Is Wisconsin Our Egypt? 15,000 Protest Off-the-Wall Right-Wing Governor’s Policies

Rose Aguilar, Alternet
The people power in Wisconsin has become too big for the local and national media to ignore. Just a few weeks ago, Milwaukee Labor Press editor Dominique Paul North told me that workers’ rights rallies receive very little media coverage compared to Tea Party rallies. Last month, over 700 people gathered outside the Wisconsin State Capitol to the hold the state’s first ever anti-inauguration rally, but it got very little coverage in the local media. Numbers clearly matter.

On February 15, an estimated 15,000 citizens, including union and non-union workers, surrounded the state capitol to express opposition to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip the state’s 175,000 public employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights and require them to make larger contributions to their pensions and health insurance plans.

“In Wisconsin we’re smart enough to know the truth. We know what this is all about. It’s about breaking the back of the middle class,” AFSCME International president Gerald McEntee told the crowd. [Watch WBAY-TV’s coverage.]

Mike Imbrogno, a shop steward in AFSCME Local 171, told the Socialist Worker’s Aongus O’Murchadha how union members surged inside the capital building, chanting their demands.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It wasn’t just teachers and union members from the University of Wisconsin (UW), where I work. There were Steelworkers, Teamsters, Pipefitters, building trades unions and more–unions I’ve never seen at a rally in 10 years,” he said. “The most amazing thing is when the firefighters came in a delegation. Along with police, Walker has exempted firefighters from the legislation, but they came with signs that said, ‘Firefighters for workers’ rights.’ People were crying.”
(17 February 2011)
A 7-page article. Are we looking at the start of Johann Hari’s “US Uncut”?-KS

Unrest Spreads, Some Violently, in Middle East

Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times
From northern Africa to the Persian Gulf, governments appeared to flounder over just how to outrun mostly peaceful movements, spreading erratically like lava erupting from a volcano, with no predictable end.

The protests convulsed countries across the Middle East on Thursday , with riot police launching a sudden crackdown on thousands of people challenging the monarchy in Bahrain, firing shot guns, tear gas and concussion grenades into a tent camp to send demonstrators fleeing under clouds of stinging fumes. At least five people were reported killed.

In Yemen, demonstrators for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh fought a seventh straight day of running street battles on Thursday and police fired automatic rifles into the air to try to keep the sides apart.

The violence continued a catalog of unrest Wednesday, when continued strikes over long-suppressed grievances continued in Egypt and a demonstrator’s funeral in Iran turned into a brief tug of war between the government and its opponents.

Even in heavily policed Libya, pockets of dissent emerged in the main square of Benghazi, with people calling for an end to the 41-year rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Protesters using the now familiar weapon of social networking sites to organize dissent called for a “Day of Rage” on Thursday in Tripoli to intensify the challenge to Colonel Qaddafi.

Iraq, accustomed to sectarian conflict, got a dose of something new on Wednesday: a fiery protest in the eastern city of Kut over unemployment, sporadic electricity and government corruption.

The unrest has been inspired partly by grievances unique to each country, but many shared a new confidence, bred in Egypt and Tunisia, that a new generation could challenge unresponsive authoritarian rule in ways their parents thought impossible…
(17 February 2011)

Revolution on the Nile: Lessons for Africa

Nicolo Gnecchi, Red Pepper
Popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have caused seismic reactions across the Arab world. Yet the importance of these 21st century democratic revolutions for the rest of Africa cannot be overlooked, says Nicolo Gnecchi.

Protests inspired by the movements in Tunisia and Egypt have already spread to Algeria and Iran, with journalists quick to follow suit. Meanwhile, in the West African nation of Gabon, thousands have taken to the streets of the capital, Libreville, in protest against the rule of Ali Bongo Ondimba. The son of long-standing strongman Omar Bongo, Ondimba is accused of siphoning over $100 million from the tiny, oil-rich country between 1985 and 1997. The lack of mainstream media coverage does not hide the violent repression that the people of Gabon have faced. While the popular grievances and nature of the regimes certainly differ north and south of the Sahara, the recent African revolutions have had significant symbolic influence throughout the continent. Emphasising the point, one protester in Gabon held a banner reading: “In Tunisia, Ben Ali left. In Gabon, Ali Ben out.”

Predictably, official reactions to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions South of the Sahara have been muted. But it is early days yet. Africa, like the rest of the world, might still be coming to grips with the significance of this extraordinary display of people-power. Certainly, Mugabe, Museveni (Uganda), Biya (Cameroon) and Bongo, along with Africa’s other autocratic rulers, cannot ignore it for much longer. Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s defence minister and close ally of Robert Mugabe, has already issued an ominous warning, declaring earlier this week:

“Those who may want to emulate what happened in Tunisia or what is happening in Egypt will regret it because we will not allow any chaos in this country.”…
(17 February 2011)

Bahrain: why it matters to Saudi Arabia

Barney Jopson, Financial Times
Bahrain’s military has just seized control of much of the capital after clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police. The violence has got many people outside the Middle East looking at the island state for the first time. But does it matter to business and investors?

The answer is yes. Not so much because Bahrain is a financial centre and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. But because Bahrain has the potential – belied by its tiny size – to inspire political ructions in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer. That explains why the protests have exacerbated jitters in the Middle East’s already shaky stock markets.

The Bahrain protests are led by resentful Shia Muslims, who live in the only country in the world where a Shia majority population is ruled by a Sunni minority. They make up 60 to 70 per cent of the population and are demanding more political freedom from the ruling al-Khalifa family.

The family has close relations with Saudi Arabia’s Sunni rulers (part of the majority in that country) and it is via Sunni-Shia relations that events in Bahrain could have repercussions in Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by the 25km King Fahd Causeway…
(17 February 2011)

Oil rises to $104 a barrel amid Middle East tensions

Ben Harrington, The Telegraph
Brent crude rose above $104 a barrel late on Wednesday and remained there on Thursday after Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said two Iranian warships planned to sail through the Suez canal en route to Syria.

Aside from fresh Israel-Iran tensions, oil traders are also worried about unrest in Bahrain, where riot police killed protestors, and oil-rich Libya.

They fear the kind of disturbances that toppled the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia could spread to other oil-producing Middle East nations.

“Troubles in the Middle East are back on the agenda, protests in Bahrain and Saudi have drummed up political tension,” said Rob Montefusco, an oil trader at Sucden Financial.

Ken Hasegawa, a commodity derivatives manager at Japan’s Newedge brokerage, said oil could easily hits $105 today, depending on the economic data out of the United States later…
(17 February 2011)

A New Sense of Populist Empowerment Grips the Middle East

Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post
Across the Middle East, protesters clashed with pro-government mobs and security forces Wednesday and Thursday, the latest sign that the tools of repression that leaders in the region have relied on for years are now, instead, propelling more people to the streets.

In Bahrain, hundreds of police officers broke up a protest that had brought thousands to the heart of the country’s financial district to demand sweeping political reforms. At least two people were reported killed in the predawn raid Thursday, just days after two protesters were killed in another crackdown by security forces.

This time, authorities surrounded a makeshift encampment in Manama, the Bahraini capital, before firing tear gas and ammunition to clear protesters. They acted hours after some demonstrators called for the ouster of Bahrain’s prime minister, a member of the ruling family who has served for nearly 40 years, and even an end to the monarchy.

In Libya, after authorities put down a small protest Tuesday, they were confronted with uprisings in three cities Wednesday. And in Iran, skirmishes broke out between critics and supporters of the government, a day after hard-liners called for the execution of two opposition leaders.

Hundreds of Yemenis demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh also took to the streets for a sixth straight day, with protests spreading across three cities. In the southern city of Aden, two protesters were reported killed and eight injured in clashes with security forces, according to local news reports. In retaliation, protesters raided a local government council building and burned four vehicles, witnesses said.

“The fear factor has been broken,” declared Mohammed Abu Lahoum, a top ruling party member and influential tribal leader who said Yemen’s regime needs to learn a lesson from the uprisings and make compromises to satisfy the people…
(4 February 2011)