Monday, February 28, 2011

When was the Revolution?

Geetisha Dasgupta
[Graduate student at the Binghamton University (State University of New York)]

So, at first it was Egypt and now it is Libya. Or, was Egypt the first one? We were undecided which way we should think when Tunisia was protesting, upturning and toppling the reigning order. Worldwide, we have been witnessing efforts on part of the elite to clip the wings of the masses that represent themselves and exercise collective bargaining rights. Whatever the crisis, it ends up causing a fresh round of displacement, giving birth to situations where people find themselves ousted from their habitual place of residence without even knowing; overnight.

What happened in the Arab world, beginning from January 25, 2011 and ending on February 11, 2011, following the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak from the President’s Chair in Egypt, is being christened by the media as the 18 day Revolution. Others decided to call it as the 25 January Revolution or even as the Rage Revolution. The “success story” of one country renders a fillip to another one and therefore Libya joins the parade now. However, thousands are fleeing Libya due to the uncertainties that come packaged with such mass uprising. Both Tunisia and Egypt, still coping with their own unrests, are now additionally struggling to provide hospitality to people spilling out of the Libyan borders. Not much is being heard about these refugees though, from the international media, as every other organ of communication is busy putting together the story of another violent revolution.

People in Tripoli, the seat of Gaddafi’s power have been caught up in the violence and are afraid of coming out of their houses in fear of being shot by the pro Gaddafi militia. The President, however, continues with his vow of crushing the uprising in Libya at any cost, leading to more and more crash downs and increasing violence deployed over the common people. Most of the people that are fleeing Libya now are young men who went there to find work. Thousands of other foreigners are still stuck in the Libyan capital, however. Many of the workers - from Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh and Ghana - worked for Turkish construction companies and said some of their managers quickly fled for Turkey without returning the workers' passports.

The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to conduct international war crimes investigation against Gaddafi, charging him and his Government with widespread and systematic attacks conducted over the citizens of Libya. Libya has been referred to the International Criminal Court. As far as other states are concerned, the reaction to Gaddafi ranges from condemnation (by Barack Obama), revocation of diplomatic immunity of Gaddafi and his family (by Great Britain), to a suspension of a treaty with Libya that includes a non-aggression clause, removing a possible obstacle to taking part in any peace-keeping operations in Libya (by Italy). But where does the common man figure in this broil? It is again big players taking charge of other players, and attempting to contain, while the big story of revolution (read: political unrest in the Arab world and potent and fresh contest of accumulation/power over the Arab world) continues to do the rounds. Below are given some latest information about the status of peace and struggle in different parts of the Arab world:

IRAQ: Thousands march on government buildings and clash with security forces in cities across Iraq. Twelve people are killed in the largest and most violent anti-government protests in the country since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knock down blast walls and throw rocks. The protests are fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services from the Shiite-dominated government.

YEMEN: Security forces open fire on thousands of demonstrators in the southern port city of Aden, wounding at least 19 people, in the latest confrontation with crowds pressing for the U.S.-backed president’s ouster. Tens of thousands of protesters march in different parts of the country. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised to step down after national elections in 2013, but the demonstrators want him out now.

EGYPT: Tens of thousands jam Cairo’s main square. They are trying to keep up pressure on Egypt’s military rulers to carry out reforms and call for the dismissal of holdovers from the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrators say they are worried the army is not moving quickly enough on reforms, including repealing emergency laws and releasing political prisoners.

BAHRAIN: Tens of thousands fill the central square of Bahrain’s capital, Manama. Protesters have taken to the streets every day for the past two weeks, asking for sweeping political concessions from the ruling monarch. Security forces make no attempt to halt the marches.

JORDAN: About 4,000 protesters rally in the capital, Amman, the largest crowd yet in two months of unrest. The leader of Jordan’s largest opposition group warns that patience is running out with what he called the government’s slow steps toward reform. King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has so far failed to quiet the calls for sweeping political change.

TUNISIA: Police in Tunis fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters. Demonstrators massed in front of the Interior Ministry to call for the ouster of the interim government that has run Tunisia since strongman ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled Jan. 14 and fled into exile. Tunisia has been relatively calm since Ben Ali’s ouster.

SAUDI ARABIA: About 300 Shiites protest against the Sunni-led government in a march. They disperse peacefully under the close watch of Saudi security forces. The kingdom had been largely quiet, and its ruler earlier this week promised a massive package of economic aid, including interest-free home loans, in hopes of forestalling unrest.

In the mean time, over 100,000 have fled Libya, says the UNHCR. Most of them are migrant workers, from Egypt and Tunisia, have fled Libya in the past week and many remain stranded at the Libya-Tunisia border as Libyan customs officers deserted their posts. Some 55,000 people have arrived in Egypt since February 19. About 7,000 of those are nationals mostly from Asia. A further 50,000 people, including 2,000 Chinese, have crossed into Tunisia. Foreigners are teetering under the weight of plastic-wrapped boxes or suitcases they carried on their backs as they make their way past customs guards and immigration officers into relative safety in Tunisia. Agencies from the Tunisian border report: “…a full-blown refugee crisis had emerged on the Tunisian border. A sea of people filled the roadway out of the border crossing. They dragged plastic bags full of belongings. They wrapped themselves in purple blankets. They moved in huge waves, the scale of their exodus an illustration of the level of political turmoil mounting across the border in Libya, where a political revolt, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, has torn the nation and cost hundreds of lives.”

Meanwhile, Egypt continues to be cheered for its transition from one order to another—the first one militaristic, the second one military—both cheering the logic of development. The picture jeers and jolts the common man, the observer, who has become the accepted toll of the Revolution, a change, for the time being, in disguise and displaces him from known his life forever and asks, “…so…when was the revolution?”

For more information, please refer to:,000-have-fled-Libya

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