When all this first started with Tunisia, I didn’t think there was any way the people could oust their president after some 24 years in power. I’d spent just a couple of weeks there in 2008, and people seemed more or less willing to accept the corruption of a government that was at least more or less secular, invested in education, and allowed a bit more freedom than many other North African and Middle Eastern countries.
I was way wrong about Tunisia, and with Mubarak gone from Egypt, people all over the region have been emboldened to demand more accountability, more transparency and more say over their lives. Some governments will probably manage to placate the protesters with handouts and subsidies, and some will crush them brutally, but before the dust settles, maybe — just maybe — one or two more long-oppressed peoples will manage to send their leaders into the dustbins of history.
The thing to remember is that even small peaceful protests are completely unheard of in many of these countries. The fact that governments that normally have no tolerance for dissent aren’t immediately rolling over them with tanks is a huge step forward in itself. And when tens of thousands of people to crowd the avenues and public squares, that’s huge news.
Here’s a run-down by country:
- Algeria: More than 10,000 people took part in a march in Algiers, and a man tried to set himself on fire to protest against the government’s inability to create jobs. Over the weekend, 2,000-3,000 protesters faced off against some 30,000 police.
- Bahrain: Police are breaking up protests — non-lethally so far — as people take to the streets to demand respect for human rights and greater freedoms.
- Iran: After brutally cracking down on huge anti-government protests following 2009′s stolen election, police are so far using non-lethal weapons to control thousands of Iranians “rallying in support of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.”
- Iraq: A small Valentine’s Day protest against government corruption follows the death of a man in Mosul who lit himself on fire to draw attention to the government’s continuing inability to create jobs.
- Jordan: Just a few days after mass protests led Jordan’s king to replace his prime minister, crowds are demanding that the new PM be replaced as well.
- Lebanon: As Egyptians took to the streets, thousands of Lebanese people demanded that Hezbollah relinquish its newfound hold on Lebanon’s government.
- Libya: On Feb. 17, Libyans plan to hold a massive unprecedented “Day of Rage” against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s self-described “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
- Morocco: Calls for more jobs have been the rallying cry of more Egypt-inspired demonstrations in Morocco, after an unemployed former soldier set himself on fire.
- Palestine: As unrest begins, the Palestinian Authority promised to overhaul his cabinet to try and prevent Gazans from taking ot the streets.
- Saudi Arabia: In one of the region’s — and the world’s — most repressive countries, where public demonstrations are unheard of, tiny protests are starting to take place. The Saudi government appears terrified at the prospect of Egypt-style protests — especially after its strong support for Mubarak turns out to have been lent to the losing side.
- Syria: A mass protest that gained lots of Facebook and Twitter support from Syrians fizzled without ever taking place, but Syrians afraid of incurring their government’s wrath may not be far from taking to the streets.
- Yemen: Protesters are taking to the streets to demand the president’s resignation.
Image via Parlour Magazine.