Perhaps the best news in our times: Unrest has swept across the Middle East and North Africa, sparked by an uprising in Tunisia that led to the ouster of the country’s ruler. Here an overview of the risings.
After 19 years, the government officially lifted a state of emergency in February following strikes and protests. But protest marches, which were not allowed under the state of emergency, continue to be banned in the capital, Algiers. Some viewed the move as a “ruse” to placate protesters, who continue to turn out for weekly demonstrations that are quickly broken up by large numbers of police. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has pledged political reforms.
After a violent crackdown on protesters in the capital, Manama, that killed seven people, the crown prince in February called for a national dialogue between the Sunni-led government and the mostly Shiite protesters. Demonstrators were skeptical of the government’s offer, and they continued to stage daily marches, with many calling for the ouster of the monarchy. Following fighting between protesters and police, a military force from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states entered Bahrain at the royal family’s request on March 14. A day later, the king declared a three-month state of emergency.
On March 16, security forces in Manama stormed the Pearl traffic circle, where many protesters had camped out, driving out hundreds of demonstrators and setting tents on fire. Several people were killed. The crackdown on dissent continued with authorities imposing a curfew and arresting at least six opposition activists. The government also demolished the monument in the middle of the Pearl roundabout that had become a symbol of the opposition. On March 23, a government spokeswoman said the main hospital in Manama had been taken over by security forces during the crackdown because it had been used as a “coordination center” by the protesters. Bahrain’s national airline also suspended flights to Lebanon after Hezbollah’s leader criticized the response to the protests.
Protesters took to Egypt’s streets in January, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak supporters clashed with demonstrators in Tahrir Square, which became the focal point of protests in the capital, Cairo. More than 300 protesters were killed in the uprising. Although Mubarak pledged not to run again, fired his government and appointed a vice president for the first time in his three decades of rule, the protests intensified until Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that the president had handed over power to the military.
Protesters have continued to demand that the military rulers carry out reforms. In early March, one of their demands was met when Ahmed Shafiq — whom Mubarak appointed as prime minister amid the protests — resigned. The government fulfilled another demand March 15, when it dissolved the widely hated state security agency, a powerful symbol of the Mubarak regime. Amid the ongoing tensions, clashes have broken out between Muslims and Christians, killing more than a dozen people. On March 19, Egyptians voted in favor of constitutional changes that include limiting how long presidents can serve and determining who can run for office. However, many opposition leaders said the vote was rushed. On March 23, the Egyptian Cabinet proposed a new law that would make it a crime to be involved in protests that stop work or destroy property. And Egypt’s stock market plummeted after opening for the first time in nearly two months.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out Feb. 14 for the biggest protests the country had seen since the aftermath of the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. After clashes between security forces and the protesters, hard-line lawmakers called for opposition leaders to be put on trial and put to death. On March 1, protesters rallied in Tehran to demand the release of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, who supporters say have been moved from house arrest to prison. Riot police used tear gas and batons to break up the demonstrations, according to witnesses and opposition websites.
Small, scattered protests, focusing on unemployment, corruption and a lack of services, began taking place in Iraq in early February. Protests intensified in the city of Sulaimaniyah — where demonstrators oppose the leaders of Kurdistan, the semiautonomous region in northern Iraq — and in Basra, where the governor resigned. A nationwide “Day of Rage” called for Feb. 25 turned violent in Mosul and other cities, leading to the deaths of more than a dozen protesters. Protesters again turned out in Baghdad and other cities in March for demonstrations that were mostly peaceful. The mayor of Halabja in Kurdistan said March 22 that one policeman had been fatally shot and 10 others wounded by sticks and rocks during a rally of about 250 protesters.
Protesters have been gathering on Fridays to demand more of a voice in government — some want the power to elect their prime minister and Cabinet officials. King Abdullah II fired his Cabinet in February and appointed a new prime minister tasked with carrying out reforms. In early March, hundreds of Salafis — an ultraconservative Muslim group banned in Jordan — staged protests in Amman to demand the release of prisoners. Journalists have also demonstrated against government censorship. On March 15, the king set a three-month deadline for agreement on reforms by a committee of government officials and opposition leaders. They will draft new laws for parliamentary elections and political parties.
More than 1,000 protesters turned out in Kuwait City on March 8 to call for political changes — including a new prime minister. No violence was reported, but police had blocked off a central square and forced protesters into a parking lot across from a government building.
Protests challenging leader Moammar Gadhafi led to a bloody crackdown in February. Amid clashes between opposition forces and troops loyal to Gadhafi, thousands fled Libya, with many crossing borders into Egypt and Tunisia. Rebels quickly took control of much of eastern Libya, with their base in the city of Benghazi, where the anti-Gadhafi uprising began Feb. 15. After weeks of fighting, the regime had consolidated its power in much of the west and was advancing in the east when the U.N. Security Council approved the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya on March 17. The U.S.-led coalition soon began launching airstrikes and cruise missiles to take out Gadhafi’s air defenses and other military targets. Gadhafi has said he will not let up on the rebels and promised “a long war” against international military forces. Coalition airstrikes on March 23 targeted Gadhafi’s ground forces near the rebel-held western city of Misrata. U.S. officials said intelligence reports show pro-government troops have been attacking civilians there.
On Feb. 20, demonstrations were called by a coalition of youth groups, labor unions and human rights organizations demanding greater democracy in the North African kingdom. Several thousand people marched through the capital, Rabat — one of several cities across the country where protests were held. Five people were killed in violence linked to the demonstrations. On March 13, police broke up an unauthorized protest in Casablanca and arrested about 50 protesters. A week later, thousands turned out around the country to press for reforms. King Mohammed VI has announced a plan to revise the country’s constitution and says the project will be put to voters in a referendum.
Protests began in the seaside town of Sohar in late February, resulting in deadly clashes with police. Groups of protesters around the country have since pressed for economic and political reforms. Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, has ordered 50,000 new jobs and a monthly stipend for the unemployed, and has reshuffled his Cabinet. On March 13, he granted lawmaking powers to officials outside the royal family.
Police opened fire to disperse a protest March 10 in the eastern city of Qatif. Three protesters and one officer were wounded. Hundreds had gathered to demand the release of political prisoners in a second day of protests in the east, home to the country’s Shiite minority. Several hundred again turned out in the east on March 11, but wider protests called for in the capital, Riyadh, failed to materialize amid a massive show of police force. Protests are officially banned in the mainly Sunni kingdom. Two days later, about 200 protesters rallied outside the Interior Ministry in the capital, demanding the release of detainees. King Abdullah has promised to spend billions of dollars on a benefits package that includes money for home loans, new apartments and payments to government workers, students and the unemployed. The country also plans to hold municipal elections in April after a delay of a year and a half. The pro-Shiite news website Rasid reported March 23 that some 100 demonstrators have been arrested in the east in March.
Security forces fired on protesters who had gathered in the southern city of Daraa on March 18, killing five people and sparking mass demonstrations over the next two days. Angry protesters burned government buildings. The demonstrations spread to at least four other southern villages, and the government fired the governor of Daraa province, whom residents had accused of corruption. On March 23, police shot and killed at least 15 people during an attack on anti-government protesters in Daraa city.
The unrest in this North African nation began in December, apparently after a 26-year-old man committed suicide when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling. Anger at a lack of employment and at a leadership viewed as corrupt exploded into demonstrations and clashes with police. A United Nations mission says at least 219 were killed in the weeks of protests. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14. In late February, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who served as prime minister for 11 years, bowed to protesters’ demands and resigned after clashes between demonstrators and riot police. Two people were killed March 11 in clashes between police and protesters in the mining town of Metlaoui. The interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, has called for elections July 24 to pick representatives to write a new constitution.
Yemen first saw protests in January, with more sustained demonstrations beginning in February. Demonstrators are calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for more than 30 years. The government intensified its crackdown in March, with police firing on demonstrators and government supporters clashing with crowds. More than 40 people were killed in clashes on March 18. Saleh’s support has crumbled since then, with more than a dozen top military officials — including some from his own tribe — joining the opposition, along with lawmakers, diplomats and governors. Rival tanks have been deployed in the capital, Sanaa. Saleh has offered to step down by year’s end, but thousands of demonstrators are demanding his immediate ouster. Saleh has warned that the country could slide into civil war. On March 23, the Parliament put in place emergency laws that suspend the constitution and give security forces greater powers of arrest and detention.
Compiled from NPR and Associated Press reports.
March 23, 2011