Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The demonstrations we ignored until the big ones happened

So much has been happening in the Middle East that I have tried to collect a list of the several demonstrations that led up to the recent major demonstrations that have had such an effect. Most of them -- all of them -- sought popular sovereignty and in any case indicated a growing sense of frustration across the Middle East. Virtually none the demonstrations that led up to these recent massive movements were animated by Islamic agendas. Some of them were pointedly aimed against the Islamist regimes currently in power, notably in Iran. In a few instances, the leaders of these demonstrations specifically denied that their agendas are Islamic. For instance, when President Admadenijad in Iran claimed the Egyptian demonstrations were Islamist a leader of the Muslim Brethren denied it.

So here is my working list, in chronological order of demonstrations in the Middle East that were mostly ignored. Much of this information comes from Asef Bayat, 2010, *Life as Politics: How ordinary people change the Middle East,* Palo Alto, CA, Stanford University. Further information is available at various sites on the internet. Also, for a recent statement on Iran see Haleh Esfandiari. 2011. "Iran: the State of Fear", NYReview Ap 7, 2011.

1987-93. First Palestinian Intifada, triggered by a fatal accident caused by an Israeli truck driver. Eventually thousands of Palestinians participated.

1995. Iran. In January a hundred thousand spectators at a soccer match in Tehran, in response to a bad call, tear up the stadium, begin chanting “Death of this barbaric regime”, and “Death to the Pasdaran” [paramilitary troops]. [Bayat 2010: 126.]

1998. Iran. In June “hordes of young boys and girls [disgorged into] the streets in every major city to cheer, dance, and sound their car horns” because of a victory of the Iranian soccer team in Paris -- and in defiance of government regulations. In Karadj they taunt the Basij who are supposed to maintain order chanting “Basij must dance!” [Bayat 2010: 126]

2001 Iran. The loss of Iran’s soccer team in Bahrain provides another excuse for hundreds of thousands of young people to display deeply felt anger against their government. “In fifty-four different areas of Tehran, young people marched, shouted political slogans, threw rocks and handmade explosives at police, vandalized police cars, broke traffic lights, and lit candles in a sign of mourning for defeat.” Contrary to government regulations young people shot off fireworks to celebrate Nowroz, “turned urban neighborhoods into explosive battle zones, scorning the official ban on the ritual and the collective joy that went with it. … symbolizing “outrage against officialdom …” [Marc 21, 2001; Bayat 2010: 126]

2004. Iran. In Tehran and Tabriz there are open fights against the Basiji paramilitaries who were trying to contain “improper behavior.” [Bayat 2010: 126].
2005. Feb 14. Lebanon. Cedar Revolution developed after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. More than a million people gather in downtown Beirut and demand the end of Syrian troop occupation, blaming the Syrians for the assassination.

2005 March. Bahrain. Thousands march in the streets demanding a more open society and democracy. [See this blog, 3/23/11.]

2005-2006. Egypt. Nascent democracy movement appears. Kifaya [Enough is enough] movement brings together thousands of middle class professionals, students, teachers, judges, journalists who call for political prisoners to be released and the end to emergency law, torture – even call for the end of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency. It is secular, nonsectarian, appeal for democracy. [Bayat 2010: 6, 38, 168]

2006, 2007. Egypt. There are several mass workers’ strikes, especially among textile workers of Mahalla al-Kubra, “the most effective organized activism in the nation’s history since World War II, with almost no Islamist influence.” [Bayat 2010:9]

2007. In Iran, owing to the protests, during this year thousands of activists are arrested and given court summons or/and dismissed from their jobs; dozens of dailies and weeklies are shut down; hundreds of NGOs are closed down. In Egypt police treat with violence peaceful protestors calling for political reform; hundreds of Muslim Brethren are arrested; thousands are in detention without trial. [Bayat 2010: 10]

2008, April 6-7. Egypt. “April 7 Youth movement.” By linking up through Facebook 70,000 people come out in support of a textile workers strike, and to protest Israeli attacks against Gaza. Largely made up of young people, educated, well-to-do. It was implicitly a reaction against political repression, economic stagnation, nepotism in government. Bayat [2010: 23, 135] provides a description of police brutality on July 23, 2008. The protests appear in the outskirts of Cairo. [Bayat 2010: 168]

2008. Nov 5. Barak Obama is elected President of the United States.

2009. June 4. Obama speaks to the Muslim world from Cairo.

2009. June 12. After the Iranian election for President the government declares within hours that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected. Within a day there is a growing sense of outrage among the Iranian public claiming that the election was stolen. Demonstrations in favor of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the major challenger, appeared the next day indicating their identity by using the color green as participation and support for him. Police and basij [paramilitaries] suppressed the movement brutally. On June 20 Neda Agha-Soltan was shot to death. Her death was captured on film and passed all over the world and became a defining icon of the whole affair. It stood for the popular movement against the regime, for the brutality of the regime, for the collective outrage among many Iranians, for the abuses suffered by young men and women in Iran, for aspirations of “freedom” – that is, for a system by which their government could be made more accountable. Even her name became iconic: “nedaa” means “voice” or “divine message” and so came to stand for “the voice of Iran”. The government not only spared no violent means but also used torture against those who were captured and incarcerated. [Afsaneh Moqadam. 2010. Death to the Dictator. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.]

2010. Dec 17. Mohamed Bouazizi in the town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire in outrage at the way he had been treated by local officials, especially a police woman who slapped him in the face and insulting his father when he tried to pay a 10-dinar fine. Riots erupted the next day in Sidi Bouzid and the violent response of the police was shared on Facebook. On Dec 22 Lahseen Naji, a protestor, in response to “hunger and joblessness” climbed onto an electricity pylon and electrocuted himself. Another person, Ramzi Al-Abboudi, who was in financial difficulty, also killed himself. On Dec 24 a demonstrator was shot to death by police in Bouziane, another on December 30. Protests reached the capital, Tujnis on December 27 in the form of a rally of 1,000 people calling for jobs. Soon the Tunisian Federation of Labour Unions demonstrated; 300 lawyers held a rally near the palace. There were demonstrations on December 29, 30, 31; there were reports that lawyers were “savagely beaten”. And there were more demonstrations on January 3, 2011. On the 6th 95% of the country’s lawyers went on strike, and the next day teachers joined the strike. On the 11th rioters were ransacking buildings, burning tires, burning cars and buses police used riot gear; the military began to deploy. The Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir organized protests for January 14 and called for re-establishment of the caliphate. The next day they went to the prison to free political prisoners. On January 14 a journalist was hit by a tear gas canister and died. And on that day President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flew out to Saudi Arabia. On January 17 a new cabinet was announced in order to quiet the rebellion. The next day, nevertheless, there were street protests against the new cabinet, insisting that no one connected with President Ben Ali should hold office. By the 23rd the police were joining the protests. Changes in the personnel in the Center committee did not satisfy the demonstrators and on 28 hundreds were demonstrating against the Prime Minister Mohammaed Ghannouchi, seeing themselves as representatives of ten million people. By February 19 demonstrators were demanding a new interim government that was completely free of any connection to the old regime.

2011. January 25. Egypt. Feb 15 Wael Ghonim placed on Facebook a web page “We are all Khaled Said”. In the next 21 hours there were hundreds of comments on the site. Walter Armbrust, when he looked at it on the 16th, saw 5,500 comments on the site. The Egyptian revolution had begun.

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