While Bahrain’s government concentrated last weekend exclusively on organizing the Formula 1 GP, those who for over a year have been the victims of a repression shrouded in silence, took advantage of this event to attract the world’s attention to their cause. The winds of the Arab Spring had reached Manama on February 4th 2011, when protesters decided to take to the streets demanding political reform and the departure of the Al-Khalifas, the Sunni royal family that rules the country where there is a Shiite majority. The harshest repression began on March 14th when the government allowed troops into the country sent by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States in the Gulf. One thousand soldiers sent by Saudi King Abdallah arrived in Bahrain with a specific mandate; stop the protests and save King Hamad.
Freedom and Democracy
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has described the elections as “a crucial bet that we have no choice but to win”, but the entire Algerian political world is looking to these May 10th elections with hope and with fear. What is at stake involves avoiding a new Arab Spring, with which there has only been a brush, for the moment, and the great risk of a low voter turnout.
Broadly, Morocco has been experiencing reform since the 1990s, but mainly since the coming of Mohammed VI to power in 1999. These reform endeavors have improved women’s rights, civil and human rights, press freedom, the business environment, social development, and education. For many, then, the most recent reforms that culminated in the constitution of July 2011, were in the making well before the Arab Spring began. Moroccan leaders acknowledge that the peaceful demonstrations provided an energetic force for its citizens to express their views on reforms under way in Morocco, henceforth hastening the pace of their implementation. Yet, resentment at extreme corruption at all levels in Moroccan society, mostly fed by the governing elite and the monarch’s entourage, economic unfairness and political exclusion brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets in Morocco in the spring of 2011, following the waves of Arab Spring started in Tunisia and Egypt. Although calls for the “end of the regime” were less widespread than in other countries, there was no mistaking the force of the public desire for meaningful reform. Although the response was mild by the standards of some countries, police broke up some demonstrations causing some injuries to members of the public.
“Libya is experiencing a particularly complex transition period. The road is all uphill and the route is especially difficult because it is full of obstacles,” said Amal Obeidi, a professor of comparative politics at the Garyounis University in Benghazi who talked to ResetDoc at a conference entitled “The EU and North Africa On Energy and Migration: What Prospects after the Arab Spring?” organized in Rome by the Istituto Affari Internazionali, the European Commission, Paralleli and the German Marshall Fund.
Although news about ruthless killing of 16 innocent Afghan women and children by a US soldier in Kandahar has shocked the world, the incident was by no means unexpected. A statement issued by NATO head command in that region noted that the assailant committed the crime in a fit of nervous breakdown. A mother, whose young child was killed in the incident, was crying out asking if her two-year child has been a Taliban fighter to deserve such a death? The bereaved mother knew better than NATO commanders that the attack was not the result of a nervous breakdown, but the result of Islamophobia to which this region, especially Afghanistan, has been a victim during the past 10 years. This process of Islamophobia can be clearly seen in the disastrous events which have befallen Afghanistan in the past few months.
Elections in Iran have always had a contradictory meaning. On one hand, they have always been less than free and fair, even when the polls were basically correct, (meaning not materially rigged), because of the vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council. On the other, they have been a flexible mechanism measuring the relative strength of the different components of the regime. Not a democracy, certainly, but a sort of pluralistic oligarchy.
There are over 3400 candidates in the Iranian elections, the ninth in the history of the Islamic Republic. Many consider these elections a test of the presidency’s political health, since they mark the end of a period of extremely intense clashes in the Majles where the conservative front has shown little unity. The March 2nd elections are being held at a rather delicate moment for the country, not only due to the still open debate on the nuclear issue, but also because of threats coming from Israel and the situation faced by Iran’s historical ally, Bashar al Assad’s Syria. Furthermore, these are the first elections held since the 2009 presidential elections and are a test of the people’s involvement in political life, following the Green Wave protests and after the alienation of important reformists.
After a long wait and avid speculation, the Benkirane government has been officially announced and sworn in. National and international commentators point out what appears to be this government’s most distinctive feature: it only has one female minister, Bassima El-Hakkawi. This is, of course a regression as far as female representation at the highest levels of power is concerned. It not only violates the wishes of females activists and the statements of successive governments for almost half a century, but it also disregards the commitment to gender equality proclaimed in the new constitution.
The political landscape of the Arab world has been dramatically transformed by the events of 2011. After decades of sterile politics and engrained authoritarianism Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria have embarked on a courageous journey aimed at fostering inclusive societies based on the rule of law and accountable governance. While we are only at the beginnings of what will be a long and arduous process, it is hard to believe that things will ever go back to the way they were. From Morocco to Bahrain the Arab public is on the march, and representation through elections is what they demand.
Egypt is generating a continuing stream of news that keeps us worried about its supposed transition to democracy and about its future stability. The latest being the bloody soccer riots in Port Said, the demonstrations that followed across the country, the twelfth bombing of the pipeline to Israel in the Sinai, the abduction of two American tourists between St Catherine's Monastery and Sharm el Sheik, not to speak of its aggression to foreign NGO's, which is endangering its relations with the United States.
The Centre for the Documentation of Violence in Syria has published figures concerning the number of people killed in the repression. Data is updated to January 8th 2012 and indicates 6,062 dead, of which 4,923 were civilians and 1,139 were soldiers and police officers. The civilians are said to include 496 minors and 149 women. According to the international organization Avaaz, which also recently published a report on detention centres in Syria, 6,237 people have been killed. The High Commission for Refugees has reported that about 7,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon and 7,600 to Turkey.