Sun February 13, 2011
Middle East

Other Arab Nations Take A Cue From Egypt

Arab leaders from the Persian Gulf to the Levant are responding to the fall of longstanding regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. So are their populations.

In Algeria Saturday, thousands of people protested against their military-backed ruler despite a massive police presence. The latest anti-government march in Yemen, meanwhile, was met with violence from government supporters. Leaders in Jordan, Syria and Bahrain are also moving to head off public unrest.

In Algeria, 'Fearless' Protesters

In the latest show of public discontent with rulers who often seem to have closer ties to their militaries than to their people, Algerians turned out in large numbers in the capital, Algiers, on Saturday. Journalist Said Chitour said the gathering was clearly anti-government, calling for the resignation of the aging president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled the North African country since 1999.

Chitour said the demonstration was all the more impressive because it came in the face of a huge police deployment.

The protest wasn't nearly as large as the ones that rocked Cairo for 18 days, but it was a brave show of defiance. In Algeria, demonstrations have been illegal under emergency laws that have been in place since 1992. Open rallies calling for the ouster of Bouteflika would have been unthinkable not long ago, but Chitour said the young crowd seemed fearless and even banned opposition leaders made a rare public appearance as the police hemmed the crowd in, but did not attack en masse.

The number arrested in Algiers ranged from an estimate of 400, by a human rights group, to dozens, by official sources. But organizers said it was another sign that young people have lost their fear of their governments, and the demonstrations would only continue to grow.

Yemen Sees Clashes; Other States Take Action

Another large crowd appeared in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a, on Saturday, but supporters of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime turned out as well, and armed clashes ensued. The group Human Rights Watch described what it called "pro-government thugs," armed with clubs, daggers and Tasers. Still, the protest against Yemen's leader was seen as further evidence that the grassroots uprising that started in Tunisia was continuing to spread.

Leaders in Jordan, Syria, Bahrain and Kuwait have already called for reforms or enhanced subsidies designed to ease conditions for their struggling populations. But analysts say the signs are that these measures may not be enough to satisfy people who have witnessed the fall of regional titans who once were seen as untouchable.

The next stage for demonstrations will be Monday in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, where a disadvantaged Shi'ite majority is ruled by a wealthy Sunni minority. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.