Protests Expand Across Arab Nations

Hakim Almasmari, Benoit Faucon and Nour Malas – Wall Street Journal February 13, 2011

Yemeni protesters and government supporters clashed Sunday, the latest in a series of scuffles in the capital, even as opposition parties in the country said they would enter into dialogue with long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh over a series of political concessions he made last week.

 In recent weeks, as protesters swarmed in Tunisia and Egypt, eventually toppling the long-time rulers in both places, other Arab leaders have scrambled to diffuse unrest at home. Large-scale protests have flared in Jordan, Yemen, Algeria and Sudan in recent weeks.

Inspired by Egypt, about a thousand Yemeni protesters take to the streets of Sanaa calling for regime change.

The Yemeni protest followed early-morning scuffles Saturday in the capital San’a, and a much larger demonstration in Algeria’s capital Saturday. Thousands of Algerians, defying a ban on protests, flooded a central square in Algiers to call for political reform. The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika deployed thousands of security forces, who used tear gas to disperse crowds.

In the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, the leadership stepped up its own response to demands from the country’s Shiite opposition over the weekend. The kingdom promised to ease media restrictions on Sunday.

On Saturday, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa granted each family in Bahrain 1,000 Bahraini dinar, or about $2,650, according to a statement issued by the state news agency Saturday. The king also gave orders to rehabilitate juvenile prisoners, appearing to partially concede to demands from human-rights activists to release political prisoners. The government last week said it would raise food subsidies.

“People are really boiling, contempt is very high,” said Abdul Jalil Khalil, a parliamentary leader from one of Bahrain’s largest Shiite opposition groups.

On Saturday, the Palestinian leadership said it will hold long-stalled presidential and parliamentary elections by September, an apparent response to mass pro-democracy demands across the region in the wake of the Egypt and Tunisia revolts.

The demonstrations in San’a started as a small rally of mostly Egyptian expatriates, who converged onto the streets late Friday after the news of Mr. Mubarak’s resignation. But numbers swelled, eventually drawing in more than a thousand Yemenis in the early hours of Saturday morning. Some chanted against Mr. Saleh, according to eyewitnesses.

Security forces intervened, halting protesters as they tried to march toward the Egyptian embassy. Security services fanned out in a heavy show of force around the embassy and San’a’s own Tahrir Square. A smaller group of pro-government demonstrators gathered there, and countered with their own, pro-Saleh chants.

The competing demonstrators scuffled with each other briefly after midnight, before security forces intervened and dispersed the crowd. They arrested six, four anti-government protesters and two pro-government demonstrators, according to eyewitnesses. Some activists said the pro-government group was heavily armed, and they accused security forces of organizing the pro-government demonstrators, an allegation the government denied.

“The government’s stance is to give everyone, whether pro or anti government, the chance to express their opinion,” said a spokesman for Mr. Saleh’s ruling party, Tareq Shami.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters, many of them students, were blocked from a march towards the presidential palace by security forces. A small group of pro-government protesters threatened the crowd with sticks, and eyewitnesses said the two sides clashed. It was unclear if there were arrests.

The country’s opposition leaders, however, said Sunday they had accepted a series of political concessions Mr. Saleh made last week and would re-enter long-stalled negotiations with the government over political reform. After Mr. Saleh announced those concessions, opposition leaders called off the large-scale protests they had led earlier in the month.

And on Saturday, thousands of protesters flooded the streets of the Algerian capital Algiers, defying a ban on demonstrations and calling for political reform in the North African country, one of the world’s largest oil producers.

Estimates of the size of the crowd, which started filling Algiers’ central May 1st Square, also called Concord Square, in the morning, varied. Organizers said between 5,000 and 30,000 showed up. The Associated Press estimated the crowd at about 10,000.

Thousands of state security officials and police had fanned out across the capital ahead of the protests, called by a coalition of opposition leaders, trade unionists and human-rights activists.

Hacene Mezoued, a top official with the Rally for Culture and Democracy, the main political party spearheading the protests, said 1,000 protesters, including 100 women, had been arrested. He said there had been some skirmishes with the police as the security services attempted to disperse protesters.

Protesters shouted “Power Out,” and “$155 Billion, and We’re Still Poor,” a reference to the oil producer’s estimated foreign-exchange reserves.

Algeria’s official state news agency said police had stopped the protest and said just over a dozen people had been arrested. Police spokesmen declined to comment or were unavailable.