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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La peur a changé de camp dans les pays arabes à régime autoritaire

by Françoise Germain-Robin

Fear has changed sides in the Arab countries with authoritarian regimes

Translated Thursday 3 March 2011, by Brian Bartell and reviewed by Henry Crapo

From Saudi Arabia to Algeria, the powers in place are taking urgent social actions, out of fear of being hit by the current revolutionary shock wave.

As Lebanese political scientist Ghassan Salamé emphasized yesterday “fear was changed sides” in the Arab world, and it is no longer the people who are paralyzed by repression, but the kings, emirs and other presidents- for-life who tremble before the people’s anger.

Suddenly, and urgently, they are taking rather late measures in the hopes of calming the revolutionary movement. The most spectacular of actions was taken Thursday by the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, who has hastily returned to his country after three months of absence. He has released 36 billion dollars to help young Saudis “get married, find work and housing.” Even though they have yet to face protests, the royal family trembles at the thought that Saudi Arabia could be contaminated by movements shaking neighboring Bahrain.

King Abdullah, incidentally, spoke Thursday night with Sheikh Hamad al-Khalifa, emir of that tiny country of 750,000 of which 70% are Shiites who can no longer stand the contempt and discrimination enforced by the Sunni dynasty in all aspects of life. King Abdullah and Sheikh Hamad al-Khalifa have, in unison, accused Iran of being behind the revolt and of setting sights on the island which was part of Persia until the 19th Century and which is today connected to Saudi Arabia by a 26 kilometer bridge.

The Saudi king is all the more unsettled in that he is surrounded by countries where contestations are taking place with varying degrees of strength:

— In Jordan continuing protests are demanding constitutional reforms, a truly representative Parliament, and the end of corruption.

— In Yemen the call for dialogue by President Saleh and a 50% decrease in income tax have not been enough to calm the anger.

— In Iraq protests took place throughout the country, despite the government’s release of one billion dollars in food aid to the most impoverished.

— In Syria, a country until now spared by the antiestablishment wave, Bashar al-Hasad has also reached into his pocketbook and released 14 billion dollars to create a social fund in order to improve the condition of the population.

— Finally in Algeria, President Bouteflika lifted Thursday a state of emergency in effect for 19 years, which won him the praise of Obama, who said: “This is a positive sign that the government of Algeria is listening to the concerns and responding to the aspirations of its people, and we look forward to additional steps by the government that enable the Algerian people to fully exercise their universal rights.”

Algeria has already taken fiscal steps to lower the price of necessities and has promised the creation of thousands of jobs to calm a youth that despairs for its future, as is proved by the increase in self-immolations. All of these countries have carried out massive purchases of grains to confront the rise in staple food prices, though thereby fueling speculation. They don’t seem to understand, however, though that more than bread, the people demand liberty.

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