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Storm in the desert: Six nations where winds of change are blowing

Saturday February 12, 2011 03:06:35 PM, IANS

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Washington: The winds of change are sweeping through the Middle East, triggering a series of political shifts in response to widespread discontent that once went unacknowledged. Here is a brief on the six nations where the people's revolt has been emblematic.

Tunisia: The northernmost country in Africa is where it all started, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

When Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in December, he didn't intend to spark a regional upheaval.

Protests about unemployment, high food prices and other problems continued at a low level for weeks, exploding in mid-January.

In a matter of days, then-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. Tunisia is now trying to cobble together a provisional government to lead the country until it can hold its first free election in years later this year.

Egypt: Has transfixed the world attention since simmering unrest exploded into mass demonstrations against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, who eventually resigned Friday.

After days of several-thousand-strong gatherings in central Cairo, Mubarak had announced that he would not seek re-election later this year - a gesture that failed to satisfy protesters demanding his immediate resignation.

Yemen: President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced in an emergency meeting Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in the 2013 presidential elections.

President Saleh, who has been the leader of unified Yemen for more than 20 years, has faced Egypt-inspired protests over the past two weeks, and it remains to be seen whether his concession will be enough to satisfy the protesters.

Protesters said they want to see implementation of the promised reforms happen before they call down the protests.

Jordan: In response to periodic protests in Jordan, King Abdullah II sacked his entire cabinet Tuesday and called for the formation of a new government.

He said the new government will be required to implement reforms, though many Jordanians are skeptical about meaningful change.

While Egypt's and Yemen's protests are closely linked to anger over corruption and a lack of political reform, Jordan's protests seem mostly tied to economic concerns - unemployment and rising prices, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

It seems unlikely that the protests mean an end for the king, as criticism has largely focused on other members of government and left Abdullah largely untouched.

Syria: Although no protests have yet materialised in Syria, there have been murmurings, and a drive on Facebook to organise a "day of rage".

Syrians say they want greater freedom and civil rights. According to The Globe and Mail, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is not worried that the discontent could lead to trouble for him and his government because his beliefs are aligned with those of the Syrian people.

Assad's regime is one of the most repressive in the Arab world, with rigid government control of the media and large obstacles facing opposition groups that want to organise, the Monitor reports.

It remains to be seen whether the events announced on Facebook, which is technically banned in Syria, will materialise into any real unrest. Assad seems confident they won't.

Sudan: Not only is Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir likely to lose a huge chunk of territory in a few months, as the South secedes from the North following the recentr referendum, but he is also facing protests in the capital Khartoum that stem from economic and political discontent.

Security forces took strong action against the mostly student protesters, beating and arresting many of those they found in the streets, the New York Times reported.

The protests do not appear to be gaining significant traction, but still could. The country faces a deep economic crisis and the government cut subsidies for many staples last month. The situation could get worse if North Sudan loses access to South Sudan's oil reserves this summer after secession.







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