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Egypt Inspired Protesters Battle Security Forces in Bahrain and Yemen

Posted on 15 February 2011 by hashimilion

Demonstrators clashed with security forces in Bahrain and Yemen, emboldened to challenge ruling regimes by the success of Egypt’s populist uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.

Bahraini riot police fired tear gas to break up protests across the island nation, and one man reportedly was shot dead by police, as demonstrators demanded more political freedom and jobs. Yemeni protesters announced plans for a fifth day of demonstrations after thousands gathered yesterday at Yemen’s Sanaa University to demand President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down, clashing with police and pro-government demonstrators who hurled stones and wielded clubs.

“Each country has its own unique circumstances,” said Alireza Nader, an international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation’s Washington office and a former Middle East specialist at the U.S. Treasury Department. “But whether it’s Persian Iran or Arab Yemen or Bahrain, all those countries are vulnerable to social unrest.”

Oil Region

The anti-regime turmoil is entering a new stage as it moves from the Arab world’s most populous nation to the Persian Gulf region, an area of vital importance to the U.S. and other industrialized nations because it holds more than 50 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

The regional uncertainties were reflected in the cost of insuring debt sold by the government of Bahrain, which rose 11 basis points yesterday to 248, the highest since Feb. 4, according to CMA prices for credit-default swaps. Still, oil tumbled in New York to the lowest level since November amid an abundance of fuel in the U.S. and as tensions eased in Egypt. Crude oil for March delivery fell 77 cents to settle at $84.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest level since Nov. 30.

Shock Waves

The Arab world has been shaken over the past two months by anti-government demonstrations over economic hardship and corruption that drove Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from office on Jan. 14 and forced Mubarak to resign and cede his presidential powers to Egypt’s armed forces on Feb. 11.

In Algeria, where opposition leaders are planning further protests after violent clashes Feb. 12 in Algiers, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci told Europe 1 the government may lift a 19-year-old state of emergency in the next few days. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Feb. 3 that demonstrations, banned under the state of emergency since 1992, would be permitted, except in the capital, according to the state-run Algeria Presse Service.

Facebook Protests

A group called “the Revolution of 14th February in Bahrain” used Facebook to promote the protests yesterday and has more than 13,400 followers on the social-networking website. The date marks the anniversary of the establishment in 2002 of a second constitution, which provided an elected parliament in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and made the kingdom a constitutional monarchy.

“Bahrain, of any Gulf state, is the most susceptible because of the deep grievances of the majority Shiite population” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The Shiite population is excluded from many types of government employment and municipal services in Shiite villages are below standards in other Sunni neighborhoods.”

Protesters and police battled into the night in the alleys of Diraz, on the northwest coast. Shiite Muslim protesters threw rocks and built barricades of wood and cement blocks, while police fired tear gas and sound grenades.

Tear Gas

“We were starting our peaceful protests when riot police attacked us with tear gas,” Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said in an interview after the protest in Bani Jamrah was dispersed. “We will continue our protests until the government hears our demand.”

A man was shot dead by police during the protests, said Matar Ebrahim Ali Matar, an al-Wefaq party member on the Council of Representatives. Earlier yesterday, residents of the Shiite Muslim village of Nuweidrat said clashes broke out between activists and police after morning prayers.

Bahraini Shiites, who represent between 60 and 70 percent of the population, say they face job and housing discrimination by the government. Bahrain’s royal family has close ties with Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy. Many among Bahrain’s populace retain cultural and family links with Shiite- dominated Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival.

Deep Pockets

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, who is Sunni, ordered an increase in food subsidies and social welfare payments as the government sought to ease the burden of rising food prices, the Bahrain News Agency said Feb. 3. He also ordered the payment of 1,000 dinars ($2,653) to each Bahraini family.

In Yemen, an impoverished nation at the southern tip the Arabian Peninsula, protesters yesterday continued to press their demand that Saleh, 68, who has ruled for 32 years, step down. His recent promise not to run for re-election when his term is up in 2013 has not slowed the opposition.

They chanted “Down, down with Ali, long live Yemen” as police formed a human shield to keep crowds from spreading. At least 17 people were injured and 165 detained in Sanaa, Xinhua news agency reported, citing witnesses. Ghazi al-Samee, 31, one of the protesters in the southwestern city of Taiz, said eight people were injured yesterday and that more than 30 people were arrested.

Unlike Bahrain, the Yemen government can’t afford to try to buy calm by offering economic benefits. Yemen faces serious water shortages, declining oil output and a society where more than half the population of 23 million is under 20 years old. About 40 percent of Yemen’s population lives on less than $2 a day.

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