Monarchy in retreat

Submitted by Matthew on 23 February, 2011 - 2:12


On Saturday 19 February security forces withdrew from the Pearl Square area in the capital, Manama, allowing pro-democracy demonstrators to return to a place which had become the centre of the protest movement.

The state forces, many of whom are Sunni Muslims recruited outside Bahrain, had killed seven protesters over the previous week.

The overwhelming majority of the demonstrators and 70% of the population are Shia. Shia people are discriminated against in Bahrain. All real power is in the hands of the Sunni monarchy and its hand-picked politicians.

On the marches one popular chant has been: “There are no Sunnis or Shias, just Bahraini unity.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Protest organisers and participants have stressed the non-sectarian and secular nature of their demands for democratic reforms, and their independence from any Iranian or pan-Shiite agenda.”

On Monday King Hamad ordered that a number of political prisoners be freed, which is a central demand of the opposition. Other demands include: the government’s resignation, the investigation of the deaths of protesters; political reforms that will lead to a constitutional monarchy. However, on Monday, for the first time, protesters could be heard chanting for the abolition of the monarchy.

Thousands of pro-government Sunnis rallied at a Manama mosque on Monday evening, pledging loyalty to the al-Khalifa royal family. Saudi Arabia, which has a large Shiite minority, and is connected to the main island of Bahrain by a short causeway, has backed the king, standing “with all [our] capabilities behind the [Bahraini] state.”

The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) had called a national strike for Monday, but called it off saying all its demands had been met. It was calling for tanks to be removed from the streets and for the freedom to protest.

It seems that some sections struck anyway. 1500 striking teachers rallied in Pearl Square; civil servants also struck.

The Egyptian Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services has sent the Bahraini Federation a message of solidarity.

A large demonstration is taking place as we go to press on Tuesday 22 February. For the first time it is formally backed by opposition parties.

A key opposition grouping is a reactionary Shia party, Wefaq. Its 17 MPs in the 40-seat Lower House of Parliament resigned last week in protest at the state’s use of violence against protesters.

Yemen: ongoing protests

On Sunday 20 February protests in Yemen entered their 11th consecutive day.

In the capital, Saana, government supporters tried to break up a demonstration outside Sanaa University by 3,000 protesters. Students carried signs reading “Get out [president] Ali for the sake of future generations”. These protests have been organised by an alliance of leftist, nationalist and Islamists groups.

In the port city of Aden, tanks and armoured vehicles were out on the city’s main streets.

In the southern city of Ibb, around 1,000 protesters set up camp in Freedom Square waving banners which read, “The people want the fall of the regime”.

The government is concerned about moves for the independence of southern Yemen. Hasan Baoum, a southern movement leader, was arrested on Sunday.

Kurdish government shoots protestors

The democratic rebellion in the Middle East has spread to Iraqi Kurdistan, where protesters in Sulaimaniya on Thursday 17th chanted: “Do you remember Mubarak?” The authorities responded with gunfire, killing two and injuring 47.

Undaunted by the violence, the people of Sulaimaniya took to the streets again on Sunday 20th.

Although Iraqi Kurdistan has been more prosperous and peaceful than the rest of Iraq since 2003 — it has been the USA’s prize exhibit for the “good side” of the 2003 invasion — the benefits have gone overwhelmingly to a small elite around the two main parties, KDP and PUK, both of them more machines of patronage organised round aristocratic families than real political parties.

The demonstrators in Sulaimaniya — as in many cities in the southern, mainly Arab, part of Iraq — demanded better public services and the removal of corrupt officials.

In Baghdad, the central government has hurriedly modified the new year’s budget to give more priority to public services. It has promised “immediate action to improve the food ration card system and to work on reforming the social benefits system” and “job opportunities to reduce unemployment”.

That follows protests in Fallujah, Kut, Basra, Kirkuk, and other cities.

In London, activists of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan and other Iraqi Kurdish groups ran a round-the-clock protest against the repression in Sulaimanyia outside the Kurdistan Regional Government London office from 18 to 21 February.

Palestinian unions seek links with new workers’ movements

Comrade X, a socialist and trade-union activist in Palestine, spoke to Solidarity about recent demonstrations in the West Bank and the response of Palestinians to the popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.

All Palestinians condemn the US veto on the UN Security Council resolution about Israeli settlement building. We see it as an attack on our national rights. It also proves that the ongoing dependence of the Palestinian leadership on the USA is a mistake and sows illusions in their role. US foreign policy hasn’t fundamentally changed since the election of Obama.

The alternative to dependence on the USA is for us to depend on ourselves; we cannot wait for a knight on a white horse to rescue us. We need to base ourselves on the principles of the first intifada — grassroots organisation and popular struggle. What’s happening in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, is because of popular self-organisation and struggle, not because of any foreign power.

There is also an element in the situation of the Palestinian Authority trying to distract attention away from internal issues like democracy, elections, human rights and the split between the West Bank and Gaza and onto external questions. They did the same thing with the Al-Jazeera leaks about the negotiations. We cannot just focus externally; we need to look at struggles going on inside Palestine as well.

In general the response in Palestine to the uprisings in the Arab world has been incredibly positive. We have been in a weak position and we know that the Arab states have not played a good role, so we hope that new democratic regimes in the region will support us. We would prefer change without bloodshed, but the most important thing is to get change.

In terms of Palestinian workers, I’m involved with a national campaign around social rights which focuses on the minimum wage and social security. We held a conference in January which happened to coincide with the Tunisian uprising. Some PA officials were in attendance and they tried to say that something like that could never happen here, but workers face many issues in Palestine too.

The PGFTU [Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions] has already issued statements of support for the independent unions in Bahrain and Egypt; it’s those new, independent unions we want to have a relationship with, not governmental unions. We’ll be doing everything we can to support them.

Morocco touched

A weekend of demonstrations on 19-20 February marked the outbreak of widespread pro-democracy protests in Morocco, a country some analysts thought would be better insulated against uprising due to its relatively prosperous economy and relatively flexible constitutional-monarchy system.

A march on Morocco’s parliament building ended with protesters calling for the parliament to step down; despite the relative prosperity, unemployment is still high, the gap between rich and poor is enormous, and corruption is endemic.

Protests have erupted throughout the country, leading to at least five deaths. Although few elements in the protest movement are calling for the overthrow of the monarchy (current King Mohammed VI is widely seen as far better than his tyrannical father Hassan II), even elements within the monarchy itself recognise the potential of the situation.

In a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais, Prince Mulay Hicham, the king’s cousin, said “Almost every authoritarian system will be affected by this wave of protest, Morocco will probably be no exception… The gap between social classes undermines the legitimacy of political and economic systems... If most social agents recognize the monarchy, they are, nevertheless, dissatisfied with the strong concentration of power in the hands of the Executive.”

Make solidarity with independent Egyptian unions

A new solidarity campaign, Egypt Workers Solidarity (EWS), has been set up. We are asking people to sign the statement below, and to ask organisations for a speaker, and donate. The EWS website carries regular news updates of the emerging movement.

The emergence of free and independent trade unions in Egypt is an event of enormous significance for the entire region and is to be welcomed by trade unionists around the world. We call upon the International Labour Organisation, the TUC, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the global union federations to recognize these new unions as the legitimate representatives of the Egyptian workers. The state-controlled labour front, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), should not be recognised as a genuine union organisation. We call upon the Egyptian government and the military to respect the internationally-recognised rights to join and form trade unions, including the right to strike. We will do everything we can in our unions and in the TUC to support the emerging Egyptian trade unions including solidarity delegations, provision of training and equipment, and financial support.

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