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Popular uprisings spread across Middle East despite brutal crackdowns

For the fifth day in a row, there were bloody clashes in the tiny island monarchy of Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based. At least three people were killed when the army opened fire on demonstrators. Some 25,000 people, a huge crowd for a country of less than a million adults, had turned out for a funeral march for protestors killed the day before.
It was the first protest in the centre of the capital, Manama, since the police stormed the Pearl Roundabout before dawn on Thursday, killing four people and wounding around 200.
A Salmaniya hospital doctor told Al Jazeera that the hospital was full of severely injured people: "We need help! Our staff is entirely overwhelmed. They are shooting at people's heads. Not at the legs. People are having their brains blown
Popular uprisings spread across Middle East despite brutal crackdowns
By Mike Head 
19 February 2011

Mass demonstrations and pitched battles with the military and police continued across the Middle East and North Africa yesterday, despite brutal massacres of protesters by autocratic-Western backed regimes. As well as Bahrain, Libya and Yemen—where there was fierce street fighting and many deaths—anti-government protests and strikes spread to other US client states in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan.
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have triggered protests across the region, from Algeria to Iraq, causing consternation in the Obama administration and among the major European powers, which have long relied upon the regional dictatorships to suppress their respective populations and maintain order throughout a strategically crucial, oil-rich part of the world.
For the fifth day in a row, there were bloody clashes in the tiny island monarchy of Bahrain, where the US Navy's Fifth Fleet is based. At least three people were killed when the army opened fire on demonstrators. Some 25,000 people, a huge crowd for a country of less than a million adults, had turned out for a funeral march for protestors killed the day before.
It was the first protest in the centre of the capital, Manama, since the police stormed the Pearl Roundabout before dawn on Thursday, killing four people and wounding around 200.
A Salmaniya hospital doctor told Al Jazeera that the hospital was full of severely injured people: "We need help! Our staff is entirely overwhelmed. They are shooting at people's heads. Not at the legs. People are having their brains blown out!"

A protester told the news agency: "They had machine guns, not rifles or hand weapons, and they shot people who ran away." Another demonstrator, Hussein Ali, said: "They started firing from the bridge without any warning, then they started firing from their cars ... It was terrifying, a nightmare. Small children and women were falling over."

Bahrain's monarchy, no doubt acting in close collaboration with Washington, is trying to stabilise itself. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa appealed for a "national dialogue" once order was restored. Any such "dialogue" would be aimed at salvaging the regime—even if in a slightly modified form, with the help of officially-tolerated opposition groups, as the Egyptian military has tried do since the fall of Hosni Mubarak a week ago.

Bahrain, located in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is also home to the US Naval Forces Central Command. It is of vital importance to Washington because some 40 percent of the world's oil passes through the Gulf. The US has been an ardent supporter of the wealthy royal family and elite that controls the state.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday made statements of "deep concern" about the violence in Bahrain, as well as Libya and Yemen. "The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur," Obama said.
Just last December, however, Clinton visited Bahrain, praising it as a "model partner" in the region. "I see the glass as half full," she said when asked about the arrests of prominent opposition politicians and reports of torture. She said she was "impressed by the commitment that the government has to the democratic path that Bahrain is walking on".
The responsibility of the US and its allies for the repression in Bahrain was underscored by reports that the security forces used UK-supplied weapons against demonstrators. A British government business department report, cited by the Independent newspaper, said London had given approval for British arms manufacturers to sell "CS hand grenades, demolition charges, smoke canisters and thunderflashes" to Bahrain.
Not least of "concern" to Washington are the implications for the neighbouring monarchy in Saudi Arabia, the third largest recipient of US military aid for the past three decades after the Israeli and Egyptian governments. A former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, told Al Jazeera that the "Saudis will not tolerate excessive unrest" in Bahrain because of its proximity to their main oilfields in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, the global oil companies are closely following the possible collapse of their local crowned heads. Platts, an industry site, reported: "Saudi Arabia, the oil Goliath which holds in its hands the only significant spare production capacity that can meet any potential global supply disruption, has been besieged by bloody riots in neighboring Bahrain and a growing anti-government protest south of its border in Yemen."
Libya
Intense battles raged across Libya for the fifth day yesterday as protestors demanded the removal of the 41-year-old regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who has also become a close ally of the West and the oil giants in recent years. Media access to Libya is tightly controlled, but reports from various sources described insurrectionary scenes in the wake of Thursday's "day of rage" in which at least 25 protestors were killed.
Security forces were deployed around the eastern city of Al-Baida, a source close to the authorities told AFP, following a Reuters report that anti-regime protesters had seized control of the city with the aid of local police.
YouTube videos showed demonstrators marching through the streets of Benghazi, the country's second largest city, chanting anti-government slogans. Protesters had set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station in Benghazi, after the building's guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP. Residents also reported that police there had been replaced with military troops. Mohamed el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera a "massacre" was occurring in the city.
According to a toll compiled by AFP from different local sources, at least 41 people have lost their lives since demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday. Libyan authorities claimed that the west of the country was quiet. But demonstrations were reported in other cities, including the capital, Tripoli.
Yemen
Yemen, another US ally, also resorted to lethal force yesterday against mounting protests, bringing the death toll since the unrest erupted on Sunday to 10. Anti-regime protesters in the volatile city of Taez were blasted in a hand grenade attack on Friday, leaving two dead, as fierce clashes in several areas of the southern city of Aden killed four and wounded at least 27. Clashes also broke out in the capital Sana'a in which four anti-regime demonstrators were injured, according to witnesses and journalists, who were also beaten.
The grenade attack came as hundreds of protesters took to central Taez after the weekly Muslim prayers to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster. A local official told AFP the grenade was lobbed at protesters from a speeding car with government number plates.
In Sana'a, several journalists were severely beaten by supporters of the ruling General Peoples Congress (GPC) who attacked the demonstration using batons and axes, an AFP correspondent reported. Thousands of demonstrators, mostly students, had gathered following the weekly Muslim prayers. "People want to overthrow the regime," they chanted.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan

Significantly, unrest has spread to both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and re-emerged in another key US-backed state, Jordan. In Saudi Arabia, foreign construction workers went on strike at the King Abdullah Financial District and the King Saud University in the capital Riyadh. The Arab News reported that workers had stopped work either because their salaries or overtime pay were not paid.

In Kuwait, at least 1,000 stateless Arabs demonstrated in Jahra, northwest of Kuwait City, demanding citizenship, leading to dozens being arrested by police. Ambulances rushed an unspecified number of wounded protesters and security forces away from the scene. Security forces dispersed the demonstration, using smoke bombs and water cannon. The government insists that Kuwait's roughly 100,000 stateless Arabs are not entitled to nationality.
In Jordan, thugs wielding batons turned on anti-government marchers in the capital Amman. Protesters claimed they were attacked as they started to disperse after a march calling for an elected government and an end to official corruption. Demonstrators have been calling for economic and political reform since mid-January. King Abdullah II sacked his entire cabinet last month, in an effort to head off the protests, but many were dismayed by his appointment of Marouf Bakhit, one of the king's henchmen, as the new premier. Bakhit, a retired army major-general, served as Jordan's prime minister from 2005 until he was forced to resign in 2007 after blatantly rigged elections.
The situation in Jordan exemplifies the intractable social crisis driving the protests. It has a high unemployment rate among its population of six million, the majority of whom are under 25, and is suffering from the rising world prices of food and fuel. None of the region's regimes, all of which preside over ever-more glaring inequality—as do governments around the world—in any way seek to address the economic and social needs of their populations.

Wall Street Journal flaunts its support for dictatorship
By David Walsh 
19 February 2011


The ongoing tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa have further exposed the claim that the US government has an interest in democracy anywhere in the world. Outraged populations have risen up against one brutal regime after another that has been armed, financed and maintained by Washington—Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond.

The goal of American foreign policy, more clearly revealed than ever, is to defend the wealth and strategic interests of the US corporate-financial oligarchy.
This has not been lost on great numbers of people, in the US and elsewhere. The laying bare of the real nature of American operations makes the political and media establishment anxious. For various historical reasons, US imperialism has previously dressed up its predatory operations in the guise of bringing "freedom and democracy" to various peoples. As Trotsky remarked derisively in 1924, "America is always liberating somebody, that's her profession." (After all, "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and "Operation Enduring Freedom" are the official names used by the US governments for its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.)
Only someone not right in the head, however, could pretend that supporting dictators like a Ben Ali (Tunisia), a Mubarak (Egypt), or a Saleh (Yemen) is a liberating act. These figures have presided for decades over regimes that routinely arrest, sadistically abuse and murder political opponents, suppress workers in the interest of foreign and domestic corporations, and generally terrorize their populations, while engorging themselves, their families and cronies with riches.
The editors of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal have therefore felt it necessary to come to the defense of the dictatorships propped up by Washington. In an editorial February 16 ("Egypt and Iran"), the Journal uses the occasion of police repression by the Iranian regime to make the case for US-backed dictators.
After taking note of the Green protests in Iran on February 14, the editorial asserts that "it's important to understand why revolution will be harder [in Iran] than in Egypt and Tunisia." The editors go on to argue that although conditions in Iran, Egypt and numerous other countries are generally similar, Iran's leaders are "more ruthless." On the other hand, according to the Journal, "Hosni Mubarak and Egypt's military, dependent on U.S. aid and support, were susceptible to outside pressure to shun violence."
This is a grotesque lie. The Journal chooses to forget that Mubarak and Egypt's military lived by and through violence, with the full backing of "the West," for three decades. Far from pressuring the Egyptian government to "shun violence," Washington enlisted Egyptian officials to torture US-held prisoners as part of Washington's rendition program in the "war on terror."
We will spare the reader descriptions of the barbaric methods of torture employed by the Egyptian state against its real and imagined enemies. Its prisons, by all accounts, rang with screams. The regime killed thousands and imprisoned tens of thousands, at a conservative estimate.
In the last days of Mubarak's rule alone, the military "secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents ... and at least some of these detainees have been tortured," according to human rights activists cited by the Guardian on February 9.
Nonetheless, the Journal continues shamelessly, "To put it another way, pro-American dictatorships have more moral scruples."
The implicit claim that the Egyptian army is refraining from a crackdown on popular protests and strikes due to its "moral scruples" is absurd. If it has so far abstained from drowning popular resistance in blood, it is because it faces a millions-strong mass movement and dares not pursue such a policy.
The generals in Cairo and their overlords in Washington fear that, with such an assault, they might provoke a revolutionary response. The military is therefore biding its time, preparing its forces, hoping that official and petty-bourgeois "opposition" forces will demobilize popular protests and allow them to re-establish control of the situation.
The timing of the Journal's article was unfortunate, however. Within 24 hours of the editorial's appearance, one of those "scrupulous," pro-American dictatorships in Bahrain, an island nation whose people lives in the shadow of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, launched a lethal assault on protesters gathered in the capital city's central square.
Officially, five were killed, although 60 are missing, and some 250 people injured, by batons, rubber bullets and pellets fired from shotguns. The security forces attacked sleeping men, women and children without mercy, beating some of them to death. The savagery of the attack outraged the population, prompting huge funeral processions on Friday. Again, crowds were fired on and many wounded, by the American-trained army this time.
Bahrain is considered critical by the US for a number of geopolitical reasons, and it appears that even the crocodile tears shed by Barack Obama over repression in Egypt will not be spilled in this case. As one commentator noted, "As far as Washington is concerned, this small Persian Gulf kingdom may be where support for Middle East democracy dies."
In any event, the US government over the decades has cooperated with and backed the most horrific regimes on earth, from Franco's Spain and apartheid South Africa, and governments run by butchers in military uniform in Central and South America, to semi-feudal monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and the rule of mass murderers in Indonesia. American foreign policy has, in fact, sailed upon an ocean of blood and human misery.
The Journal editorial's hostile comments about the Iranian regime are not driven by any affection for democracy. The editors are sympathetic to Iran's Green Movement because the latter is a right-wing trend, with strongest support in middle class layers, which criticizes the Ahmadinejad government for not going far enough along the lines of International Monetary Fund-inspired "free market reforms." A Mousavi-Karroubi regime in Iran would still be a dictatorship, but it would be precisely a "pro-American" dictatorship.
If, however, one were to set aside the Journal's self-serving claims about Iran, what is one to make of the fact that a leading American publication openly makes the case for supporting dictatorship?
In this the Journal speaks, although perhaps more brazenly and openly than some, for the American ruling elite as a whole. The editors of the New York Times would not disagree, although they might approach the matter somewhat more gingerly ... and underhandedly. The Obama administration proceeds in a similar fashion, cynically registering its "alarm" and "deep concern" about each successive atrocity carried out by its dictatorial client states.
The chatter of the Journal's editors about "moral scruples" is just that. The Wall Street Journal appraises a given foreign government according to the most cynical Realpolitik: does it assist or stand in the way of American global interests? After the fact, the newspaper finds virtues and "moral scruples" in those governments that do—or rather, their supposed virtue lies precisely in their subservience to US strategic aims.

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Please take it upon yourself to assure that every literate person on earth reads this article. I wonder if change might come then? General Joe