Back in December, 2010, a young man named Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire, sparking nonstop protests that eventually resulted in the removal of Tunisia's authoritarian president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Last week, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak finally gave into nearly three weeks of demands for his ouster, leaving the military to manage a transition to democracy. Certainly there may be limits to how far protest-fever will spread. But right now the Middle East is getting a good dose of demonstrations, as some of the smallest and most repressed nations start to question their rulers and demand a new kind of government. Let's check in with some of these countries and see how they're doing, and how serious the unrest is looking.
Today marks day four of continuous protests in Yemen against the rule of authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has already agreed not to attempt another term when his current one ends in 2013, but unsatisfied protesters rage on, demanding an immediate end to his 32-year rule. According to the New York Times, Saleh is trying to restore order "by raising army salaries, halving income taxes and ordering price controls, among other concessions." The Times also notes that while Facebook and text messaging are used to inform opposition supporters of gatherings, social networking is playing a less crucial organizing role in Yemen's protests than it did in those of Egypt and Tunisia. These two revolutions have also inspired a separate, and more violent, secessionist movement in Yemen's southern region that seems more concerned with forming its own state than working with opposition groups in the capital to get rid of Saleh.
Jordan's King Abdullah II responded to weeks of protest for political change by getting rid of his prime minister and his cabinet. By the end of last week, a new government was already sworn in, headed by a former general and including "several opposition and media figures among its ranks," according to CNN, which also noted that Jordan's faction of the Muslim Brotherhood opted out of an offer to be a part of the new administration. The Brotherhood insisted that parliament, not the king, should be in charge of selecting the prime minister. Up to this point, protests have remained peaceful and it is unclear whether those unhappy with the previous government will be satisfied with the recent change. Still, King Abdullah has acted swiftly to reduce pressure.
Tehran has also erupted in protests in support of Egypt, the BBC reports today. Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has reportedly been placed under house arrest and access to Internet and satellite news channels have already been blocked by the government. According to the PBS Newshour Rundown blog, riot police spread out across the capital early this morning, but that didn't stop protesters from gathering in the streets, resulting in clashes involving tear gas. "What is good for the people of Egypt is illegal for the people of Iran," writes the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg who notes Iranian president Ahmadinejad's expressed support of Egypt's uprising does not carry over to his own people. Last Friday, Robert Gibbs read a statement from a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that promised death to members of the opposition. Gibbs saw this is as a sign that the Iranian government fears it may be forced to give up its power--that sounds serious, though the current regime did, after all, withstand the massive "Green Movement" uprising last year.
The villages surrounding Bahrain's capital of Manama experienced a riot-filled morning today as young men and women, inspired by Egypt and Tunisia, faced riot police with tear gas and rubber bullets. The New York Times points out that Bahrain is "among the most politically volatile in the Gulf, and also one of the most strategically important for the United States." The authoritarian rule of Bahrain's Sunni Muslim king and ruling elite, has prompted over a year of protests from members of the country's Shiite Muslim majority "who complain of discrimination in work, education and housing." Today was meant to be a "day of wrath," organized and promoted on Facebook as a protest in honor of the 10th anniversary of a referendum for political change. In anticipation of the protests, which had gathered 10,000 Facebook supporters as of yesterday, the Guardian reports, Bahrain's government had planned to increase food subsidy funds by millions of dollars and blocked many web sites and Facebook pages. There are also suspicions that the government has enlisted foreign workers for its security forces by promising them citizenship. The head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights told the New York Times, "as a result, there is no connection with the people, and therefore a greater likelihood they will not hesitate to open fire."
Algerians, relentlessly protesting over the weekend, have pushed the government to announce an end to it's 20-year state of emergency, CNN reports today. Time's Vivienne Walt notes that while the Algerian government is presumably promising to lift the emergency state now to avoid the danger a continuation of protests might pose for his regime, if Tunisia and Egypt tell us anything it's that protesters cannot be controlled that easily. Gus Lubin at Business Insider also thinks the move might be a "risky gesture," as the Algerian government is likely to face a nation angry about food prices and repressive politics. But National Review's Mark Krikorian predicts lifting the state of emergency in Algeria "isn't any more likely to lead to a stable democracy there than is Mubarak's departure in Egypt."
The Cases of Libya and Lebanon
Meanwhile, Libya and Lebanon aren't experiencing the same kind of popular uprisings. That said, Lebanon faces its own potential source of unrest: former prime minister Saad Hariri's removal from office by Hezbollah. Opposition to this move is growing, stemming from Hezbollah's efforts to dismantle the criminal tribunal prosecuting the murder of Hariri's father, the former prime minister. At the same time, Libya looks pretty stable, but Mu'ammar Qaddafi is encouraging Palestinian refugees to take advantage of the current Middle East uprisings by taking a stronger stance against Israel, according to Reuters. Hot Air's Ed Morrisey calls out the dictator, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, for trying to "distract his people by calling for a 'revolution' against Israel. Perhaps Libyans should act locally rather than get duped into thinking globally in this instance," he suggests.