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Several Bahraini protesters sentenced to death

Four protesters in Bahrain were sentenced to death, and three more to life in prison, for their alleged involvement in the killing of two police officers during the protest movement, according to Al Jazeera.  The men’s lawyers are challenging the method of the conviction, which occurred behind closed doors.  Meanwhile, the US is speaking out against cases of detainees dying while in custody.

Yemeni protest leaders agree to talks in Saudi Arabia

As discussed previously, Yemeni opposition leaders were reluctant to take part in the GCC-sponsored discussions with President Saleh’s until there was a guarantee that he would step down immediately.

Senior Yemeni officials have said in recent days that the United States and the European Union are pressing for a plan — in conjunction with the Gulf Cooperation Council — that would have Mr. Saleh hand over his powers immediately and formally leave office within the next three months.

Mean while, 15 more protesters were shot by security forces.  That incident is explained in more detail in this New York Times article, which covers the GCC talks as well.

Iraqi youth frustrated

The New York Times has an article up today detailing the challenge facing Iraqi youth seeking to become larger stakeholders in their government.  The article suggests that the current political elite have already consolidated power such that accessibility to newcomers is nonexistent.  Part of locking up power is controlling the security forces:

The stubborn insurgency creates a space for leaders like Mr. Maliki to centralize power, especially over the security forces, critics say. For example, Mr. Allawi said in an interview that as part of the power-sharing agreement to form the government last year, it was “agreed that the units which are attached to the prime minister should be disengaged.” That has not happened.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case the optomist points out that the concerns of gaining political power and protesting did not exist under Saddam Hussein.

But it is a measure of progress that these students can speak out freely and join in street protests. One small result is that bars reopened in Baghdad after being closed in January. “I do not want to be so negative about it,” said Shereen Ahmed, 19, who is studying to be a teacher in Anbar Province. “Yes, we are witnessing a small part of democracy now from what we see from the protests in Iraq. When Saddam was here, not even one Iraqi could go out in protest because he would be killed.”

For anyone who needs a topic to write a paper on, it would be interesting to know how exactly the Arab Protest Movement of 2011 has been received in Iraq, where the dictator is already gone and democracy has been cast upon the country.

Egyptian blogger jailed

The New York Times is reporting that the Egyptian military government has jailed a human rights activist for criticizing the military.

The blogger, Maikel Nabil, 25, had assailed the Egyptian armed forces for what he called its continuation of the corruption and anti-democratic practices of Mr. Mubarak. Mr. Nabil often quoted from reports by established human rights groups.

Mona Seif, a rights advocate, said Mr. Nabil may have been singled out as an easy target, partly because of previous run-ins with the military and partly because of his pro-Israel views. Mr. Nabil, who is Christian, refused to fulfill his obligatory military service in 2010 on pacifist grounds and has campaigned against forced conscription ever since, Ms. Seif said.

For those who are concerned that the military may prove unwilling to allow major political reform in Egypt, this willingness to jail a dissident is incredibly worrisome.

Egyptian army willing to use force against the protesters

An unpleasant opinion regarding regime change in Egypt is that the army has successfully ascended to the apex of power in that state and is unlikely to relinquish that position any time soon.  This article from Al Jazeera supports that outlook, which describes the Army clearing Tahrir Square yesterday and also includes statements from the Army suggesting that force is in its repertoire for restoring order in Egypt.

“Tahrir Square will be emptied of protesters with firmness and force to ensure life goes back to normal,” the council’s Major General Adel Emarah said.

The protest that security forces broke up was taking place during the 2am-5am curfew.  Notably, several army officers were partaking in the demonstration, and those who didn’t flee were arrested.

Protesters and army soldiers threw rocks at each other, and at least four injured protesters had to be carried away, he said. Soldiers fired their guns into metal shopfronts, sending sparks flying and bullets ricocheting, apparently to scare away the protesters, Storey said.

The army will be able to spin this as simply breaking up a violation of the curfew.  Perhaps that really is all that happened.  But it suggests that the army, which is popular in Egypt, may begin to see its favored status wane.  Egyptians may be coming to the realization that the army is not the change from Mubarak that they want, and that the army is now firmly entrenched.

“The military council is part and parcel of the corrupt regime. It is made up of heads of the army that have benefited from Mubarak and his 30 years of robbing the Egyptian people,” said Abdullah Ahmed, 45, a protester in Tahrir.

Syrian security forces using live ammunition

The New York Times is reporting that Syrian forces are firing on demonstrations to break up the protesters.  Saturday’s actions appear to not be indiscriminate firing on the crowds themselves, but rather a tactic to scare people off the streets.  However,

On Friday, witnesses said security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters in Dara’a, killing 25 people and wounding hundreds. The government said that 19 police officers and members of the security forces were killed when gunmen opened fire.

Neither account could be independently verified. But the government’s claim of casualties could signal plans for a stronger crackdown. State television showed what it said were vandals setting fire to the radio and television building in Dara’a and gunmen shooting randomly in the central city of Homs.

The Syrian government will likely continue to use violence to suppress protesters.  The threat of violence could squash the reform movement, or it could add fuel to the fire.  It is tough to tell which outcome is more likely at this point.

Jordan (and Libya and Syria and Yemen)

There is continued violence occurring in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, but nothing that represents a political turning point, so instead this post will focus on Jordan.  Yesterday, in discussing the social indicators of several countries, I wavered on whether or not I should point to Jordan as my next most likely candidate to undergo drastic change.  The poverty level is what kept me from identifying Jordan as potentially problematic.  Today, in a class, Professor Szyliowicz suggested that Jordan is a state to watch, so I’m going to take that as license to discuss the country here.

The New York Times reported today on a man, loyal to the monarchy, wearing a fake explosive belt trying to intimidate the Islamic Action Front.  The action reveals that there is conflict in Jordan between reformers, who include both Islamists and liberals, and those who are loyal to the status quo.  Among most Jordanians the King remains popular, so the likelihood of his being overthrown is low.  Instead, protesters are seeking greater democracy among the day to day policy makers, perhaps even to create a constitutional monarchy where the King remains but becomes a largely symbolic figure.  The other cause for concern is the role of Palestinians.  There is a very large Palestinian population in Jordan, possibly outnumbering the Jordanians themselves, and they are treated as second class citizens.  Jordanians do not like the poor Palestinians (I say this based on my own experience in the country).  While the Jordanians themselves may effect peaceful, moderate changes in their government, the Palestinians, if they organize, will seek a much more radical change.  My suspicion is that even Jordanian reformists would react strongly, perhaps violently, against any Palestinian push for greater political power.  Professor Szyliowicz even went so far as to say civil war in Jordan is not unthinkable between the Bedouins and the Palestinians.  So, as the events in Jordan continue to evolve, pay attention to the Palestinians.