With the corporate media’s attention concentrated on Libya, its oil reserves and the real danger of U.S. and NATO’s military intervention, one could almost forget that enormous popular revolts are percolating throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Tunisia was the first country whose 10 million people forced out an entrenched, imperialist-backed dictatorship last Jan. 14. This first revolutionary wave drove out Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his corrupt family.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who had been in office since 1998, remained to head the government. The mass movement, which had been demanding Ghannouchi’s resignation, ebbed by the beginning of February.
Since that time a second wave of revolutionary upsurge has erupted. According to reports by Alma Allende in Tunis, some 100,000 people seized the Qasbah square once more on Feb. 25-26. This time the occupation was impeccably organized, with the UGTT union federation, political parties and other popular organizations playing a big role.
On Feb. 27, Ghannouchi resigned. The next day two more ministers that were holdovers from the Ben Ali regime, those of Industry and Finance, also resigned. Later, four more ministers connected with the old regime also decided to step down.
The following weekend, the new government promised a Constituent Assembly — after a delay of four and a half months — and elections next July. With the lukewarm acceptance of these proposals, the second occupation of the Qasbah ended.
Egypt with its 85 million people stunned the world when mass uprisings forced the 30-year, U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak to resign and flee to the resort town of Sharm-el-Sheik. A council of top officers from the Egyptian armed forces took over the government and has been issuing communiqués aimed at “restoring order.” That does not necessarily mean that all these commands are being obeyed.
Demonstrations continued and on Feb. 25-26 there were reports that the gathering in Tahrir Square, located in the center of Cairo and the national focus of the Feb. 11 revolt, was as large as any that had taken place earlier.
On March 4 and 5, the target of demonstrators shifted to the offices of the hated State Security Services, with thousands storming their headquarters buildings in Cairo and Alexandria. Those in the anti-Mubarak opposition said the demonstrators seized the files from these buildings in order to prevent the police authorities from destroying them and covering up their crimes.
Washington saw the Mubarak regime as a key ally and a linchpin to its strategy for controlling the region and defending its own and Israeli interests.
In Egypt and Tunisia, the strategy of the imperialists and the ruling circles to prevent the revolutionary upsurge from sweeping them aside seems to follow the saying made popular in the best-selling Italian historical novel, “The Leopard,” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The novel describes events in Sicily during Italy’s movement for unification in the 1860s. “If we want things to stay as they are,” says a young member of the aristocracy, “things will have to change.”
In some other countries in the region, the rulers have no intention of being replaced, nor do the imperialists appear to have viable alternatives.
In Bahrain, demonstrators have been in the streets for more than three weeks demanding an end to the reign of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Their first attempt to occupy Pearl Square in central Manama was shattered when security forces opened fire on the sleeping demonstrators, killing seven. Manama is the capital of the once oil-rich nation of 1.2 million people, more than half of them foreign workers, living on an island 34 miles long and 11 miles wide, 92 percent of which is desert.
Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Up to now not only has the Pentagon supplied all of Bahrain’s arms, but the U.S. State Department has stood behind the brutal monarch. This strategically important oil and banking center is reachable from Saudi Arabia over a 20-mile causeway and is only 150 miles from the Iranian coast across the gulf. Tanks were driven across the causeway from Saudi Arabia to reinforce the Bahraini king’s weapons to repress the demonstrators.
Massive demonstrations took place on Feb. 25 in Pearl Square, some estimated the numbers at 200,000. Demonstrators blockaded parliament on Feb. 28, stopping a meeting of the upper house, whose members are all appointed by the king. (Xinhua, Feb. 28)
On March 4-5 thousands of demonstrators moved from Pearl Square to surround the Al-Kudaibiya Palace, where every Sunday the regime meets. The security forces took up positions there. “The people demand the end of the regime,” was the cry of the crowd. (AFP, March 5)
Yemen, at the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is impoverished and oil-poor compared with Bahrain, and has a population of 23.5 million, nearly as many as in the bordering and enormously larger Saudi Arabia. The opposition has called for ever greater protests so that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has already said he would not run for re-election in 2013, would be forced to resign now.
Some 30,000 marched on March 4 in downtown Sana’a, the capital, according to the Wall Street Journal (March 5), demanding the resignation of President Saleh. Eyewitnesses told the Journal that another march in a town 100 miles from the capital, raising the same demands, was fired on with rockets by an army unit, with eight people killed.
There is great resistance to making even cosmetic concessions to the mass movement, not only from the rulers of Yemen and Bahrain, but also from those in Saudi Arabia. The royal family there has already banned any manifestation whatsoever of opposition forces.