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A Look at Today’s Uprisings in the Arab World

Friday has been a typically major day for protests around the Arab world, so let’s take a look at what went on today:

• Egypt: Yes, protesters returned to Tahrir Square in huge numbers today, over 100,000 at last count, to demonstrate against increasing repression from the military, which is nominally in charge as we await presidential elections.

By early afternoon the protest had swollen to more than 100,000. Thousands waved red, white and black Egyptian flags in scenes reminiscent of the height of the protests that toppled (Hosni) Mubarak and helped ignite revolts in other Arab countries.

“Oh field marshal, we’ve been very patient!” chanted some of the protesters, gathered in the square that was the hub of protests that toppled Mubarak from the presidency and left the army, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in charge.

“Tantawi, Tantawi get your act together or do you want a pool of blood?” chanted some of the protesters.

The military has enjoyed broad support since it took control of the country on 11 February but frustrations have grown over the pace of reform. Attention is now focused on the perceived tardiness of legal steps against Mubarak and his entourage.

Mubarak has been living in a mansion in Sharm el-Sheikh since February, with no pressure on prosecution for corruption or other charges. The protests, which included this but also core economic issues, were peaceful and there were no clashes with security.

• Syria: On the other hand, Syria continues to try and put down its unrest with brute force. As many as 17 Syrians are dead in violence in Deraa, the spiritual home of the uprising. And five others were killed in other cities. (UPDATE: Al Jazeera now says 27 dead)

An activist asking not to be named for security reasons told AFP the people in Daraa were killed when security forces opened fire with rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters.

“Thousands of demonstrators leaving from three mosques marched to the courthouse but security forces dressed in civilian clothing fired tear gas to disperse them,” said the activist.

“Demonstrators threw stones and clashes ensued,” the activist said, adding that “the situation is very tense” in Daraa, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Damascus.

Thousands of people in cities across the country protested today.

• Yemen: Gulf nations had tried to broker a deal that would allow Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down, but Saleh rejected the proposal amid continuing protests today. Saleh blamed Qatar and Al Jazeera for singling him out. He staged his own pro-government protest as well in Sanaa, but they were outnumbered by hundreds of thousands in anti-government protests across the country. There was more repression from security forces in Taiz, where police used tear gas, clubs and even bullets to disperse the crowds. At least one is reported dead.

• Saudi Arabia: According to a human rights activist, hundreds of Saudi Shiites protested today in two eastern towns and called for the release of political prisoners. Saudi security pretty ruthlessly put down protests last month. So this return is notable.

• UAE: There have been basically no protests in the UAE thus far, but the government isn’t taking any chances. They took a blogger into custody who had been arguing for more freedoms in the Emirates.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates detained a blogger and rights activist who had said he’s gotten death threats for calling for political freedoms and an elected parliament in the Gulf nation.

Ahmed Mansour was detained Friday at his home in Dubai, his wife and a colleague told The Associated Press. Mansour’s wife, Nadia, said 10 policemen — some wearing civilian clothes — searched their house for three hours before taking her husband into custody and seizing two laptops and several documents.

“They were calm and polite, but they did not allow me to speak to my husband while they were in the house,” she said. A female officer was guarding her while others searched the house and questioned her husband. They refused to tell her where they were taking him, she said.

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David Dayen

David Dayen