Monday, January 17, 2011
By Hadeel al-Shalchi
CAIRO: The ouster of the Tunisian president emboldened disenchanted Arab citizens in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan to call for regime changes and for economic reforms Sunday.
In Amman, more than 3,000 Jordanian trade unionists, Islamists and leftists held a sit-in Sunday outside Parliament to protest the government’s economic policies.
“For how long should we pay the price of corruption and theft,” read one of the banners carried by protesters who also held Jordanian and Islamist flags.
The demonstrators chanted “enough of lies, we lost our future,” and called on Prime Minister Samir Rifai to “listen to the voice of the people.”
“Jordan’s blood has been sucked,” they chanted.
“Poverty, starvation and unemployment, we’ve had enough,” and “Jordanians are on fire … the soaring prices are killing us,” were among the other slogans they chanted. Parliament was in session during the sit-in.
About 50 Jordanian trade unionists held a sit-in outside the Tunisian Embassy in Amman Saturday, shouting “Tunisia’s revolution will spread.”
The stunning rebellion in Tunisia against the 23-year rule of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali sent an unmistakable message to other leaders that no hold on power is guaranteed.
“Now the bell is ringing and it should be a reminder to other leaders that people are fed up,” said political analyst Labib Kamhawi in Jordan.
“They need political freedoms and serious economic reforms, that there must be an end to corruption and nepotism,” he added.
In Algeria, a man has died after setting himself on fire at a government building in Algeria, state radio reported Sunday, echoing the self-immolation that triggered the protests in Tunisia.
Mohsen Bouterfif doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire Thursday after a meeting with the mayor of the small city of Boukhadra who was unable to provide him a job and a house, the daily Al-Khabar newspaper said. He died Saturday of his burns.
About 100 young men protested over Mohsen’s death in the town, in Tebessa Province, 700 kilometers east of Algiers. The governor of the province sacked the mayor, Al-Khabar said.
Several Algerian towns, including the capital Algiers, have experienced riots in recent weeks over unemployment and a sharp rise in the prices of food staples.
In Yemen, meanwhile, about 1,000 students took to the streets of the capital Sanaa Sunday urging Arabs to rise up against their leaders.
Flanked by human rights activists, the students marched from Sanaa University’s campus to the Tunisian Embassy, calling for Arab peoples to wage a “revolution against their scared and deceitful leaders.”
“Liberty’s Tunisia, Sanaa salutes you a thousand times,” they chanted.
“Leave before you are toppled,” read one banner, without naming Yemen’s own President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “Peaceful and democratic change is our aim in building a new Yemen.”
Many states with deep political rifts, such as Egypt and Iran, maintain vast security forces heavily vested in the status quo and have shown no signs of breaking ranks to join protesters. Other hard-line regimes like Syria come down harshly and swiftly against dissent. Saudi Arabia kept a total blackout on the activities of the ousted Tunisian president Sunday.
And smaller states with well-organized political opposition, including Kuwait and Bahrain, provide their native citizens with wide-ranging social benefits that few would dare put at risk with a full-scale mutiny.
“We only have to look at Iran to see the challenges for anyone thinking they can bring change just by going to the streets,” said Sami Alfaraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, referring to the massive protests that were eventually crushed after the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009.
Still, he said it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of the upheaval in Tunisia. “This gets planted in minds that it is possible. They believe it can happen in their country,” Alfaraj said. “Leaders cannot just dismiss that.”
Egyptian human rights activist Hossam Bahgat said he was glued to the news watching the fall of the Tunisian government and hoped that his countrymen could do the same someday.
“What’s significant about Tunisia is that literally days ago the regime seemed unshakable, and then eventually democracy prevailed without a single Western state lifting a finger,” he said. Bahgat said the events in Tunisia would boost the confidence of opposition members in a region where leaders often rule for life.
In Cairo, a small group of activists gathered outside the Tunisian Embassy for a second day and drew comparisons between the North African countries: claims of chronic corruption and poverty, a heavy-handed security force and limits on the press and Internet.
The protesters, outnumbered five-to-one by riot police, chanted “soon we will follow Tunis” and other slogans against the government of Mubarak, who has ruled for three decades. – With agencies