Sunday, January 23, 2011

No. No more.

The Tunisian uprising continues. Some on the Left are preaching caution. Don't read too much into Tunisia. It's an isolated event. The same thing can't happen in, say, Egypt, where the mechanisms of oppression are well established and millions depend on the government for  paychecks. But protests against oppressive regimes continue, and continue to spread to more countries, across the Middle East and beyond.

In Egypt, there have been isolated, spontaneous protests for some time now. Recently there have been several self immolations on the order of the one that sparked the uprising in Tunisia, and a national day of action is scheduled for next Tuesday. US ally Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 29 years and has been readying things for his son to take over, but Muhhamed ElBaradi, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former top UN nuclear watchdog, is mounting a challenge to Mobarak rule. He has said he supports the day of action but will not participate, but he is quoted in an article to be published Monday in Der Spiegel as saying, "If the Tunisians have done it, Egyptians should get there too."

In Tunisia, the interim government consisting mostly of members of the administration of former President Ben Ali, who fled just over a week ago, is still under fire despite promises to hold elections within six months and despite having made a number of significant concessions, such as eliminating controls on the press and freeing up access to the internet. Demonstrations reported to number in the thousands are now being joined by police officers. This is significant in that it was police who were responsible for most of the killings of demonstrators in the past month: the army had stepped in to act as a buffer between the police and the people, and the police had been seen as the enemy. The UGTT trade union, which has played a central role in the uprising so far, has begun a march from central Tunisia to the capital, which is picking up supporters along the way and has the stated aim of toppling the interim government.

In Yemen, another close ally of the US in the so-called war on terrorism, an initial demonstrations numbering 2,500 people in support of the Tunisian uprising was called unprecedented in Yemen. Now students are holding demonstrations calling for the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been president for 32 years. Like many rulers in the area Saleh has taken heed of what happened in Tunisa and quickly cut income taxes by half and imposed price controls on key goods, but the students, angered by changes he recently made to the constitution that let him be president for life, vow to continue their protests until he steps down.

In the Balkan state of Albania at least three people have been killed and many more wounded in protests in the capital Tirana. Conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha has vowed not to be unseated by a Tunisia style uprising and has clamped down on the protests. Video posted on the internet has shown police firing on demonstrators, but also shows protesters outside Berisha's offices shouting "Get out, get out." Socialists leading the uprising promise demonstrations will continue after a day of mourning for those killed.

In Algeria, although the intensity of the protests leveled off for two weeks after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quickly promised concessions, protesters are again in the streets facing police violence, and things continue to be tense.  Unemployment in the country is at 30 percent, and the prices of most food staples and cooking oil has doubled in the past few months. The economy includes a large informal sector which will be hard hit if the government goes through with a 17 percent sales tax on street vendors. Like in Tunisia, Algeria's government is seen as a puppet of the West. Protests are being led by the opposition Socialists, and the grievances also are about corruption and vote rigging.

In Jordan, thousands demonstrated last weekend against government economic policies and demanded the resignation of Prime minister Samir Ritai. Ritai quickly announced salary and pension increases for government workers, but protest marches after this Friday's prayer services were even larger -- 5,000 in the capital Aman, where police handed out bottles of juice and water, and 1,400 more in other cities. The poverty rate in Jordan is 25 percent and unemployment stands at 14 percent.

In Jordan the protests are organized by opposition Islamist parties, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood. The US government and its apologists have been quick to label all the Middle Eastern uprisings with the Islamist brush, claiming either that they are backed by radical Islam or will open the door to radical Islam in places where until now it has been contained, like Tunisia and Egypt, never mentioning of course that it is contained by violent, oppressive, undemocratic regimes. But neither has been the case in most of the uprisings, which have consisted of coalitions of students, unions, leftists and other ordinary people fed up with oppression and economic hardships caused by "Washington Consensus"-type, neoliberal austerity policies, which are little more than systems for transferring wealth upward from the workers to the elites. Austerity for us, the profits for them. The globalization of Reaganomics via the policies of the IMF, or International Monetary Fund.

The sudden outbreak of protests in Libya a week ago has not gotten much media attention yet. Protesters are demanding "decent housing and a dignified life," according to opposition web site Almanara. Clashes have been reported in at least two cities. In one, protesters threw rocks through the windows of government buildings, and in another, people have occupied 600 vacant apartments. Libyan leader Col. Mommar Gaddafi, who was quoted after Ben Ali's departure as saying that the Tunisian people were too impatient, has ordered police not to attack demonstrators but to protect  government buildings.

The uprisings are firing imaginations and causing excitement all across the globe. But a steady undercurrent of commentators on the Left is attempting to lower expectations. Typical is Ramzy Baroud of the Palestine Chronicle, who says each country's situation must be looked at independently, in light of its particular set of conditions. You can't generalize the Tunisian revolt to other places, he says.

But you can generalize about human nature. Revolution is a naturally occurring event arising out of human nature. It is inside of us, waiting to take form. Waiting until we can imagine it.

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