Saturday, February 19, 2011

People power in Bahrain

The NYT's Nicholas Kristof reports from the ground (Manama, Bahrain) on some encouraging developments in the tyrannical Middle Eastern state:

There's delirious joy in the center of Bahrain right now. People power has prevailed, at least temporarily, over a regime that repeatedly used deadly force to try to crush a democracy movement. Pro-democracy protesters have retaken the Pearl Roundabout – the local version of Tahrir Square – from the government. On a spot where blood was shed several days ago there are now vast throngs kissing the earth, chanting slogans, cheering, honking and celebrating. People handed me flowers and the most common quotation I heard was: "It's unbelievable!"

When protesters announced that they were going to try to march on the Pearl Roundabout this afternoon, I had a terrible feeling. King Hamad of Bahrain has repeatedly shown he is willing to use brutal force to crush protesters, including live fire just yesterday on unarmed, peaceful protesters who were given no warning. I worried the same thing would happen today. I felt sick as I saw the first group cross into the circle.

But, perhaps on orders of the crown prince, the army troops had been withdrawn, and the police were more restrained today. Police fired many rounds of tear gas on the south side of the roundabout to keep protesters away, but that didn't work and the police eventually fled. People began pouring into the roundabout from every direction, some even bringing their children and celebrating with an almost indescribable joy. It's amazing to see a site of such tragedy a few days ago become a center of jubilation right now. It's like a huge party. I asked one businessman, Yasser, how he was feeling, and he stretched out his arms and screamed: "GREAT!!!!"

Many here tell me that this is a turning point, and that democracy will now come to Bahrain – in the form of a constitutional monarchy in which the king reigns but does not rule – and eventually to the rest of the Gulf and Arab world as well. But some people are still very, very wary and fear that the government will again send in troops to reclaim the roundabout. I just don't know what will happen, and it’s certainly not over yet. But it does feel as if this just might be a milestone on the road to Arab democracy.

I hope so, I really do. Certainly the recent developments in Egypt suggest that even the most entrenched tyrants can be overthrown (or at least forced out), even if so much uncertainty remains -- like, in Egypt, will there actually be liberalization and democracy or military rule and another strongman?

But there's reason to be optimistic. This isn't Islamism on the rise, after all. These pro-democracy movements -- in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Bahrain, and elsewhere -- are generally liberal/progressive and somewhat Western-oriented, and they might just manage to reshape the entire Middle East, if not the Muslim world generally. And it's not happening because Bush called for regime change and invaded Iraq, as the neocons would have us believe, but because courageous men and women have had enough and are standing up for their freedom, and what we're witnessing may very well be a sort of domino effect as the recognition that now is the time is spreading from one country to another.

It won't be easy. There will be a lot more bloodshed and it may take a long time for liberal democracy to take hold in some of these places. Consider how long it took in Europe, albeit long before the days of Facebook and Twitter. But these steps are necessary, the first steps to shed the yoke of tyranny, and this could well be an amazing moment in the history of freedom.

(You can find more at CNN, Aljazeera, the NYT (photo below), and the BBC.)

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  • Freedom and Independence are not free. Some one or many have to shed their blood. At last , people in middle east understand the peaceful way to get their freedom after many years.

    By Anonymous Sheela S, at 2:55 PM  

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