Protests Spread Throughout Arabian Peninsula

Renewed popular protests hit Yemen, Oman and Bahrain yesterday. In addition to the increasing instability of regimes already facing mass opposition, there are signs that the protests that spread from Tunisia and Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula may also overtake Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

In Yemen, mass protests took place throughout the country against US-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while opposition parties—in an about-face from their position on Sunday—refused to participate in a unity government with Saleh. Protests have shaken the Saleh regime since February 11.

Tens of thousands marched in a “day of rage” protest in the capital, Sanaa, demanding an end to bloodshed against demonstrators and Saleh’s departure from power. According to Xinhua, roughly 5,000 people traveled 60 kilometers from Dhamar province to join the protests in Sanaa.

Government supporters reportedly organized another rally in Sanaa, attended by a few thousand people. It called for the resumption of dialog between the ruling party and the opposition to avoid further violence.

Demonstrations took place throughout the country, including in Dhamar, Ibb, Taiz, Aden, Abyan, Shabwa, Al-Bayda and Hadramout provinces. The Ibb protest reportedly gathered 10,000 people. Protests in Aden, the port city that has seen 24 of the 27 confirmed deaths at the hands of state forces, reportedly focused on commemorating those who had been killed.

Saleh simultaneously denounced the protests as orchestrated by Israel and the US and attempted to placate protesters’ anger. He ordered an investigation into the killing of demonstrators in Aden. He also sacked five provincial governors amid reports of violence against protesters in their areas. These included Aden Governor Adnan al-Jefri, Hadramout Governor Salim al-Khanbashi, Al-Hodayda Governor Ahmed al-Jabali, Abyan Governor Ahmed al-Maisary, and Lahj Governor Muhsin al-Naqib. They all received other government posts, however.

Saleh was forced to postpone talks on a unity government with the Joint Meeting Parties. The bourgeois opposition coalition formed in 2006 includes the Islamist Islah Party, the nationalist Popular Nasserist Organization, and the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), which ruled South Yemen prior to the reunification of Yemen in 1990.

On February 28, its spokesman, Mohammed al-Mutawakil, said the party would “be ready to take part in the joint unity government with the ruling party.” It demanded only that Saleh resign from posts in the army and finance ministry. Yesterday, the Joint Meeting Parties indicated that they would participate in government only if Saleh stepped down.

Tribal leaders and southern separatists are turning against Saleh. Sheikh Hamid ben Abdallah Al-Ahmar, a leader of both the Hached tribe and the Islah party, reportedly endorsed the call for the removal of Saleh last week, together with leaders of the Baqil tribe.

Yassin Ahmad Saleh Qadih, a leader of the separatist Southern Movement, announced that he would push for a referendum on separation after Saleh falls. Though it has only 5.5 million people, compared to 18 million in the north, the south is wealthier and produces most of the country’s daily oil output of 300,000 barrels. Saleh reportedly has warned that the partition of Yemen would break the country into many pieces.

Yemen specialist Gregory Johnsen told the New York Times: “A lot of people are really worried about what happens the day after Saleh is gone. No one knows where the different tribal groupings would land.” Saleh’s Sanhan tribe controls Yemen’s military and intelligence agencies.

In the industrial and port city of Sohar, in northern Oman, the army yesterday again fired on protesters demanding jobs and reform of the absolute monarchy of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Only one person was reported wounded. The reported death toll for Sunday’s protests was increased to six, however.

Troops and armored vehicles occupied the Globe Roundabout in Sohar, which had attracted up to 2,000 people in previous protests. Protesters blockaded the Sohar port, however, and Westerners in the port management briefly left Sohar for the capital of Oman, Muscat. According to the Tehran Times, protesters demanded that “the benefits of our oil wealth” be “distributed evenly.”

Protesters in Muscat gathered around the buildings of the Shura Council, an advisory body that counsels Sultan Qaboos, demanding jobs, higher salaries and freedom of the press.

Sultan Qaboos issued a statement promising to create 50,000 jobs, implement a $390 per month unemployment benefit, and study the possibility of widening the powers of the advisory council. On Saturday he sacked six cabinet ministers and increased the minimum wage by 40 percent.

Oman is a strategic country located across the Arabian Sea from Iran and astride the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which Persian Gulf oil exports must travel. The US has backed Qaboos. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We have been in touch with the government and encouraged restraint and to resolve differences through dialog.” There are no opposition parties in Oman because political parties are illegal there.

Thousands of protesters again demonstrated in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, against the Al-Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years. The protesters marched from Salmaniah district to Pearl Square, the central square around which anti-government protests have rallied in recent weeks. Demonstrators opposed attempts to divide them along sectarian lines, chanting: “We are brothers, Sunnis and Shiites. The people want the fall of the regime.”

Bahrain hosts a major naval base for the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf and has close security ties with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi armed forces intervened in Bahrain after popular protests developed there in 1996.

Crude oil prices rose yesterday on reports that 30 Saudi tanks had been transported to Bahrain. Bahraini officials denied the report, though they confirmed the movement of tanks across the border.

“There are no Saudi Arabian tanks in Bahrain,” the officials said. “Tanks identified on Monday evening were Bahraini tanks returning from Kuwait National Day celebrations, where military from several Allied countries participated.”

There are indications that protests may also spread to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two oppressive pro-US monarchies that are critical to the world oil trade.

In Kuwait, a youth group called the Fifth Fence has announced plans for a March 8 protest outside the country’s parliament. Opposition parties in Kuwait have called for the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the nephew of Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

In Saudi Arabia, Internet activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and March 20, largely based on demands for elections to the Shura Assembly. These pages have attracted 17,000 supporters. However, press reports point out that in 2004 Saudi security forces were able to disperse protests in Riyadh and Jeddah by force, and Saudi officials are monitoring the Facebook pages.

Protests could intensify divisions inside the ruling Saudi monarchy. The UPI press agency noted: “The kingdom faces a potentially touchy royal succession, complicated by the advanced age of the country’s top leaders. King Abdallah, Crown Price Sultan, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Prince Nayef, and Riyadh Governor Prince Salman are all in their 80s.”



Egypt: Mubarak’s Fall Is Only the Beginning of the Revolution

Hosni Mubarak’s departure came after 18 days of demonstrations and strikes that had waxed and waned, but that had generally grown in size and scope in spite of the brutal oppression of the regime. At this stage in the revolution, at least 300 have been killed―the real number is doubtless far higher―and thousands have been arrested and “disappeared”.

The decisive moment came Wednesday and Thursday, when the Egyptian working class moved to the forefront, partially or completely shutting down every sector of the economy.

The strike wave propelled the Egyptian military to finally move against Mubarak. Up until then, the Obama administration backed Mubarak, fearful that his removal would only spread the revolutionary contagion beyond Egypt and set the stage for a showdown between the Egyptian workers and the military, which will be neither willing nor able to address the social and democratic grievances of the masses.

Today there is justified jubilation in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, as millions of Egyptian workers and youth celebrate their historic victory.

These extraordinary events are a turning point not only for Egypt, but for the entire world. They have shown the immense social power of the working class, unanswerably refuting claims that the collapse of the Soviet Union signified the “end of history”—that is, the end of class struggle as a factor in human affairs. The victorious heroism of the masses of Egypt in the face of torture, arrests and repression are an inspiration for workers and youth around the globe.

Mubarak’s resignation was a humiliating about-face from his speech, delivered less than 24 hours earlier, in which he provocatively refused to step down. It was also a blow to the military brass, which issued a statement on Friday morning supporting the transfer of authority to Vice President Omar Suleiman, the longtime head of the Egyptian intelligence agency.

It is a devastating setback for the Arab bourgeoisie, which fears the spread of revolution beyond Egypt; for the Israeli state, whose policies of repression and military terror depend on the suppression of working class struggle both in the Arab countries and in Israel itself; and above all for US imperialism, which for 31 years was the main financier and backer of the Mubarak dictatorship. Washington has been complicit in all the regime’s crimes, including the widespread use of torture against political opponents.

The revolutionary upheavals gripping North Africa are the first major response of the world working class to the conditions created by the global economic crisis of capitalism. In bringing down Mubarak, workers in Egypt have launched the first salvo in a world struggle against economic exploitation, the suppression of democratic rights, and social inequality defended by governments not only in Egypt, but around the world.

As significant as the resignation of Mubarak is, however, it is only the beginning of this struggle. Mubarak may be gone, but the regime remains, with power in the hands of the officer corps that has been the linchpin of the capitalist dictatorship in Egypt for decades. The masses know they have only begun to settle accounts with the exploiters—the secret police, the venal Egyptian generals, and Mubarak himself.

In its struggle to hang on to power, the Egyptian regime will find its most ruthless allies in the financial aristocracy of the imperialist powers. For weeks, the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to bolster Mubarak, insisting that he should oversee an “orderly transition.”

Obama’s perfunctory speech Friday afternoon acknowledging Mubarak’s resignation came on the heels of a Friday morning statement in which the administration pointedly did not call for Mubarak to step down.

Washington is undoubtedly engaged in intense discussions with the Egyptian military to ensure that whatever regime replaces Mubarak will equally be committed to US imperialist interests.

No confidence can be placed in the military or in Egypt’s official “opposition”—which has indicated its complete support for the military government—to oversee a “democratic transition.” One “opposition” leader, Mohammed El Baradei, has suggested that this could take place in a year’s time, leaving the military free to do what it wants for an entire year.

US imperialist strategists hope that in the meantime Washington will be able to shower its favored stooges in Egypt with cash, and arrange a “transition” that returns the working class to where it was before the overthrow of Mubarak. Speaking on CNN, former CIA director James Woolsey said the US should “work with the forces of stability and change in a democratic and law-abiding direction” and “help them economically, help them politically.”

Such comments are a serious warning to the working class. The jubilation tonight at Mubarak’s departure is as it should be, but the initial gains of the revolution must not be lost. The question of class strategy and the formation of a new revolutionary leadership in the working class will determine the fate of the next stage of the revolution.

The backing given by Washington and El Baradei to the military government is not an accident, but a reflection of the interests of the capitalist class. Every attempt to improve the conditions of the masses—raising wages, reducing prices, or defending political freedoms—inevitably puts workers in conflict with the representatives of this elite, who oppose any change that impinges on their economic or strategic interests.