 
monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the third largest recipient of US military aid for the 
past three decades after the Israeli and Egyptian governments. A former US 
ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, told Al Jazeera that the “Saudis will 
not tolerate excessive unrest” in Bahrain because of its proximity to their main 
oilfields in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, the global oil companies are closely following the possible collapse 
of their local crowned heads. Platts, an industry site, reported: “Saudi Arabia, 
the oil Goliath which holds in its hands the only significant spare production 
capacity that can meet any potential global supply disruption, has been besieged 
by bloody riots in neighboring Bahrain and a growing anti-government protest 
south of its border in Yemen.”


Intense battles raged across Libya for the fifth day yesterday as protestors 
demanded the removal of the 41-year-old regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who 
has also become a close ally of the West and the oil giants in recent years. 
Media access to Libya is tightly controlled, but reports from various sources 
described insurrectionary scenes in the wake of Thursday’s “day of rage” in 
which at least 25 protestors were killed.

Security forces were deployed around the eastern city of Al-Baida, a source 
close to the authorities told AFP, following a Reuters report that anti-regime 
protesters had seized control of the city with the aid of local police.

YouTube videos showed demonstrators marching through the streets of Benghazi, 
the country’s second largest city, chanting anti-government slogans. Protesters 
had set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station in Benghazi, after the 
building’s guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP. Residents 
also reported that police there had been replaced with military troops. Mohamed 
el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera a “massacre” was occurring 
in the city.

According to a toll compiled by AFP from different local sources, at least 41 
people have lost their lives since demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday. 
Libyan authorities claimed that the west of the country was quiet. But 
demonstrations were reported in other cities, including the capital, Tripoli.


Yemen, another US ally, also resorted to lethal force yesterday against mounting 
protests, bringing the death toll since the unrest erupted on Sunday to 10. 
Anti-regime protesters in the volatile city of Taez were blasted in a hand 
grenade attack on Friday, leaving two dead, as fierce clashes in several areas 
of the southern city of Aden killed four and wounded at least 27. Clashes also 
broke out in the capital Sana’a in which four anti-regime demonstrators were 
injured, according to witnesses and journalists, who were also beaten.

The grenade attack came as hundreds of protesters took to central Taez after the 
weekly Muslim prayers to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster. A local 
official told AFP the grenade was lobbed at protesters from a speeding car with 
government number plates.

In Sana’a, several journalists were severely beaten by supporters of the ruling 
General Peoples Congress (GPC) who attacked the demonstration using batons and 
axes, an AFP correspondent reported. Thousands of demonstrators, mostly 
students, had gathered following the weekly Muslim prayers. “People want to 
overthrow the regime,” they chanted.

*Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan*

* *

Significantly, unrest has spread to both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and re-emerged 
in another key US-backed state, Jordan. In Saudi Arabia, foreign construction 
workers went on strike at the King Abdullah Financial District and the King Saud 
University in the capital Riyadh. The /Arab News/ reported that workers had 
stopped work either because their salaries or overtime pay were not paid.

In Kuwait, at least 1,000 stateless Arabs demonstrated in Jahra, northwest of 
Kuwait City, demanding citizenship, leading to dozens being arrested by police. 
Ambulances rushed an unspecified number of wounded protesters and security 
forces away from the scene. Security forces dispersed the demonstration, using 
smoke bombs and water cannon. The government insists that Kuwait’s roughly 
100,000 stateless Arabs are not entitled to nationality.

In Jordan, thugs wielding batons turned on anti-government marchers in the 
capital Amman. Protesters claimed they were attacked as they started to disperse 
after a march calling for an elected government and an end to official 
corruption. Demonstrators have been calling for economic and political reform 
since mid-January. King Abdullah II sacked his entire cabinet last month, in an 
effort to head off the protests, but many were dismayed by his appointment of 
Marouf Bakhit, one of the king’s henchmen, as the new premier. Bakhit, a retired 
army major-general, served as Jordan’s prime minister from 2005 until he was 
forced to resign in 2007 after blatantly rigged elections.

The situation in Jordan exemplifies the intractable social crisis driving the 
protests. It has a high unemployment rate among its population of six million, 
the majority of whom are under 25, and is suffering from the rising world prices 
of food and fuel. None of the region’s regimes, all of which preside over 
ever-more glaring inequality—as do governments around the world—in any way seek 
to address the economic and social needs of their populations.

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