A New Arab Uprising as Tensions Flare Across Middle East and North Africa
The Arab uprising, which had been bogged down in stalemate, appeared renewed over the past several days, with more aggressive protests and just as aggressive repression from security forces.
This was at its worst in Egypt, where protesters returned to Tahrir Square for a third straight day, protesting the increasingly oppressive military rule and demanding the scheduling of elections. A combination of Islamists and liberals have returned to Tahrir, disenchanted with the military. And many have been struck down:
Cairo police fought protesters demanding an end to army rule for a third day on Monday and morgue officials said the death toll had risen to 33, making it the worst spasm of violence since the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
The bloodshed in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt, threatens to disrupt Egypt’s first free parliamentary election in decades, due to start next week.
Clashes have raged on and off since police used batons and tear gas to try to disperse a sit-in in Tahrir on Saturday.
Protesters have brandished bullet casings in the square, but police deny using live fire. Medical sources at Cairo’s main morgue said 33 corpses had been received there since Saturday, most of them with bullet wounds. At least 1,250 people have been wounded, a Health Ministry source said.
“I’ve seen the police beat women my mother’s age. I want military rule to end,” said 21-year-old Mohamed Gamal. “I will just go home in the evening to change my clothes and return.”
Juan Cole explains that the latest unrest was sparked by new constitutional guidelines that would give the military the upper hand by having them appoint 4/5 of the constituent assembly charged with writing the constitution, and allowing the military a veto prior to the referendum. It was a clear thumb on the scale of democracy. And the military has responded to this challenge on their power with serious violence, inspired, in their words, by Occupy Wall Street.
“We saw the firm stance the US took against OWS people & the German govt against green protesters to secure the state,” an Egyptian state television anchor said yesterday (as translated by the indispensable Sultan Sooud al Qassemi).
Meanwhile, in Syria, troops are attacking cities in defiance of a peace plan with the Arab League. Syria’s explusion from the Arab League has isolated the country, but so far that hasn’t translated into a relenting of the violence. However, protesters and their allied forces have increasingly taken up arms in their defense, bolstered by defecting military troops.
And defecting troops is also becoming a feature of the longtime uprising in Yemen:
More than 400 troops defected from the Yemeni military Saturday evening, saying they would no longer attack unarmed protesters.
The troops announced their defection after standing for hours in front of tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Sanaa and vowing to support their cause with their lives.
“We will stand with the will of the people and will not kill unarmed youth. We are here to defend the people and we will do that,” one soldier told CNN.
“The butcher must stand trial,” the troops shouted as they marched in what has been known as Change Square Sanaa.
Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has almost comically resisted stepping down, after vowing to do so on numerous occasions.
The uprising is hitting a particularly violent and nasty spell in the Arab world, but it still rages, with bravery and persistence characterizing the protesters.