Unrest in the Middle East Could Spell Global Freedom

Bentrish Satarzadeh, Alice Co-Chair

Civil unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is spreading like wild fire, with records of violent incidents in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, where people are dying in demonstrations against their repressive governments. The protests in the Arab world are inspired by the recent successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The British Security Minister, Pauline Neville-Jones said in an interview that the revolt of young Arabs are a “huge opportunity” for Western counterterrorism strategy, undermining the argument for al Qaeda that Islam and democracy are incompatible. In several countries in the region, opposition groups hope to have a “domino effect,” like a wave that swept the communist regimes of Eastern Europe in 1989. With this waive of revolutions, democracy could very well sweep the most unlikely parts of the Middle East. An indication that the world is changing and changing at a very rapid pace…

First a quick review country by country in order of chronological revolution:

Tunisia- It began on December 17, 2010, when the young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi killed himself in sacrifice, after being banned by the authorities to sell fruit and vegetables in the town of Sidi Bouzid. His case inspired protests against poverty, corruption and repression that culminated with the flight, a month later of the dictator Zine al Abidine Ben Ali.

Egypt- Soon after the revolution in Tunisia, on January 25, 2011, revolution began in Egypt with acts of civil disobedience by every type of citizen from young to old to overthrow the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of Egyptian people gave their lives to fight the lack of free speech, free elections, police brutality, and uncontrollable corruption. Their efforts received international attention which ended in Mubarak stepping down and the hopes of freedom, justice, a responsive non-military government, and management of Egypt’s resources.
The Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions influenced similar protests in other Arab countries including Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Libya as well as in Iran.

Yemen- Soon after the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, tens of thousands of Yemeni citizens began protesting in their capital city, Sana. Lead by courageous student protesters, the people of Yemen demanded that their president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 30 years, to step down. The New York Times reported on 3/4/11, that a coalition of Yemeni opposition groups has proposed a plan to end the country’s political crisis that would involve embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down by the end of the year. While the three-decade-long Yemeni dictator Ali Saleh has promised to not extend his presidency after 2013, there seem to be no takers for his offer. The country is in negotiations, something that would never have been a possibility only last year.

Bahrain- A surprise entry to the quickly-growing list of Arab regimes under protests is Bahrain’s government headed by Sheikh Al-Khalifa, the king’s uncle. While the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1971 it has been led by the Sheikh since then. The unrest has continued since 2/14/11 and many protesters have been killed. A major cause of protests has been the fact that the ruling family of Sunnis has been discriminating against Shia majority of the country. Protesters claim that the government has been giving citizenship to foreign Sunnis to change the demographic balance. In a completely transparent attempt to pacify the population, the government has promised to give US $2,650 to every family in country. It’s unlikely that will work…

Libya- Even Colonel Gaddafi, the longest serving dictator in the Middle East, was not impervious to the domino effect of Arab World Protests. Libyans on the internet called for a day of protests on 2/17/11 but some hundred early birds took over the streets of the Libyan city of Benghazi. Gaddafi’s rule has been ruthless and brutal and most Libyans know that the protests can very well end with each and every one of them disappearing forever. Nevertheless, some 2000 in Benghazi started the protests and showed tremendous courage. As violence grows, it seems that the rest of the country is following suit to end the oppression.

Iran- Taking the lead from her Arab neighbors, Iran saw revival of the old protests which had gripped the country last year. Thousands of protesters (pro and anti-regime) have clashed in Tehran (the capital) resulting in two known deaths. The protests were originally organized by two main opposition leaders in the country, who have now been put under house arrests and are now being threatened with execution by political leaders. In a completely astonishing move, the Iranian regime has decided to fight fire with fire. They have called for a “day of hatred” for the people to express their anger against the opposition movement. It seems that the regime is hoping to capitalize on the pro-regime protesters and intimidate the anti-government people by a show of force.

Algeria and Jordan also have experienced major anti-government protests. Protests are all the rage in the Middle East, and many are willing to give their lives to taste freedom, a privilege that we consider a right in America. So what does this mean to the LGBT community? In my opinion, it is a positive indication that there is global progression toward freedom of expression, and however indirect it may be, it will serve our community handsomely in the future.

Bentrish Satarzadeh, Co-Chair
Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club

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