Calls for reform intensify throughout Arab world

Yemen police crack down on protests; new pro-reform rally in Algeria; Iranian opposition defies warning, calls for protest; Jordan denies regime in danger.

Yemen protests 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Yemen protests 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
SANAA – The demands for political reform in the Arab world continued to intensify on Sunday.
In Sanaa, Yemeni police police armed with sticks and daggers beat back thousands of protesters marching through the capital in a third straight day of demonstrations calling for political reforms and the resignation of the country’s US-allied president.
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The protests have mushroomed since crowds gathered on Friday to celebrate the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after an 18- day revolt fueled by similar grievances.
On Sunday, uniformed police used truncheons to stop protesters, many of them university students, from reaching Sanaa’s central Hada Square.
Witnesses said plainclothes policemen wielding daggers and sticks joined security forces in driving the protesters back.
Opposition parties set several conditions on Sunday for joining talks with the government, including a definitive timetable for “constitutional, legal and economic reforms.”
The parties also demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh remove his sons and other relatives from army, security and government posts.
Saleh has tried to defuse the unrest by promising not to run again when his term ends in 2013 and guaranteeing that he will not seek to pass power to his son.
Several people were injured in Sunday’s demonstrations, and police detained 23 protesters, witnesses said.
The Interior Ministry, which oversees the internal security forces, accused the protesters of “spreading sabotage and chaos” and “threatening security and stability.”
The crowds took up the protest cry that became famous in Tunisia and then in Egypt, shouting, “The people want to overthrow the regime.”
They have also tried to reach a square in the capital with the same name as the plaza that became the epicenter of Egypt’s protest movement: Tahrir, or Liberation, Square.
Seeking to stop them, the police have ringed the square with barbed wire and bused in government supporters to set up a tent camp and occupy and defend the square around the clock.
In Algiers, the organizers of a pro-reform protest that brought thousands of people onto the streets of the capital over the weekend called on Sunday for another rally on Saturday.
The Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria – an umbrella group for human rights activists, unionists, lawyers and others – has called for Saturday’s demonstrations to take place throughout the country.
Last Saturday’s rally took place only in Algiers. Organizers said around 10,000 took part in the gathering, though officials put turnout at 1,500.
Iran’s opposition on Sunday renewed its call for a rally in support of protesters in Tunisia and Egypt, despite a government warning of repercussions if demonstrations take place, a reformist website reported.
In a statement published on, the opposition urged its supporters to rally on Monday in central Teheran and accused the government of hypocrisy for voicing support for the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings while refusing to allow Iranians to stage a peaceful demonstration.
Wary of a reinvigorated opposition at home, Iranian authorities have detained several activists and journalists in recent weeks, and opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi was put under house arrest, apparently in connection with the request to stage the rally.
The statement on said further restrictions on Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi were a sign of the “increasing weakness and fear of the government about the most peaceful civil and political rights” of Iranians.
In another report, Kaleme said many university students as well as a reformist cleric group have promised to attend the protest. But it was not clear whether the rally would actually take place. Many opposition calls for demonstrations in the past months have gone unheeded.
Still, the opposition’s persistence has placed the government in a bind.
Iran’s hard-line rulers – who have tried to capitalize on the uprising against their regional rivals in Egypt’s US-allied regime – are seeking to deprive their opponents at home of any chance to reinvigorate a movement swept from the streets in a heavy military crackdown.
Both Mousavi and Karroubi have compared the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia with their own post-election protest movement in 2009, which the Iranian government eventually quashed. Mousavi said Iran’s demonstrations were the starting point for the recent revolts in Cairo and Tunis, and that all the uprisings aimed at ending the “oppression of the rulers.”
The protests that swept Iran in the months after the 2009 presidential vote grew into a larger movement opposed to the ruling system. It was the biggest challenge faced by Iran’s clerical leadership since it came to power in the 1979 revolution that toppled the US-backed shah.
Hundreds of thousands peacefully took to the streets in support of Mousavi, and some powerful clerics sided with the opposition.
However a heavy military crackdown suppressed the protests, and many in the opposition – from midlevel political figures to street activists, journalists and human rights workers – were arrested. The opposition has not been able to hold a major protest since December 2009.
Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh dismissed the idea that his government would fall in a similar fashion to Egypt’s regime, saying “Jordan is Jordan, Egypt is Egypt... We enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”
Judeh’s comments came in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that aired on Saturday.
“I’m watching all the media outlets and I’m seeing the comparisons and I’m seeing the expectations. And one would confidently say that here in Jordan, we had demonstrations, as we have every year when it comes to economic issues and government’s adopting policies that are unpopular,” Judeh said.
“We have economic hardship, but we still have economic stability and political stability and political reform that is initiated by his majesty, the king, by the government. We’re OK.”
Judeh expressed hope that the Egyptian army would ensure continued stability in the country.
“Egypt is a pillar of regional security, and I think that what we have to watch out now for is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ensuring that the transition period leads Egypt into a new era that ensures Egypt’s continued growth in the region,” he said.
Jordan is in agreement with the Obama administration’s conviction that democracy will bring more, not less stability to the region, according to Judeh.
“We in Jordan have been very, very stalwart in our political and economic program, and as initiated by his majesty, the democratization process is well on track and his majesty is committed to that... We just had our parliamentary elections here. We will have municipal elections hopefully sometime this year. So, yes, democracy is very much the order of the day,” he said.
Judeh added that he was reassured by the Egyptian military’s announcement that they would honor their peace treaty with Israel.
“We still believe even at this particular moment in time that this historic juncture that – at least is key to resolving many other challenges that we all face in this region. And the establishment of the independent Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel is still the goal we all seek,” he said.