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ARAB WORLD: Protests in Algeria and Yemen draw inspiration from Tunisia uprising

January 23, 2011 |  1:12 pm

Activists in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and even Albania  took to the streets this weekend demanding democratic reforms in their countries.  

Some expressed explicit support for the Tunisian people, calling for similar uprisings in their own countries. Others were more reserved. Jordanians directed their anger at the prime minister rather than trying to oust the royal family.

The popular demonstrations drew comparisons to the Tunisian protest movement that has captivated the world. But opinions remain divided on whether these events constitute a real threat to the ruling powers in those countries.

"The regime will always look strong until the day it collapses," Nadim Shehadi, from the London-based think tank Chatham House, told Babylon & Beyond. "It cannot look weak, because the minute it looks weak it is dead already."

Fresh protests erupted in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday after activist Tawakel Karman was arrested following two student demonstrations in support of the Tunisian protest movement that Karman helped organize, her husband confirmed to Reuters.

In Algiers, the main opposition party claimed that as many as 42 people were wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters on Saturday, according to the satellite news channel France24, which has reporters on the ground in the capital. Police reported seven wounded policemen and five arrests.

Several thousand people gathered in Amman, Jordan, on Friday protesting rising costs and unemployment.

Also on Friday, three protesters in the Albanian capital of Tirana were shot and killed –– one on video –– by government forces at a protest organized by the socialist opposition party.

The connection to the mostly Muslim Balkan nation of Albania is certainly less direct, but the role of social media, the timing of the protests and the reaction of the international community have attracted the interest of many who are following the events in Tunisia online.

So, is revolution in the air?

There have been some very eloquent "maybes" written on the subject by analysts, journalists, bloggers and other commentators. The consensus among many seems to be that a lot depends on the outcome of the Tunisian protest movement.

Shehadi said that while the protests may be connected, the events in Tunisia are an effect of regional shifts rather than a primary catalyst.

 "If you look at the history of the last 100 years or so, you find that when the mood changes in the region it changes throughout," he said.

"After the fall of the Ottoman Empire when you had sort of liberal, pro-Western elites trying to create democratic institutions, you saw the same phenomenon in Cairo, Baghdad, Algiers, even Kabul," he explained. "When you started having the military take over after 1948, it started with a couple of coup d'etats in Syria and then 10 years later the whole region is [run by] colonels, from Algeria all the way to Indonesia."

Shehadi believes a similar period of change could be happening, but recent history is also full of false starts. The opposition "green movement" that engulfed Iran in the wake of the contested 2009 presidential elections did not spark revolutions around the region, as some had hoped.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Video: Associated Press reports on the spread of protests to Algeria and Yemen, inspired by Tunisia. Credit: AP via YouTube

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