The hopeful cry of democracy pierced across the Egyptian sand on Feb. 11, sending a dust storm that has shaken the corrupt and rallied the suppressed.
Large changes are now destined for many countries, and large decisions must be made by their leaders.
In Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, and Libya, the successful protests have sparked inspiration. Meanwhile, the U.S. and others must decide how much assistance to offer.
As more dictators are ousted, the newly rioting countries are gaining momentum quickly. The Egyptian military’s six-month plan means the countries deciding on aid and assistance need to make swift decisions.
The current state of Egypt is rocky, but resolving.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak abandoned his 30-year reign after the 18 days of protest. In his place, he left all power in the hands of the military.
Since then, military officers have taken steps toward a democratic transition by dissolving the feeble Parliament, calling for elections in six months, and convening a panel of jurists to revise the currently suspended Constitution.
The state of emergency law, which has been in place for 30 years and allowed detentions without charges or trial and limited public freedom, will also be dissolved within six months according to the Egyptian military.
Egyptian authorities arrested the country’s former information minister and the chairman of state TV and radio on Feb. 24. The two men are suspected of corruption.
On Feb. 21, Egyptian legal officials in Alexandra arrested three police officers who allegedly fired live bullets at demonstrators on Jan. 28.
Demonstrators crowded into Tahrir square once again on Feb. 18, only this time in celebration of their accomplishment.
On Feb. 16 and 17, hundreds of Egyptian employees went on strike, including at the Cairo airport and along the Suez Canal.
Some analysts worry about religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood taking a strict roll in the post-Mubarak era. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced intentions to create a political party once democracy is established.
Although Muslims account for 90 percent of Egypt’s population, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy discovered, by survey, that only 15 percent of those polled said they strongly or somewhat approve of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything to be afraid of,” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said during an event in Texas. “They will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and democracy.”
The U.S. currently contributes roughly $1.5 billion annually to Egypt, $1.3 billion in military aid, which U.S. legislators are reexamining. Besides the political discourse overseas, economic discourse on our turf may call for a break on foreign military assistance.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned the House Armed Services Committee that any abrupt decision regarding foreign aid and assistance would be foolhardy.
Several political analysts agreed, saying that maintaining assistance could promote the change to democracy.
The Obama Administration has remained in support of democracy in Egypt, despite the peaceful relationship between the U.S. and Mubarak’s regime.
Before the protests broke out in January, Obama met with Mubarak three times over 18 months to encourage transformations in the interest of the Egyptian people, including ending the emergency law and lifting press censorship.
The day before Mubarak’s ousting, Obama released a statement asking Egyptian authorities “to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step-by-step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek.”
Since Mubarak has resigned, the Obama Administration announced concern about whether Egypt’s military will stick with democracy. The long standing emergency law has yet to be lifted and many civilian officials from Mubarak’s government remain in power.
The U.S. Treasury told American Banks to monitor transactions that relate to Mubarak and his government. Assets of some senior officials have been frozen, at the request of Egypt.
Demonstrators estimated at several hundred to several thousand stormed Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, on Feb. 16, demanding the release of a human rights advocate. The crowd, armed with gasoline bombs and rocks, protested outside a government office before marching to the city’s central square.
In Zentan, hundreds took to the streets, setting fire to security headquarters and a police station.
The North African country has been under the firm ruling of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi since he seized control in 1969.
“He has built his rule on a cult of personality and a network of family and tribal alliances supported by largess from Libya’s oil revenues,” stated an article from the New York Times.
El-Qaddafi’s son and possible successor, Seif Al-Islam, spoke of dismantling the Socialist and authoritarian legacy of his father before the protests began.
He proposed things like tax-free investment zones, a tax haven for foreigners, the abolition of visa requirements and the development of luxury hotels, the New York Times reported.
Besides his father’s dictatorship, the 30 percent unemployment rate is furthering demonstrators’ agitation with el-Qaddafi.
On Feb. 17, Libya saw its own Day of Rage. According to Human Rights Watch, thousands of protestors met in Benghazi, Tripoli, and at least three other locations. The government responded to the protests, resulting in 24 people dead by gunfire.
On Feb. 19 the internet was shut down and the death toll reached 84 according to Human Rights Watch.
The following day, security forces fired at a funeral procession and the death toll rose to 173. Several people in the city’s hospital, however, argue that 200 had been killed on Feb. 19 alone, with 800 wounded
Qaddafi issued helicopters and warplanes to besiege the country’s capital on Feb. 21.
On Feb. 22 he released the colonel released a statement, blaming the protests on hallucinagons, brainwashing, and the naive desire of youths to imitate Egypt and Tunisia.
Obama “strongly condemned” the government’s violent response to demonstrators.
On Thursday, supporters of Qaddafi struck back against his protesting opponents.
The unrest between Sunni Muslim king Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa and the 70 percent Shiite Muslim majority of Bahrain spilled over on Feb. 16 as thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Pearl Square.
The following day, hundreds of heavily armed riot police officers rushed Pearl Square, firing shotguns, tear gas and concussion grenades at the sleeping protesters. Five were killed and at least 200 were wounded.
On Feb. 18, the Bahrain military opened fire on the protesters from road and helicopters. They continued fire as ambulances entered the scene, according to the New York Times. Thousands gathered outside the hospital, chanting “death to Khalifa.”
Thousands of Shiite demonstrators returned to Pearl Square Feb. 19 after security forces vacated. The protesters had rejected a negotiation call from Khalifa.
More than a hundred thousand protesters joined the demonstration on Pearl Square on Feb. 22. It was the largest protest the country has seen. Security forces did not confront the situation.
The following day, the king released 308 political prisoners and visited Saudi Arabia to discuss the unrest.
Bahrain has been a strategic ally to the U.S. The U.S. provided around $20 million in 2010 to the country, in addition to hosting a large military base on Bahraini soil. However, U.S. officials including Obama are encouraging the democratic movement and are asking Khalifa to show restraint on the peaceful protesters.
A senior U.S. official familiar with government reporting and analysis on Bahrain told Reuters that the protesters may not accomplish an overthrow like the Egyptians and Tunisians.
“U.S. national security and intelligence agencies expect Bahrain’s government to ride out the unrest and that security forces will eventually succeed in containing the protests,” the Reuters article stated.
Raed Aman, one demonstrator that escaped Friday night, told the New York Times a different story however.
“We are not going to stop and we are not scared at any time,” Aman said. “If anybody in my family dies, I will have more power. Even if I lose my life, I will be there every time.”
Economic unrest and an arguably corrupt regime have led Yemen citizens into the Arab protests. Thousands began demonstrations in January.
On Feb. 2, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced that he would not be running for reelection after his term ends in 2013, nor would his eldest son run for presidency.
On Feb. 23, thousands of demonstrators flooded into a square in the nation’s capital. At least seven members of the country’s parliament have submitted resignations to protest the government’s violent response.
Saleh has instructed security forces to protect the demonstrators and discontinue violence between supporters and opponents.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Saleh in January and encouraged him to open a new dialogue with the opposition in an attempt to stabilize the country.
Protests and daily clashes continue in their third week, as supporters and protesters of Saleh come at each other with fists, rocks and sticks.
The U.S. took notice of Yemen in 2000 because of Al Qaeda activity. After Sept. 11, the country joined a counterterrorism partnership with the U.S.
The activity of Al Qaeda may raise questions if the Yemen protests strongly persist and the authoritarian regime topples, as well as the amount of arms held in the country. With a population of roughly 20 million, Yemen is said to have at least 20 million guns.
Iraqi demonstrators have also clashed with police forces while protesting corruption in provincial leadership, low job prospects, and the current state of government services like electricity.
On Feb. 16 in the Iraqi city of Kut, security forces fired on demonstrators protesting the provincial governor. The protest continued to Feb. 17.
The demonstrators decorated a donkey with a sign reading “governor,” and hit it with their shoes, according to the Associated Press.
The following day, private security guards in Sulaimaniya fired at demonstrators who attacked a Kurdish political party headquarters. Meanwhile in Basra, about 600 Iraqis gathered to protest the governor. The Associated Press reported that the protest was largely peaceful.
Obama has declared a troop withdrawal by December 2011, but one congressman said Thursday that the politically acceptable size of a remaining force at that time could be 20,000.
As the country went through its worst economic crisis in years, the Tunisian protests fueled citizens in Jordan to do the same. In an attempt to calm the streets of Jordan, King Abdullah II dismissed his cabinet and prime minister on Feb. 1.
Some in Jordan said to be relieved, but the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood rejected it, calling it insufficient.
“The promises made by the king when he fired his cabinet seem to have bought him some time,” stated an article from the New York Times. “But many question whether the promises will be fulfilled, and whether such steps will in any case be enough to calm the rising tide of frustration.”
Nonetheless, citizens have organized protests. On Feb. 18, one demonstration turned violent as supporters of the king clashed with opponents.
Other factors like unemployment, the continued autocracy, rising prices, and the Arab unrest have kept protests going.
The U.S. remains as an ally to Jordan and to Abdullah II. Obama called the king last weekend to reassure him of U.S. support and to advice him toward reform.
The U.S. contributes $363 million in annual aid to Jordan. Last month the administration increased that amount by an additional $100 million, targeted toward the country’s poor.
Protests broke out in Iran on Feb. 14 in support of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Hundreds of riot police officers were deployed into major Iranian cities including Tehran where they clashed physically with the protesters and fired tear gas.
The supporters and opponents of the authorities clashed again on Feb. 16, when a college student was killed.
The government said he was shot by a government opponent, while opponents claim the man was beat to death by plain clothed security officers because he joined the anti-government movement.
On Feb. 18, thousands of government supporters gathered in Tehran for a prayer sermon rally and government authorities appeared to have backed off calls to execute two opposition leaders who staged the riots Feb. 14, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Iranian president issued a televised address condemning Libyan King Qaddafi’s violent response to demonstrators.
The U.S. has continued its strict eye on Iran, which has been in place because of the country’s secretive nuclear program.
In June 2010 the Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran after the country backed away from an interim solution and furthered the nuclear program. In January 2011, Hillary Rodham Clinton said the sanctions succeeded in slowing the program.
The Wikileaks episode in November 2010 created further confusion about the relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
Trouble was boiling in Tunisia with the deadly combination of a corrupt, repressive government, a struggling economy, growing unemployment and public resentment.
On Jan. 14, authoritarian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali left the country after a sudden explosion of street protests by Tunisians.
On Feb. 21, the head of a Tunisian government commission on political reform warned that the country risked falling into anarchy.
During the demonstrations, government figures calculated 78 protesters who were killed and 94 who were injured.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi abandoned his plan of acquiring presidency the day after Ali’s departure. Instead, he created an interim government, which included members of the opposition, to serve until elections could be held mid-year.
On Friday, small groups of protesters gathered outside government ministries to demand the resignation of the caretaker government and the release of family members.
In the following weeks, police fled from their barracks in fear of retribution. The caretaker government set up military checkpoints at several ports to halt migrants, who are traveling to Italy with the weakened authority.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Europe should be concerned whether terrorist suspects could be using the situation to enter Italy.