MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA: Update on crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators

Summary: The latest regional update of civilian protests in North Africa and the Middle East.

The involvement of young people in the pro-democracy demonstrations currently sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East has proven to be instrumental in challenging repressive and dictatorial regimes intent on staying in office despite mass opposition, and has so far succeeded in bringing down the governments of Tunisia and Egypt. Significantly, their collective role in the uprisings in Egypt which led to the eventual ousting of Hosni Mubarak has even been recognised as meriting the Nobel Peace Prize, according to a prominent Egyptian scientist

However, not everyone shares this view, least of all the figures struggling to stay in power.


This is certainly the case in Libya, where protesters between the ages of 16-30 years calling for an end to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year regime have been branded by Gaddafi as “drugged” and “rats”, in an attempt to publicly vilify his opposers. He has also threatened with conducting mass house-by-house detentions in order to “cleanse” the country, warned that protesters will receive the death penalty, and has even alluded to past cases of “justified” state repression such as China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre in which hundreds of student protesters were killed by the armed forces. Full story

Since the anti-government protests took to Libya’s streets, Gaddafi’s response has been one of extreme and unnecessary violence, which according to most sources has claimed the lives of more than 300 civilians, with some estimating the death toll to be as high as 1,000 and 2,000. There were 61 casualties on Monday alone, with most occurring in the eastern cities of Tobruk, Benghazi, Albaida Darnah, while hospital morgues in the country’s capital Tripoli received 62 bodies. Full story

Gaddafi has even gone so far as to incite his supporters to attack protesters, which has led to gangs of yellow-hatted militia breaking into houses in Benghazi in search of members of the opposition. More on this story

Civilian reports of excessive armed force against protesters abound. For instance, African mercenaries have been deployed to keep people from turning to the streets, shooting at protesters at random. Helicopter gunships and snipers from roofs have also fired on the streets, while Gaddafi supporters have shot at protesters from moving cars, as well as warning people not to leave their homes via loudspeakers. There are even claims that defected soldiers were executed at an army base for allegedly refusing to fire on civilians. Full story. While two air force colonels have reportedly defected to Malta upon being requested to shoot protesters from the air. More on this story

Gaddafi’s final threat against civilian protesters came on Tuesday in a speech delivered on Libyan state television in which he claims that he has not yet ordered the use of force, however, “when I do, everything will burn.” Full story

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has responded to Gaddafi’s tactics by reminding that anyone, including Gaddafi himself, ordering or carrying out atrocities will be held individually accountable for their actions. Full story. Likewise, the French ambassador for human rights, Francois Zimeray, said that crimes against humanity were occurring in Libya, which justifies a legal inquiry and the intervention of international justice, and identified the International Criminal Court as the only viable way of achieving accountability. More on this story. Meanwhile, a coalition formed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, HRW and INTERIGHTS have sent a joint request to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, Africa's principle human rights body, urging it to impose immediate measures on the Libyan government to end the human rights abuses across the country. Full story


Unlike the situation in Libya where Gaddafi has hired foreign mercenaries and called on his supporters to attack protesters, Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh has instructed security forces to protect demonstrators. However, compliance with this order is questionable as on Tuesday alone two students were killed and 20 others injured from the use of live fire, which has now increased the death toll by 15 since last week. Full story

Previously, according to eyewitnesses a teenager was killed and four others wounded on Monday in a clash with soldiers in the country’s southern port of Aden, where security in the city’s streets had recently been stepped up with tanks and armoured vehicles. Full story

For the past 14 days, civilian protesters have been calling for wide political reform and for President Saleh, who has been in office for the past 32 years, to stand down. However, he is refusing to resign unless defeated at the next national elections in 2013. More on the story.


Violent crackdowns against anti-government protesters have also claimed numerous lives in Bahrain, where peaceful demonstrations have been met with arbitrary arrests, beatings and live fire at the hands of security forces. Seven civilians were killed last week in violent clashes, yet the number of injured protesters varies, with 25 people hospitalised according to government figures, while opposition groups place the total at more than 200. Full story.

Watch a news clip featuring state repression of Bahraini protesters here


Meanwhile in Algeria, in an attempt to defuse civil discontent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika agreed that by the end of February the country’s state of emergency, which for 19 years has forbidden peaceful demonstrations and limited political freedoms, would be lifted. More on the story.

However, while security forces have not used firearms against protesters, there have been incidents involving the use of tear gas and batons to rein them back, the most recent occurring on Sunday which resulted in several protesters being injured. Full story


Pro-democracy demonstrations have also reached Djibouti, where thousands of people have been protesting against bad governance, a lack of democracy and dynastic succession, calling for President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh to resign. Last Friday in the country’s capital, 30,000 protesters gathered in demonstration; however, the government’s response was similar to that of other countries, as police moved in armed with tear gas and made 40 arrests. The next national elections are due to be held in April this year. Full story


The protests currently sweeping across the region have also inspired a new platform for claiming citizenship rights, as is the case in Kuwait where hundreds of stateless Arab protesters, descendents of desert nomads, are pressing the government to recognise them as rightful Kuwaiti citizens. Protesters seek access to benefits such as free health care and state jobs. In response to their demands, however, Kuwait’s parliament speaker urged them to cease with their protests, while on Saturday police fired tear gas to break up demonstrations. Full story.

Ensuing migration

As a result of State repression against protesters, particularly in Libya and previously in Egypt, thousands have resorted to fleeing to neighbouring countries to escape the violence. Tunisia, for instance, has received an influx of more than 5,000 Libyans, many of whom arrive with injuries. The Tunisian Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, has offered to treat those injured in Tunisian hospitals and pledged to send humanitarian aid to the Libyan people, while the Tunisian Doctors Association has urged the safe passage of incoming refugees. Full story


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