Western-backed militaries use bullets and guile
While NATO and the Pentagon continue to wage war on the government of Libya in the name of protecting civilians and promoting democracy, elsewhere throughout North Africa and the Middle East the entrenched ruling classes that have long served these imperialists are continuing to attack protesters with impunity in the name of order and stability.
The bloodiest repression is taking place in Yemen, a country of close to 24 million people that borders Saudi Arabia and Oman. For three months massive protests in many parts of Yemen have demanded the ouster of the military-head-turned-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh has ruled for 31 years, most of that time over North Yemen, before the north and south unified in 1990.
Saleh’s response to the protests has been bloody repression. In Sana’a, the capital, tens of thousands of protesters have been occupying the central square, now called the Square of Change, despite attacks from troops and out-of-uniform goons.
According to the Yemen Post, a total of 3 million women and men gathered in 16 provinces on Friday, April 15, demanding an end to the Saleh regime. The largest gatherings — more than 800,000 each — were reportedly in the cities of Sana’a and Taiz.
At the same time, Saleh rallied his supporters at a different square in the capital. Saleh has strengthened his repressive state by aligning himself with Washington’s “war on terror,” especially after a U.S. Navy ship, the Cole, was bombed in a Yemeni port in 2000. Saleh’s alliance with Washington and his support for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made him increasingly unpopular.
Evidently trying to curry favor with the Islamic population, he told the pro-government rally that it was immoral and against Islamic law for women and men to be “mixing” in the mass protests against him. Saleh’s speech was a huge miscalculation.
On Saturday, April 16, “Millions of Yemeni women and men took to the streets of the capital Sana’a and other cities to condemn the speech of President Saleh to his supporters on Friday, in which he harmed the honor of the Yemeni women,” wrote the Yemen Post.
The women chanted, “Shame on you, Saleh, we are here revolutionists” and “We are clean and our gatherings with our brothers, men and boys are just to oust you.”
A British reporter observed, “Yemen is in some ways as deeply conservative as its neighbor Saudi Arabia in its attitude to women, with the full face veil being normal wear. However, there is a tradition of women’s education, while women are also allowed to vote and drive, unlike in Saudi Arabia. Women students and academics have taken a leading role in protests.” (The Telegraph, April 18)
The People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, a Marxist regime that held power in the south from 1967 until the downfall of the Soviet Union, at which time it agreed to merge with the north, had made great strides in women’s rights and in education for the masses.
On Sunday after the very large protests, troops opened fire on a march in Sana’a, wounding at least 15 people. (New York Times, April 17) Even before this latest clash, at least 116 people had reportedly been killed by government forces since January. (Al Jazeera, April 17)
In the kingdom of Bahrain, repression against the people’s movement has intensified since the intervention of more than 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia, invited in by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to keep power. After firing on crowds of protesters, killing and wounding many, the troops are now destroying mosques of the Shi’a majority in what is seen as an attempt to divide the movement along sectarian lines.
“The harshness of the government repression is provoking allegations of hypocrisy against Washington, London and Paris,” writes Patrick Cockburn from Cairo. “Their mild response to human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian armed intervention in Bahrain is in stark contrast to their vocal concern for civilians in Libya.” (The Independent, April 18)
In Egypt, where the military remains in power after promising elections, prosecutors announced that three former top government figures have been charged with corruption: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali and Minister of the Interior Habib Al Adly.
Former President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled after weeks of massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square, is ensconced in a military hospital because he allegedly suffered a heart attack during interrogation. His hated intelligence czar, Omar Suleiman, who briefly succeeded Mubarak as vice president and then became head of the new Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has quietly dropped out of the spotlight.
The universal popular demands for prosecution of Mubarak and his cohorts for brutal crimes against the people have yet to be realized. And the state of emergency he used to justify his harsh measures remains in force. The struggle continues.