Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt, Tunisia, Thailand... Top 10 destinations for Social Upheaval

A Tide of civil unrest has swept through at least 11 nations in just the past week.  Media focus has been on the successes of the "Jasmine Revolution" and developments in Egypt, which is populous, geopolitically significant, and in total upheaval; but nations far and wide are experiencing mass-protests and anti-government demonstrations. 

Cairo, January 25 2011 by Muhammad*#
The underlying cause connecting all of these movements is the political and economic disenfranchisement of large majorities and groups of people within their nations.  It could be that what now is being witnessed will be seen broadly as a sociological reaction to generally poor ongoing conditions which became exacerbated by ongoing effects of a global economic crisis and major moves in global food and fuel inflation.  This situation has threatened a future of abject poverty and destitution on large populations of working poor, unemployed, pensioners, students, small business operators, professionals; anyone with debts or low incomes.  In these conditions, any political or economic event can become a symbol of repression which people begin to rally against, venting their anger and will to change in street demonstrations and violent confrontation with security forces. 

While the list is dominated by the Middle-East/African-Arab speaking nations of Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon, there is representation from the Sub-Sahara in Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana, as well as Europe and Asia with Albania, Bangladesh and Thailand.  In no particular order:

Last Friday saw thousands of protestors marching in Jordan, and was the 3rd consecutive day-of-prayer protest.  Jordan fits the same profile as the other Arab countries in upheaval: A large population mainly below the age of 30, under the strain of rising prices and unemployment, facing a lifetime of economic deprivation and political disenfranchisement.  Today, February 1, King Abdullah has dismissed his cabinet and prime minister.  His appointment of former general and PM Marouf Bakhit as the new Prime Minister will likely be seen as an empty gesture, as Bakhit is an entrenched member of the political class who was already PM from 2005-2007.

The Egyptian government, led for 30 years by Hosni Mubarak, on January 28 shut down all cell-phone and internet access as it faced popular calls for him and his government to step down during consecutive days of demonstrations.  The entire Presidential cabinet has been purged and restaffed.  Sources put today's crowds at million strong just in Cairo. Transportation has been severly restricted and night-time curfews are in place but ignored.  Protestors have occupied buildings, and the army has refused to use violent coercion against the people whose demands it views as "legitimate."  This represents a major break from President Mubarak, who is himself a former Air Force Commander and Chief of Staff.  Clashes between demonstrators and security forces have cost more than 125 lives.  The protests began in earnest on January 25, a date on which the government annually commemorates the police.  Activists organised for that day a massive apolitical demonstration against police brutality, dubbed the "day of rage."  The protests, unified by the rally-call "Kefaya!" (Enough!) have gathered momentum and are ongoing at the time of publication.

Angry demonstrations hit the streets of Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon on January 25.  Politics remain as a constant catalyst to demonstrations and unrest in Lebanon, a country which has felt the brunt of 2 wars in the past 3 decades.  Lebanese society faces a lack of housing and vital state infrastructure, unemployment and rising prices, a factionalised society along religious, sectarian and political lines, and the constant threat of renewed war from its southern neighbor Israel. 

Near daily protests since mid January in Yemen and the capital Sanaa have seen calls from tens of thousands for the ouster of 32-year President Ali Abdullah Saleh.  Yemen is an extremely poor nation, located at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula and across the gulf of Aden from Somalia.  America has called Yemen an Al-Qaeda haven and has been making drone attacks inside the country.  The country has already been coping with open revolt from rebel and separatist movements.  With war, corruption, high unemployment and rising prices plaguing the nation, thousands of people with nothing to lose have turned out to demand rights, justice and new government.  One man, Fouad Sabri, lit-himself on fire in an attempted suicide protest, immitating the act which sparked the Tunisian uprising. 

Rioting and protests have continued to errupt for over a month as economic turmoil engulfs the country.  Algeria has suffered for a long time with a housing shortage, and the young population is acting out against their impoverished living conditions, rising prices and lack of economic opportunity.  Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 12-year president, has vowed to quash the unrest; along with employing security forces he has put in place a cooking fuel subsidy and has also ordered major purchases of wheat with the hopes of holding domestic food prices down. 

A month of protests which saw the ouster of Tunisia's 23-year president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, continue into their 6th week after being dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution."  Sparked by the suicide protest of Mohammed Bouazizi on Dec 17th, general strikes and protests against indignity, police brutality, organised corruption and generally lacking rights and freedoms continue.  Security forces, out of seeming habit or acculturation, continue to use deadly violence against the crowds, who are now specifically calling for the president's former cronies to resign their posts in various state ministries and the interim government. 

Bangladesh is experiencing violent demonstrations as its stock market is rapidly collapsing.  Since a previous report about it here at World Headlines Review, more street violence has been seen as markets hit new lows and stability has failed to return.  Trading was again halted on the Dhaka exchange for a third time, on January 20, to stop rapid and massive declines which threatened a total collapse of stock values.  In a seemingly unrelated story, the AFP reports that a police officer was killed and several police and civilians seriously injured in protests which saw 20,000 villagers fighting against the appropriation of their land by the government.  For the masses of Bangladeshis, it seems there is no safe place to put your savings, be it stocks or real-estate. 

A country of some 3 million people on the Mediteranean coast of Europe, Albania's social unrest has expressed itself slightly differently from other nations.  Factions within the country have fought with each other and the police over political scandals and corruption.  On January 21, 3 civilians were killed when security forces fired on anti-government demonstrators.  At its core, the unrest is the result of the same rising prices, unemployment and rampant corruption that is swelling the ranks of the uprisings in many other nations.  

Anti-government protests by "red-shirts" and "yellow shirts" saw thousands of demonstrators occupying streets and neighborhoods in Bangkok this week.  The Thai government has been beset by protests for years now, from groups who seem to recognise no democratic forum for redress except direct action.  In December 2008 the Bangkok international airport was occupied by protestors, leaving many tourists stranded and creating international headlines.  Since then, protests continue largely in the absence of international attention.

Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital of Accra and Kumasi on January 26, calling for government action against poverty and rising food and fuel prices.  The protests were peaceful.

In a poor country facing massive unemployment and inflation, a political crisis has sparked violence along social, political and ethnic lines.  The UN this week reported estimates of 260 deaths in the rapidly evolving situation.  Violence erupted when Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent President, was defeated in a recent election.  Gbagbo has refused the election results and is pitting the ethnic and economic prejudices of his southern support base against the growing anger of the supporters of President-elect Alassane Ouattara. 

Cairo Police Line, January 25 by Muhammad*#
The above list briefly illustrates a number of locales experiencing unrest right now or in the past week.  Haiti and Belarus are two more countries which could be added to the list if the timeframe was widened to the past month.  Both countries have been mired in violent protest against corruption and anti-democratic government.  In all of these countries, where there are little to no rights or freedom to associate, to gather publicly, to speak one's opinion vocally, where there are no democratic venues for ordinary people to make themselves heard and to seek redress, the only option is to defy the law, defy curfews, and face tear-gas, batons and bullets in the streets. 

What seemed to happen first in Tunisia may yet inspire more people to take to the streets, but what is actually happening will continue as long as there is a reason: People facing a bleak future, with little to lose and everything to gain, finding common cause with each other and searching for hope and the power to shape their own destiny

Street-battles in Cairo

Read Sources On:  Egypt  - Lebanon  - Thailand1  - Thailand2  - Cote D'Ivoire1  - Cote DI'voire2  - Ghana1  - Ghana2  -  Albania1  - Albania2  - Bangladesh1  - Bangladesh2  - Yemen1  - Yemen2  - Yemen3  - Algeria  - Jordan 1  - Jordan 2