Iran, Oman, Bahrein, Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya
Iran: The government warned protesters not to demonstrate on 1 March – as they threatened — in support of the release of opposition leaders, saying anyone who violates the law will be “dealt with,” according to a statement by Iran’s prosecutor general.
Separately, Iranian and independent news services reported that authorities arrested opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and took them to prison in Tehran. On Saturday, 26 February, they called for the 1 March protests in Tehran and other provincial cities to demand their release from house arrest.
The Iranian opposition movement’s telephone calls and movements were restricted as an initial step, and more measures will be enacted if necessary, Iranian Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said, Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The opposition henceforth will be handled differently, Ejehi said, adding that necessary judicial steps had been taken. Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi were arrested and taken to Tehran’s Heshmatiyeh jail, Mousavi’s Kaleme website reported.
Comment: The Shiite clerisy’s actions to deter the youth from staging anti-government demonstrations is a measure of its concern that the modernist youth protest movement could start to destabilize urban Iran. Should demonstrations take place, the government also wants to ensure they do not benefit from the leadership capabilities of opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi. The religious government is worried.
Oman: Approximately 1,000 protesters blocked roads leading to the main export port and refinery in Sohar on 28 February. Export of refined oil products continued, but trucks trying to enter the port were obstructed, a port spokeswoman said. Protesters also burned a supermarket and obstructed several sites, including two traffic circles. Security forces sealed off the main roads to Sohar, Associated Press reported.
The Omani Army leadership tried to negotiate with protesters at a roundabout in central Sohar in northern Oman on 28 February, calling on them to refrain from damaging property and blocking the roads. Senior army officers engaged with protesters who had earlier clashed violently with the police. News sources reported the protesters seemed to welcome the army, but the outcome of the Army overture has not yet been reported.
Khaled Maqbuli, a leader of the protestors, called on the demonstrators at the roundabout to stay peaceful and said that the protesters wanted the government to send civilian people to discuss their demands, not the military.
Comment: Concessions by the King appear to raise expectations and encourage the protestors to demand more concessions. The protestors have not demanded the King’s resignation, as in Bahrain. Social media are calling for a large anti-government protest on 2 March.
Bahrain: Shiite dissident and opposition leader Hassan Mushaima said he was prepared to accept a Western-style constitutional monarchy if the protestors supported that option. Mushaima said he would accept a monarchy, if the protesters in Manama’s Pearl Square agreed, in which the royal family is honorary but does not control government. No one from the al-Khalifa family should be involved in government, he added. Mushaima said he and his Haq group had not fixed demands because they “are talking about the demands of the people.”
Comments: Mushaima’s public statements are not congruent with postings on his Twitter site, most by his supporters. They are uniformly more extreme about the need to overthrow the monarchy and to empower the Shiites.
Power sharing. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said on 28 February that steps taken in recent days have prepared the country for a national dialogue. He said he would send messages to the opposition to solicit ideas on possible reforms. He also said the situation has grown relatively quiet in recent days, but that there are some who do not want to see reforms undertaken and will try to prevent them in unacceptable ways.
Demonstrations were smaller on 28 February. Nevertheless, hundreds of anti-government protesters formed a human chain that blocked access to Bahrain’s parliament and forced officials to cancel a meeting by King Hamad al-Khalifa’s envoys.
The Bahrain government is still seeking a power sharing arrangement with the protestors that requires no additional significant political concessions by Sheikh Hamad. On the other hand, the leaders of the protest movement continuously have escalated their demands after every concession. They now include the King’s abdication. Even opposition leader Mushaima appears to be lagging the demands of the protestors.
Kuwait: A key opposition group demanded the ouster of the prime minister. The youth also have called for a rally on 8 March to force the premier to quit.
A statement by the nationalist Popular Action Bloc said the first step toward reform is forming a new government under a new prime minister. The statement also said the new government should fight corruption, safeguard the constitution and public funds, guarantee public freedoms and find solutions for unemployment and housing. Former three-time parliament speaker Ahmad al-Saadun heads the opposition group.
Comment: None of the pro-western Arab states appears to be immune to the youth protest phenomenon. As the movement has spread and its manifestations become predictable, more mature, well-established opposition leaders appear to be taking advantage of the unstable conditions the youth create. That seems to be the case in Kuwait and Bahrain. It portends more fundamental political changes than have occurred, say, in Tunisia or Egypt.
Iraq: For the record. Prime Minister al-Maliki has called for early provincial elections in response to anti-government protests in which 14 people died. He said he will ask parliament to pass a law that would allow early municipal elections. Violence is rising in Iraq … steadily.
Yemen: Protests against President Saleh’s regime took place in Shabwa Province, Sanaa Province, the city of Taiz, and the Mansoura, Crater and Mualla neighborhoods of Aden, witnesses said. At a protest in Aden, police used tear gas and batons.
President Saleh announced plans to form a national unity government and is inviting the opposition to choose representatives, according to Al Jazeera. President Saleh told the press that Yemen would be fractured into four parts, not just two, if the regime falls and the opposition will not be capable of ruling more than one week.
Opposition coalition head Mohammed al-Mutawakil said that the coalition would be ready to take part in the joint unity government with the ruling party after President Saleh guarantees the peaceful transition of power and resigns from his posts in the army and finance ministry.
Al-Mutawakil said that the coalition would not mind that Saleh remained in office until his presidential term expired in 2013 as long as he quits his posts in the army and finance ministry. The opposition coalition is not calling for an early presidential election or for Saleh to step down now, al-Mutawakil said.
Comment: Saleh appears to be switching between power sharing and coercion, neither of which seems to be working. The items above appear to contain the basic elements of an agreement, provided Saleh is honest and Mutawakil can deliver compliance by the protestors.
The government has offered dialogue to co-opt the opposition, backed by coercion, but the opposition has countered with genuine power sharing, backed the promise of by civil order. The next step depends on the will and ability of the parties to keep their promises, which is almost risible.
Egypt: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces set 19 March as the date for a referendum on constitutional amendments and said parliamentary elections will be held in June, according to a report from a main activist group after a meeting with the Army.
Comment: NightWatch remains suspicious of a political initiative that only amends the Egyptian Constitution under which Mubarak governed. The strong authoritarian bias in all of its most important paragraphs cannot be corrected by amendments and word-smithing.
Libya: Forces supporting leader Muammar Qadhafi reportedly recaptured western border crossing points with Tunisia that previously the opposition controlled, one news outlet reported. However, Libyan tanks and armored vehicles attempting to break into Zawiya were repelled by opposition fighters, BBC reported, citing an unnamed source. The source said the attack was made by Libyan army forces led by Khamis Qadhafi, one of the Qadhafi children.
News sources also reported that Libyan forces attempted to recapture Misrata and Benghazi today, but failed.
Comment: Western telecasts from refugee camps in Tunisia suggest the pro-government reporting is false. Anti-government demonstrations in Tripoli were dispersed quickly by gunfire. Not much appears to have changed. The effect of pro-government attacks that failed is to consolidate rebel control.