Middle East: Who's Next?
As Nick Baumann wrote in our Egypt explainer today, unrest is flaring up all across the Muslim-majority world. From today's "Day of Rage" in Bahrain to Saturday's scheduled demonstrations in Algiers, protestors are following the Tunisian-Egyptian formula in hopes of achieving reform.
Here's a quick look at what's happening:
Protestors in the gulf kingdom of Bahrain dubbed Monday a "Day of Rage," and are pushing the ruling family to grant their demands for improved human rights. Most of the protestors are Shia Muslims, who constitute some 70 percent of the country's population. But they say they've been discriminated against by the ruling family. Meanwhile, the king has offered cash—$2,650 per family—in an attempt to keep the discontent from spreading.
Demonstrators have clashed with police in the capital city of Manama, and the security presence in Shia villages has been increased. Reports say that the police have used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the protests in the Shia-majority village of Newidrat, located in the southwest part of the island.
Likelihood Of Explosion: Not high. But analysts consider Bahrain one of the most vulnerable among the Gulf states.
Wielding clubs, batons, and electroshock tasers, police in Yemen have beaten back anti-government protestors for three straight days. Inspired by Egyptians who brought down their government, the demonstrators' demands are simple: political reform and the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. But as in Egypt, they're facing violent opposition from armed pro-government forces. Human Rights Watch has called on Saleh's government to bring an end to the attacks against the demonstrators and prosecute those responsible.
Saleh—a close ally of the United States—has been in power for thirty years, and promised not to run for office again, a move hailed throughout the country. A 2006 US Agency for International Development study on corruption found that only 40 percent of tax revenues in Yemen make it into the treasury, while 40 percent of its population languishes in poverty. Meanwhile, Saleh's government spends the least on public health of any government in the Middle East, leading to some of the highest malnutrition and child mortality rates in the world.
In the meantime, there's good news for Saleh: he's getting additional millions of dollars in aid from the United States for help in the war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Check out this Democracy Now interview with Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.
Likelihood Of Explosion: Temperatures are high and getting higher. Considering the ongoing sectarian conflict plaguing the country, expect the Obama administration to keep a very close watch on what happens there next.
What's old is new in Iran. Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed solidarity with the protestors in Egypt. Despite "satanic" Western designs, he said, the United States and Israel would not be able to interfere. "The arrogant powers will have no place in this Middle East," Ahmadinejad declared. And the Iranian people have listened. As of late on Monday, thousands had gathered at various spots around Tehran, showing solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutionaries who brought down their respective governments.
But security forces, armed with tear gas, attacked demonstrators. Key opposition websites have been shut down. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi were placed under house arrest on Monday, a day after they issued a statement supporting the protestors.
Watch this video, posted on Youtube, supposedly taken during Monday's protests. It shows people chanting, "political prisoners must be freed." Then a woman cries that tear gas has been deployed.
Likelihood Of Explosion: Moderate. If the aborted Green Revolution proved anything, it was that Iranians know how to get heard—and that Iranian officials do not hesitate to do whatever is necessary to crush any opposition.
Likelihood Of Ensuing Crackdown: Tragically high.
The government of Algeria reaffirmed its promise to end its nineteen-year-old state of emergency. "In the coming days, we will talk about it as if it was a thing of the past," said foreign minister Mourad Medelci, repeating promises made earlier this month by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Angered by high unemployment, poor housing, and high food prices, demonstrators across the country have called for a change in government. Opposition leaders plan to follow up their protests from this past weekend with a demonstration this Saturday—and every subsequent Satudary—in the capital of Algiers.
Likelihood Of Explosion: Low.