TheDC’s Middle East crib sheet: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya — and which country may be next to see regime change

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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If you’ve had trouble keeping track of the riots and revolutions and regime overthrows in the Middle East, we sympathize, and we want to help. We’ve scoured the news wires for the latest, and below you’ll find The Daily Caller’s crib sheet of what happened before and what’s going on now. It’s not exhaustive, but it should help you get your bearings. In general, a desire for jobs, equality and opportunity (sound familiar?) is the underlying cause of much of the unrest.


What has come to be known as the Jasmine Revolution, began with a bit of self-immolation. A man in the town of Sidi Bouzid set himself on fire in front of government building, after the police confiscated fruits and vegetables that he was trying to sell without a permit. A college-educated man, he was making a statement against his lack of opportunities for jobs in the country.

This dramatic act sparked protests in the town, and as videos of those protests went viral on the Internet, the protests spread across the country. Demonstrators decried the lack of jobs; Tunisia has about a 14 percent unemployment rate. According to the New York Times, another factor was that Tunisian “residents long tolerated extensive surveillance, scant civil liberties and the routine use of torture, at least until the economic malaise that has gripped southern Europe spread here, sending unemployment and public resentment skyrocketing.”

Protesters and police had violent clashes throughout.

The protests spread to the capital, where people began demanding that dictatorial President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali step down. On Friday, Jan. 14, he did, fleeing the country, and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took power. The following day, Ghannouchi stepped down and handed power over to the head of parliament, who, according to the Tunisian Constitution, is supposed to take control if the president steps down.

Tunisia currently has an interim government that includes members of the official opposition brought in by the head of parliament. That body will govern until elections can be held sometime around June. The New York Times says the state currently exists with a “power vacuum,” since the police fled after President Ben Ali stepped down, for fear of reprisal for their violent attacks on protesters.


The protests seemed to spread to Egypt like contagion. Protests erupted across the country on Jan. 25, with demonstrators demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down after 30 years in power. Police attacked protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, dispersing them. Protests continued the next day, despite a government order banning public meetings. The day after that, reports emerged that the government had shut down the Internet, presumably in an attempt to prevent rallying and planning through social media.

On Jan. 28, protesters again hit the streets, defying curfew. Mubarak went on TV and said he would dismiss the government, but he himself would stay in power. He made Omar Suleiman, the head of military intelligence, the new vice president.

The protests continued, with Tahrir Square in Cairo becoming the center of them. Mohamad ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate who had been banned from the country, returned, and opposition began to coalesce around him. On Feb. 1, Mubarak again addressed the country, this time saying that he would not run for reelection, but declining to step down before then.

Clashes between protesters and police became more violent. Protesters continued to demand that Mubarak step down, and Mubarak continued to refuse. On Feb. 10, Mubarak announced that he would transfer power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, but that he would nominally remain president until new elections could take place. The statement only intensified protesters’ cries. Finally, one more day later, Mubarak announced that he would step down.

Since then, the military has taken control. It dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, which it is planning to revise.  The military is calling the process a “democratic transition” and plan to hold elections in six months. Currently, Egypt is experiencing labor strikes that began after Mubarak stepped down. The military has so far been unable to quell the strikes.


Protests in Libya began in January, when protesters, upset with the government, took over a housing project that the government was building but had been plagued with delays. The government gave the protesters the concession of a “$24 billion fund for housing and development,” CNN reports.

On Wednesday, protests erupted again, initially with people demanding the release of a human rights advocate. Using Twitter and Facebook, protests were planned for the next day to challenge Colonel Qaddafi, the dictator who has ruled Libya for 41 years. The protesters pronounced Wednesday a Day of Rage. Protests took place around the country, and continue today. The protesters are being met with security forces reportedly “using tear gas, batons, shotguns and grenades” to attack protesters.  CNN is reporting “At least 20 people were killed and 200 were injured” in Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya, on Friday.


Protests in Bahrain have been a regular occurrence since 2009, where tension exists between the majority Shiite Muslim population and the Sunni Muslim king and ruling family. Shiites are “marginalized,” according to the New York Times, and all but prohibited from serving in the security forces.

On Monday, protesters began demanding democratic reform and a constitutional monarchy, but the demands quickly intensified to the overthrow of the regime. The protests, which continued to rage on Friday, have been met by harsh attacks from the police with tear gas and rubber bullets. The government has cracked down on the protesters, with at least ten people dead so far. Another four people were killed Friday, CNN reports.

On Friday, the king offered the concession of $2,560 for each family in the country. On Saturday, protesters seemed to get a victory after “security forces withdrew and the monarchy called for peace after days of violent crackdowns,” the New York Times reports. Demonstrators happily took back Pearl Square, the site of early protests.

Bahrain is an ally of the United States, and the base of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, putting the U.S. in a difficult position.


In Yemen, like other countries, protesters are looking to get rid of their leader — in this case, President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been in power for 32 years. They are egged on by high unemployment, significant poverty among youth, and are calling for an end to corruption in the government as well as “political freedom,” CNN reports. Protests have become violent as anti-government protesters clash with pro-government groups. On Friday, a grenade was tossed into a crowd of protesters, and at least one person was killed.


In January, flour, sugar and other food prices went up in Algeria; combined with a lack of jobs and housing, the price increase kindled protests in the capital, Algiers, which spread around the country as neighboring countries began ousting regimes. As a concession, the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held power for 12 years promised to end the state of emergency that the country has been under for almost two decades.

On Feb. 12, a protest in Algiers was violently quelched by riot police as demonstrators demanded democratic reform. According to the New York Times, the motivations for uprisings are similar here as in other countries. “The repression, youth unemployment and large-scale corruption that provoked uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt exist here, too,” the newspaper reported.

The demonstrations are not permitted by law in a state of emergency, but opposition groups have said they will continue each Saturday. During the week, however, Algeria remained rather quiet. There has been speculation that the protesters are too small a portion of the population to effect any change.


Protests in Iraq began Friday, with demonstrators “demanding better jobs and improved living conditions,” UPI reports. They are also “angry about corruption, the quality of basic services, a crumbling infrastructure and high unemployment, particularly on a local level. They want an end to frequent power outages and food shortages,” according to CNN.

There are plans for a self-titled “Iraqi Revolution” for next Friday. The Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki indicated that he would allow the protests, assuming that the demonstrators go through the official channels to obtain permission.