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Bahrain Denies Journalists' Entry Ahead of One Year Anniversary

In the week leading up to the one year anniversary of Bahrain's February 14 Revolution, many journalists have been denied visas to the country. Journalists from the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, Associated Foreign Press, and Al-Jazeera English were all denied visas because of what the government is calling a "high volume of requests."

 

"This refusal to allow access for such prestigious media organizations is another ominous signal from the Bahrain government about what might happen this coming week,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "The days approaching the anniversary are tense and rife with rumor. Bahrain's refusal to admit human rights and media organizations only fuels suspicions that the government wants to hide the truth about its ongoing abuses."

 

It is unclear how many journalists are allowed to enter the country for the February 14 anniversary, but the Information Affairs Agency maintains they are allowing many foreign media outlets to cover the events.

 

A girl flashes the victory sign with her fingers amid fellow anti-government protesters waving Bahraini flags during a rally held by Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite opposition, in Sanabis, west of Manama January 12, 2012. Thousands of anti-government protesters participated in the rally shouting anti-government slogans demanding the downfall of the ruling family.

As part of the 2011 "Arab Spring" uprising, the protests in Bahrain were initially aimed at achieving greater political reforms and equality for the predominantly Shia population. However, following a bloody night raid on February 17, 2011 against peaceful protestors staging sit-ins at Pear Roundabout in Manama, the protestors raised their demands and called for an end to the centuries-long authoritarian rule of the Khalifa dynasty. On March 14, Hundreds of Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help protect government facilities amid escalating protests against the Sunni-led government.

 

Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, says his team has documented 60 deaths since February 14, 2011 and that the police's aggressive approach in countering activists has stiffened in the past two months. Meanwhile, hundreds of activists have been detained, injured, and tortured in the past year.

 

After almost a year, violence is still rife in Bahrain as the revolutionary youths remain resolute in their demands and Saudi-backed forces are increasingly brutal in their crackdowns. This week the February 14 Youth Coalition issued a "charter" saying the government crackdowns had gone too far. "The aim of this revolution has become to bring down the regime and decide our own fate after it became clear that trying to live with it and reform it has become impossible," it said.

 

As next week's anniversary approaches, many people are uncertain about how the events will unfold and worry of increased violence, chaos, and deaths. Emile Hokayen, Mideast Analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, tweeted, "Here in Bahrain, lots of uncertainty abt next week. Rumors galore, concern in some quarters, fatigue in others, real frustration among opp."

 

Photo: A girl flashes the victory sign with her fingers amid fellow anti-government protestors waving Bahraini flags during a rally held by Al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shiite opposition, in Sanabis, west of Manama January 12, 2012. Thousands of anti-government protesters participated in the rally shouting anti-government slogans demanding the downfall of the ruling family. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

 
 

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2011: The Year of the People

This time last year, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, sparking a popular uprising in Tunisia that spread to countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The uprisings have come to be known throughout the world as the "Arab Spring" and have caused more change in one year than the region has seen in decades. For months, chants across the Middle East echoed, "The people want the downfall of the regime." Only a month after Tunisians ousted Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, it took the Egyptian people only 18 days to overthrow Hosni Mubarak after being in power for 30 years. 

An anti-government protester displays paintings on her hand of other countries involved in the Arab Spring revolutions during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa October 26, 2011. The words read, "Go out." REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

 

Shortly after the downfalls of Ben Ali and Mubarak, Libyans took up arms against Muammar Gaddafi. After ten months of violent battles that took the lives of thousands of civilians, Libyan revolutionaries claimed victory when Gaddafi was killed in his hometown of Sirte. 

 

Protestors in Yemen hope to turn a new page after months of bloody crackdowns as embattled ruler Ali Abudllah Saleh belatedly signed the Gulf-brokered deal that will transfer power in the country by early next year. 

 

In Syria, anti-regime activists are unyielding in their ongoing fight against Bashar al-Assad. As the death toll has reached over 5,000 according to the UN, the international community is slowly boosting efforts to end the months-long bloody crackdown. 

 

Protests and subsequent crackdowns have spread through Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia but have received far less media attention.

 

In his article "From Tunis and Tahrir to Wall Street, and back again," UC Irvine Professor Mark Levine explains the common frustrations of people throughout the region. He states, "The lack of hope or possibility to find decent work, or overcome the corruption and repression there that defined life in [Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi's hometown], was a microcosm of political and economic life in Tunisia under Zine Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and most every other country in the region."  Khoda, a Syrian housepainter turned insurgent, had a different view: "In Egypt, the revolution started because of poverty and hunger," he said. "In Libya it started because of misuse of power. In Syria, the main purpose of the revolution is to gain back our dignity and our honour."


As the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are being hailed as successes by some, other observers aren't as optimistic that they will lead to the kinds of changes that protestors had hoped. Daniel Byman of the Washington Post predicts, "The Arab Spring may not bring freedom to much, or even most, of the Arab world. Even as the United States prepares to work with the region's new democracies, it also must prepare for the chaos, stagnation and misrule."


As we reach the one year mark of the start of the "Arab Spring," there are many lessons to be learned from the unparalleled and tumultuous revolutions that rocked the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. Mohamad Al-Ississ, a professor of economics at the American University of Cairo, says the fight is not over and that "this is the moment where we go forward or we go back to ground zero." Levine warns that "democracy is a means, not an end," pointing to our own Western system today that is "so dominated by money and power that inequality and corruption are reaching 'third world' levels."

 

Huguett Labelle, chair of Transparency International and author of  "The keys to change across the Arab world," offers wise words of advice to the future leaders of the Arab world: "listen to the people, or risk being overtaken by them."

 

Photo Credit: An anti-government protestor displays paintings on her hand of other countries involved in the Arab Spring revolutions during a rally to demand the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on October 26, 2011. The words read, "Go out." REUTERS/Louafi Larbi 

 

 
 

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Back to Tahrir Square

"The revolution in Egypt is not over. It has hardly begun," writes Omeya El Naggar in an article titled "Will Egypt's Arab Spring Turn Into an Arab Nightmare." Egypt's Tahrir Square looked like a nightmare today, ten months after protests brought down Hosni Mubarak's regime, as clashes between protestors and police continued for a third consecutive day. Al Jazeera reports that 33 people have been killed and over 1,500 injured since Saturday. 

 

Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police in a side street near Tahrir Square in Cairo

Thousands of protestors gathered in Tahrir Square, the symbolic epicenter of the Arab Spring, to demand the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) swiftly transfer power to a civilian authority and to protect their revolution from what they say is an attempt to hijack it. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to start on November 28, but presidential elections won’t be held until a new constitution is written, which could take up to a year. In the meantime, executive powers would remain with the army. 

 

According to the Cairo daily Al Masry al Youm, protestors were using firebombs and shotgun pellets against the police. At a brief news conference, a representative of the military, General Said Abbas, said that the security forces had not initiated any violence and had only defended themselves. This video however, shows police officers beating lifeless bodies and dragging others by their hair across the square. One activist tweeted, "There are protestors writing phone numbers on their arms so that in case they're killed their family members can be contacted. #Tahrir." Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh said the clashes were "very intense, with the people on the street telling us…that the military has shown its true colors."

 

In the face of such bloody protests, interim Prime Minsiter Essam Sharaf and his cabinet submitted their collective resignation. However, the military council reportedly announced they will not accept the resignation until Egyptian political forces decide on a replacement prime minister.  

 

In an article titled "Cairo Jumps the Rails," Marc Lynch says, "Now is a time for the Egyptian political elite to unify -- Islamist and non-Islamist, elite and popular -- around clear demands for a speedy political transition to civilian rule. Protestors, bloody and mourning their dead, will not be satisfied with minor political concessions." Others say it is easier said than done. In an increasingly heated and complex political climate, Al Ahram’s Elias Harfoush argues that "the ongoing competition…over the inheritance of Mubarak's regime has its justifications…Mubarak's absence has left a great vacuum  in the prime seat of power in the largest [and most populated] Arab country." In other words, the stakes are high. 

 

As over 20,000 protestors filled Tahrir Square on Monday night, activists are calling for a "million man march" on Tuesday to call for a new civilian government and national unity.  

 
 

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Inside Syria's Divided Opposition

Seven months into the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the Syrian opposition remains starkly divided on several key issues. According to the BBC, these issues include "the question of whether or not to encourage foreign intervention, whether there should be regime change or dialogue, and whether there should be armed rebellion or peaceful protest."

 

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which was recently formed in Turkey, and the Damascus-based National Coordination Committee (NCC) are the two main opposition groups that have emerged in Syria. While both blocs agree on overthrowing the current regime, the NCC calls for dialogue with Assad's regime (on the condition that the regime ends the violence against protestors), while the SNC vehemently rejects any form of dialogue. 

 

While the SNC and the NCC both originally rejected foreign intervention, the SNC membership now seems divided on the issue. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, "some SNC members, especially the youth activists, have been calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone and the protection of civilians including a NATO-led intervention akin to the one in Libya." The NCC calls instead for economic sanctions and other political maneuvers to counter Assad's regime. 

 

Military defectors organized under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) mark yet another facet of Syria's opposition. The FSA has repeatedly mounted attacks on Syrian security forces and Syrian security forces and army, worrying many that the crisis will escalate into a civil war. A majority of the opposition agrees that protests should remain non-violent, however many youth activists are growing impatient with the slow progress on the political front.

 

A Syrian protester living in Egypt attacks a member of the Syrian opposition delegation before the delegation was due to meet with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo November 9, 2011.

Many protestors are weary of both opposition blocs, saying they aren't representative of the people and their demands. In an article titled, "Opposing (Some) Arab Opposition Groups," As'ad AbuKhalil warns against endorsing Arab opposition groups simply because they oppose dictatorial regimes. He says, "Some Arab opposition groups may promise democracy and rule of law, while they carry the agenda of a sponsoring tyrannical government… It is our duty…to speak out against those opposition groups who promise to take the people from one form of tyranny to another."

 

As the protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad continue on a daily basis in Syria, the deepening divide in the muddled Syrian opposition will continue to hinder a resolution to the crisis. In the words of Steven Heydemann, senior advisor for Middle East initiatives at the US Institute of Peace, the Syrian revolution will be  "a marathon" if Syrians cannot unite. 

 

(Photo:  A Syrian protestor living in Egypt attacks a member of the Syrian opposition delegation before the delegation was due to meet with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo November 9, 2011. Watch New TV's report on the altercation here.

 

 
 

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Occupy Wall Street: An American "Arab Spring"?

"Ever since the Arab Spring, many people here have been pining for an American Autumn," says Charles Blow in the New York Times. "The closest we've gotten so far is Occupy Wall Street." For almost four weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have gathered in Manhattan's financial district to protest corporate greed, corruption, and social and economic inequality, among other things. The movement's website states, "We Are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends." 

Occupy Wall Street protester marches up Broadway in New York


Is Occupy Wall Street the beginning of America's own "Arab Spring"? According to Micah Sifry at techPresident, "America is about to experience the same youth-driven, hyper-networked wave of grassroots protests against economic inequality and political oligarchy" that swept the Arab world. After travelling throughout the Middle East to cover the "Arab Spring" protests, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof said "the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo." 

 

Many disagree. Blow describes the protests as "a festival of frustrations, a collective venting session with little edge or urgency, highlighting just how far away downtown Manhattan is from Damascus." James Joyner at Outside the Beltway states, "What these movements have in common: frustrated youth loosely organized using social media …It's simply insulting to compare the two."

 

What can the American protestors learn from the more experienced "Arab Spring" protestors? In a Foreign Policy Magazine article entitled "From Tahrir Square to Wall Street," veteran Egyptian protestor Mosa'ab Elshamy offers his advice to the Occupy Wall Street activists on what makes a successful protest movement. Most importantly, Elshamy says, is that protestors have a unified platform. They must first agree on a set of simple and broad demands in order to attract a wide base of support, which is exactly what Occupy Wall Street lacks, according to most critics.  

 

Almost one month after the start of protests in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown surprising staying power. The movement has spread to over 70 US cities and has been endorsed by several labor unions, celebrities, and politicians. But will it succeed in bringing accountability and equity to the US financial system, or will it fizzle as protestors are dispersed by a cold New York winter? 

 

(Photo: Occupy Wall Street protestor marches up Broadway in New York.  Mike Segar / Reuters)

 
 

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