Syrian security forces fire on protests

The widespread discontent with governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa continues, as troops in Yemen, Bahrain, and now Syria use lethal force against its citizens in an effort to stop the organization of dissent that has toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

Get used to seeing this map, too. The Middle East is undergoing a prolonged titantic shift as democratic protests topple governments after years of repression and stagnation.

The use of lethal force has become the fulcrum on which U.S. diplomacy and military intervention turns, and in an interesting development about  the brute fact that events are moving too quickly for our comfortable categories to keep up with, the U.S. is dropping the ball. Once again, U.S. intelligence, and therefore policies of diplomacy and military intervention, are lagging in ways that reveal deep inconsistencies about the way we define self-interest and sovereignty in relation to ourselves and in relation to other peoples and states. Our assumptions about the Muslim world and its people, and our willful ignorance of the diversity of economic, social, and political dynamics in different countries, have literally exploded in the last two months as the Middle East experiences a sudden seismic shift in a direction that, like it or not, we cannot ultimately control.

Two questions. Why are we continuing to support some dictatorships in countries that either collaborate with us in the war on terror, or provide us with oil, or both? The governments in both Bahrain and Yemen have been firing on protests and using violent suppression to stop protesters from regrouping, but the U.S. ignores the pleas of those people while barely condemning the actions of their governments with strong language. Yet in the case of Libya the situation apparently warrants military action? Perhaps the economies of scale warrant the change in policy, if the systematic use of indiscriminate military force against civilian populations changes the equation.

How many countries will the U.S. have to intervene in before there is stability? The scene is worrisome in the Middle East because as governments topple and fragile democracies are formed, there is an explicit conservative element of religious fundamentalism (not unlike the religious-right in this country) that will fill that void and use the state for its own puritanical and tyrannical ends, and this would be a dangerous turn for our war on terror. The more there is instability, the more imperatives arise for military intervention, and the more military intervention, the more resistance to U.S. military presence will grow throughout the Middle East. The U.S. position in the Middle East is growing weaker, and expanding the use of force is probably to make its position even worse off in the long run, unless our policies of engagement in this region are reformed from the ground up.

Middle East protests revive democratic spirit

In the wake of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the nearly peaceful overthrow of Egypt’s President Mubarak, and now Libya’s brutal crackdown on opposition protests, hundreds of thousands of protesters have turned out in the streets of major cities across the Middle East from Iran and Iraq to Yemen and Bahrain. Opposition leaders and religious figures are calling everywhere for people to demand more accountability from their governments, and the democratic consequences will be far reaching for years to come.

Thousands of protesters choked Pearl Square on Friday in Bahrain's capital.

Many Arab governments including monarchies in these oil-rich but desperately poor states are now calculating whether to engage the opposition in an effort to bring economic and political reform to the region, or whether to hold onto power with all the desperation and violence that has marked the upending of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya. The country continued descending into chaos as opposition forces, now well-organized, have armed themselves, taken much of eastern Libya, and are marching on the capital Tripoli, where Qaddafi has hired hundreds of mercenaries from nearby Chad and other countries to do much of his fighting. The scene in Libya is sure to get more bloody as the opposition works to unseat the Libyan dictator, who has come under international condemnation for using tanks and planes to kill hundreds of his own people.

In Bahrain, where an earlier crackdown by government forces cleared Pearl Square in that countries capital city Manama, and led to the deaths of dozens of protesters, there is a renewed effort by the country’s Shiite majority to push the Sunni minority out of power. Thousands of protesters throng in Pearl Square, setting up camps, staging demonstrations, and calling for the removal of the country’s long-entrenched monarchy.

In Iraq, America’s difficult democratic experiment is now suffering from “shock and awe” as thousands of protesters there poured into the streets demanding more reform, an end to corruption, and a withdrawal of U.S. military presence. Despite calls by the government for people not to take to the streets, and a security ban on vehicles in the streets, thousands of people are protesting in Iraq’s major cities, and there is information coming in that government troops and police have fired on crowds, killing some protesters.

Egyptian protests topple dictatorship

The world’s major news wires are now reporting that Egyptian President Hasni Mubarak has stepped down. The announcement was made in a speech by Vice President Omar Suleiman. Mubarak ceded power to the military, most of whose officers have been trained in the U.S., and which as recently as yesterday announced it would protect the security of the country until political elections are held in the next several months.

Congratulations to the people of Egypt, who are proving once again that the human spirit cannot be shackled!

Mummifed pharaoh sits on asp

President Hasni Mubarak of Egypt thought someone said “sit down” not “step down,” and in an alarming development apparently sat on his pet asp, a poisonous snake best known for taking the life of Cleopatra. Reporters were unsure if the ass biting incident with the snake happened before the press conference convened. Mubarak appeared tired and his face looked like crate paper, as if he had been recently preserved for dead, but his slurring and lethargic speech, while defiant, also was largely unintelligible. These unconfirmed rumors of poisoning were widespread. “Lots of mumbling,” an unnamed Mubarak aid mentioned in passing. “Are you kidding me,” said a military official. “It’s a regular Weekend at Bernie’s around here!”

Egypt’s Mubarak refuses to cede power

In a televised address to the Egyptian nation, President Hasni Mubarak is refusing to step down despite weeks of protest that has brought the world’s most populous Muslim country to a virtual standstill. Even though the writing is on the wall that his reign of terror has come to an end, Mubarak’s stubborn refusal puts the personal ambitions of a man before the security and prosperity of an entire people.

His announcement means two things:  protestors will continue to resist Mubarak’s decision with even more fierce determination than before, while the military will mobilize to quell more unrest. This will lead to more conflict and violence in the streets of Cairo and around the nation. The ensuing bloodshed  will be on the head of Mubarak. His unwillingness to listen to the people of Egypt means effectively that his regime will have to be toppled by violence. Even worse, it could lead to a military coup as the army leadership looks for ways to bring security to Egypt with as little bloodshed as possible.

President Obama should demand the immediate resignation of Mubarak for the sake of keeping the peace, and for the sake of regional stability. The people have spoken. Mubarak must go, and if he does not Egypt faces the real threat of collapsing into political violence, revolution, and military dictatorship if he does not heed their will.

Mubarak resignation imminent

Peace in the Middle East comes from within!

The New York Times, NPR, and the AP are all reporting that President Mubarak will address the nation in what many are anticipating will be his resignation speech and transfer of power to a provisional government ahead of political elections scheduled for the fall. This occurs in the wake of a pubic announcement by the head of the armed forces that the Egyptian Army is prepared to take over the government and ensure law and order during a transition of power.

After 17 days of peaceful protests, street clashes, and strikes, the people of Egypt have spoken to power and, it turns out, transformed their former dictatorship into a fragile democracy. The Middle East will never be the same. What this shows above all else is that the political fate of the Muslims in the Middle East is their own, and they are free to take it.

While many have expressed worry about the potential for Egypt to backslide into anarchy, or develop into a religious dictatorship like Iran, there are strong indications that a broad coalition government will be able to cobble together a democratic union that includes the left-wing workers’ parties and the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood. This is a historic moment for Muslims around the world as well as democratic politics.

Along with Tunisia’s recent ouster of its long-term dictator, as well as the promise of Yemen’s President not to run in reelections, the overturning of Mubarak’s brutal regime means freedom in the Middle East can be achieved without wars of intervention, a lesson the U.S. needs to absorb and motivate changes in its deeply flawed foreign policy in that region and around the world.

Forecast calls for Arab spring in the Middle East

Acts speak louder than words.

After several days of peaceful democratic protests, the scene in Cairo has turned ugly as pro-Mubarak forces clash with anti-government demonstrators in a feign attempt to discredit the democratic uprising there. Although the military and police have taken the official position not to use force against protesters, it is clear that the gloves are now coming on both sides.

However, in a positive sign that this uprising is having a positive effect throughout the Muslim World, which mostly lives under the rule of authoritarian and deeply anti-democratic regimes, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he would not run for reelection. He made the following announcement that shows the region’s leaders are paying attention to the demands of citizens:

“He ordered the creation of a fund to employ university graduates and to extend social security coverage, increased wages and reduced income taxes and offered to resume a political dialogue that collapsed last October over elections. In answer to opposition complaints that voter records are rife with fraud, he said he would delay the April parliamentary elections until better records could be compiled.”

Even more surprisingly, Saleh announced his son would not run as well, raising many eye brows because his son was widely believed to be successor to this 32 year old dictatorship. The future leads to peace.

Egypt’s Mubarak will not run for reelection

Today in Egypt is a historic day for what is, in the end, an inevitability in the Middle East:  more democracy as Muslim citizens everywhere, tired of decades of oppression in the wake of post-colonial compromises, upset authoritarian regimes and replace them with what are sure to be shaky coalition governments and troubled politics. But at least it’s democracy in more familiar form.

Egypt has  been a largely stable but troubled nation since the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981 by members of the Islamic extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood. The fatwah approving the assassination was issued by the radical cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, a man later convicted in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mubarak was vice-president at the time and injured in the attack, and his regime came under critical international scrutiny in the aftermath of the assassination for human rights violations, including torture of suspected extremists.

Mubarak’s era of political repression in the early 80s also produced the future grand-master flash of global Islamic terrorism, Ayman al-Zawahiri—better known as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man. It is no secret that many of the mujahadeen fighting in Afghanistan, first against the Soviets and later against the US, were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were dislocated from their own country only to wage new wars against the infidels, only now globally.

This is a historic day for democracy because the uprisings in Tunisia and now Egypt are now prompting citizens in all Muslim countries to evaluate the conditions of their political oppression more openly. The consequences of this are uncertain and the forces of reaction will use all of their powers to maintain the status quo, but the fact remains that people are on the streets and this is always a good thing for the spirit of democracy.

Protests sweep Middle East from Tunisia to Bahrain

After the huge democratic protests swept away the remnants of its decades old authoritarian government Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” has inspired the largest protests in history in other Muslim countries suffering under the choke of dictatorships such as that of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.

The protests are sure to inspire other democratic movements across the Middle East to demand government reform, free and fair elections, and more social and economic equity. In Tunisia, the protests were largely sparked by the ongoing economic recession and the lack of jobs. This underscores an important dimension of Middle East politics often lost in the squabbles over what to do about US support for authoritarian regimes such as Mubarak’s, which have played a vital role in sharing intelligence and suppressing global terrorism.

What is great about these protests is the chance they afford for ordinary Muslims in those countries to realign their governments through largely peaceful, democratic protest. This also creates an important opportunity  for the US to transform its support of repressive governments in the Middle East in order to accommodate these democratic movements. Both sides can be winners here.

However, the forces of reaction are already gathering, especially in Egypt where the Mubarak regime has enjoyed almost total power for the last 30 years following the assassination of President Sadat in the late 70’s by the Islamic fundamentalist group, The Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters in that country demanding Mubarak’s resignation are being tear-gassed and beaten with truncheons, signaling the cold hard truth that sometimes to win the battle for democracy violence must be met with more resistance.

The democratic protests in Egypt received a boost on Wednesday when Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize returned to Cairo on Thursday. News agencies today are reporting he has placed under house arrest. Now that the democratic movement has a leader with outstanding democratic credentials, there may be a chance to topple the Mubarak regime or reach a power-sharing agreement of some kind.

Here are some pictures from the protests: