On January 15th, the people of Tunisia, through mass protests and strikes, overthrew Ben Ali, the brutal dictator of that country. He had ruled for 23 years, selling the country’s resources to foreign corporations and degrading the living conditions of the Tunisian people. The overthrow of Ben Ali has shown people all over North Africa and the Middle East that their collective power, through protests and strikes, can bring down the governments which have oppressed them for decades.
The most important revolt is taking place in Egypt. Since 1981, Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak. The brutal police regime of Mubarak is hated by the majority of Egyptians. Since the late 1970s, and especially under Mubarak, Egypt’s economy has been opened up for exploitation by western corporations, while the corrupt Egyptian government has made sure the people don’t get in the way.
Egypt also receives an annual $1.2 billion in military aid from the United States. In exchange, Egypt supports the U.S. wars in the Middle East and acts as a policeman on the border of the Gaza strip, part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. The revolt in Egypt, if it succeeds would not only push back the economic exploitation of the Egyptian people, but also shift the balance of power in the Middle East, currently dominated by the United States.
In late December, people in Algeria began demonstrations against lack of housing, rising food and gas prices, and lack of jobs and opportunities. On December 29, mass demonstrations across Algeria were met with repression, 53 people were killed and over a thousand arrested. However, the revolution in Tunisia sparked another wave of protest on January 29th when 10,000 marched in the city of Bejaia.
Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, a mass movement in Yemen has begun to pick up steam. On January 27, a demonstration of 16,000 gathered in the capital of Sanaa protesting against economic conditions and unemployment, and calling for the removal of President Saleh.
Jordan is ruled by a monarchy supported with weapons and financial aid by the United States. On January 28, 3,500 protesters braved police repression to demonstrate for the removal of the King’s appointed prime minister.
Libya has seen rising protests against Moammar Qaddafi, a brutal ruler very similar to Ben Ali of Tunisia. From January 13 to January 16 a wave of protests swept major Libyan cities. In fear of a similar revolution against his regime, Qaddafi’s government immediately launched a $24 billion development plan.
Hope is Contagious!
The Middle East, which for so long has been exploited and manipulated by Western governments, and ruled by corrupt regimes is changing as the hope which began in Tunisia catches fire in other countries. This wave of revolution shows where the real power for change can be found – in the collective power of millions of people in the streets, on strike, demanding the things we need, and demanding real control over our lives.