How Far Will the Uprising Spread?

Published on
by
the Independent/UK

How Far Will the Uprising Spread?

by
Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

Morocco

Population: 32.3m

GDP: $91.7bn

King Mohammed VI

Notionally a constitutional monarchy, the Moroccan government has been accused
of using the courts to imprison peaceful opponents. King Mohammed VI retains
the power to dissolve parliament and dismiss or appoint the prime minister.

Criticising the monarchy or Islam is still punishable by law, but the private
press has had some success in breaking taboos and investigating government
corruption. There has been progress under Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi, who
took office in 2007, but Morocco still endures high unemployment rates,
especially among its younger population.

Tunisia

Population: 10.6m

GDP: $43.86bn

Prime Minister Ghannouchi

Few had suspected such a swift fall from grace for President Zine el-Abidine
Ben Ali, who on 14 January caved in to the massive protests and fled the
North African nation he had ruled over with an iron fist for 23 years.

Accused over his decades in power of suppressing the opposition, censoring the
media and detaining dissidents, Mr Ben Ali had nonetheless managed to
maintain his stranglehold on power by providing a reasonable quality of life
for citizens. But in recent years inflation and unemployment have hit the
country hard, and people have baulked at seeing Mr Ben Ali, his reviled wife
and extended family appearing to get wealthier and buy up holiday homes by
the sea, while the people languished in poverty. It took the self-immolation
of one desperate unemployed university graduate in December last year to set
off a chain of protests. News of the dissent spread through Twitter and
Facebook, culminating in the huge protests that forced Mr Ben Ali from power
earlier this month. Since the popular uprising, the hastily
cobbled-together government led by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has
struggled to maintain law and order, with protesters insisting that the
cabinet be purged of any remnants of Mr Ben Ali's regime.

It remains to be seen if Tunisia will emerge as the Middle East's second full
democracy - a label currently only applied to Israel - with no date set yet
for elections.

Lebanon

Population: 4.1m

GDP: $39.1bn

President Michel Suleiman

For once in the fragile world of Middle Eastern politics, Lebanon is not
centre stage. The country is still reeling from the 2005 assassination of
its former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a car bomb attack.
The coalition government in Beirut collapsed last week when a UN report,
which is expected to assert that the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah had a
hand in Hariri's murder, was handed to prosecutors in Lebanon and the "Party
of God" abandoned the administration.

The party is already back, however, after President Michel Suleiman appointed
the Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati as the new head of his government, in
what, by Middle East standards, is a highly democratic state. Nonetheless,
such is the fear of Hezbollah in Israel that the immediate threat to
stability in Lebanon may well come from Tel Aviv, rather than riots from a
discontent population.

Jordan

Population: 6.5m

GDP: $27.13bn

King Abdullah II

Power lies squarely in the hands of King Abdullah II, who inherited an
absolute monarchy from his father, who ruled for 46 years before his death
in 1999. Promises of political reform are yet to materialise, with the King
wielding the power to appoint ministers, dismiss parliament and rule by
decree.

Jordan languished in the bottom quarter of the 2010 Democracy Index, and
discontent is growing. Sporadic protests over inflation and unemployment -
which is estimated at between 12 and 25 per cent - broke out across the
country after the Tunisian unrest, and an Islamist opposition leader stoked
the flames by calling for Jordanians to be granted the right to elect their
leaders.

With strong support from the Bedouin-dominated military and financial backing
from their allies in Washington, King Abdullah looks to be safe for the time
being. The Prime Minister has announced a multi-million-pound food and fuel
subsidy package, and the King has in recent days made further promise of
reform, even meeting with the Jordanian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood,
considered the largest opposition group in the kingdom. The Muslim
Brotherhood has, however, called for a fresh round of demonstrations.

Syria

Population: 22.2m

GDP: $59.63bn

President Bashar al-Assad

President Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000, succeeding his father
and continuing his authoritarian rule with all opposition parties banned,
the media strictly controlled and any dissenting voices harshly dealt with.

Syria has been controlled by the Baath Party since it took power in 1963, and
those who speak out against the government are frequently jailed on charges
of "weakening national morale". Emergency rule remains in effect in Syria,
and authorities are consistently accused of violating civilian rights,
arresting activists, detaining bloggers and restricting freedom to travel.

There are conditions for discontent: unemployment is between 10 and 25 per
cent, and the population is frustrated at the widening gap between the rich
and the poor. Apparently unnerved by the protests in Tunisia, the
authorities recently sharply raised a heating oil allowance for public
workers, reversing a policy of slashing subsidies in the face of decades of
economic stagnation. Then, on Wednesday, users reported that programmes they
used to access Facebook Chat had apparently been blocked in what looked like
a move to curtail any online protest movement. Syrian media barely reported
the overthrow of Tunisia's Mr Ben Ali.

Iraq

Population: 29m

GDP: $84.14bn

President Jalal Talabani

For decades Saddam Hussein held the dubious accolade of being the region's
most notorious dictator. Since US-led forces ejected him from power 2003,
Iraq has seen a messy transition towards democracy, but the power-sharing
government has struggled to maintain order over insurgents and militia
groups and many Iraqis are worried about what will happen when all the
remaining US forces leave by the end of the year.

Elections in March last year proved inconclusive, leading to months of
uncertainty. Finally, a power-sharing deal was brokered in November, with
veteran Kurd leader Jalal Talabani named as President for a third term.

Saudi Arabia

Population: 25.7m

GDP: $434.4bn

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz

Absolute monarch King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has ruled the desert kingdom
since 2005, the latest in a long line of royals in charge. Although the
87-year-old is in ill-health and runs a strict authoritarian state, the
distribution of oil wealth largely keeps the populace happy. The royals'
biggest challenge is Islamist extremist groups, and the monarchy cracks down
hard on any challenges to their authority. Saudi Arabia, along with other
oil-rich Gulf states such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are
generally less susceptible to Tunisian-style uprisings because the
population benefit from the spoils of natural resources.

Yemen

Population: 23m

GDP: $30.02bn

President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen last week to demand
an end to the three-decade rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The poorest country in the Middle East and a largely tribal society, Yemen has
more problems than most. It has emerged as a new base for al-Qa'ida
militants driven out of their traditional sanctuaries on the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Yemen is also battling a secessionist movement
in the south, an on-off rebellion in the north, and grinding poverty. Its
oil reserves, which make up 70 percent of the government's revenue, are
dwindling and the nation relies on US aid. Nearly half of all Yemenis live
below the poverty line and unemployment is at least 35 per cent.

Mr Saleh, whom many analysts accuse of overseeing a corrupt regime that has
failed to tackle economic grievances, has reacted to the unrest by
backtracking on his plans to seek another term in 2013 and denying
accusations that he will try to hand over power to his son.

He has also promised to slash taxes and cap food prices and raise the salaries
of civil servants and the military.

Mr Saleh won a seven-year term in Yemen's first open presidential election, in
2006. Observers said the poll was fair but opposition parties complained of
vote rigging. The main challenge to Mr Saleh, analysts say, would likely
come if the various opposition groups, particularly the rebels in the south
and the north, were to look beyond their own particular grievances to mount
a broader political challenge.

Egypt

Population: 84.5m

GDP: $216.8bn

President Hosni Mubarak

Egypt has been ruled with a heavy hand by former air force commander Hosni
Mubarak since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat. Now aged 82, President
Mubarak is widely viewed as symbolising the old guard of autocratic Arab
leaders.

The Human Rights Watch report this year detailed a catalogue of abuses in the
Arab world's most populous nation, including torture by the police,
harassment of political opponents, violence against demonstrators and
arbitrary detention.

Religious parties are banned - in part to stem the challenge from the Muslim
Brotherhood - and although the constitution was changed in 2007 to allow
presidential challengers, they arestrictly curtailed to lock out any
serious opponents.

Mr Mubarak has not said if he will contest presidential elections due in
September, and there are reports that he is grooming his son Gamal Mubarak
to succeed him. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former head of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, has come out as a strong opposition
voice. But as the constitution stands, it is almost impossible for
independent candidates to stand.

What worries the West most is the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic movement
founded in Egypt in 1928, which has significant support among the
population. It has influenced religious groups - both moderate and extreme
- across the Muslim world.

Libya

Population: 6.4m

GDP: $77.91bn

Colonel Muammar al Gaddafi

The longest-serving leader in the Arab world, Colonel Muammar al Gaddafi has
ruled Libya since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1969. The eccentric
dictator said he was "pained" by the fall of Mr Ben Ali. But despite his
pariah status overseas and corruption at home, soaring oil prices have
allowed Colonel Gaddafi to maintain high levels of economic growth, while
Libyans enjoy a life expectancy of 75, one of the highest in Africa.

Like many oil-rich states, unemployment among the local population is high,
with millions of immigrants employed to do the menial jobs. But despite very
little political openness and restrictions on freedom of expression, there
is no sign that the Libyans have much inclination to rise up against their
69-year-old leader.

Algeria

Population: 35m

GDP: $159bn

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Two people were killed and hundreds of others injured earlier this month as
Algerians angry at the high cost of living clashed with the police.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika moved swiftly to cut food prices, and calm
has returned for now, but many are unhappy at Mr Bouteflika's heavy-handed
rule, and unemployment is estimated to be around 20 per cent among the
young.

Mr Bouteflika was elected in 1999 and won a third five-year term in 2009. But
with more than 90 per cent of ballots cast in his favour, there was
widespread criticism of vote fraud and accusations that he had quashed all
viable opposition. Although there has been an opening up of the media and
widening political freedoms, Mr Bouteflika was criticised for extending the
presidential term in office and continuing a ban on the Islamic Salvation
Front.

Algeria is also under an indefinite state of emergency, which the government
claims is needed to combat Islamist militancy, but Human Rights Watch says
it also allows widespread restrictions on freedom of expression,
association and assembly.

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