Category Archives: Revolutions & Revolts

Wisconsin Shenanigans

One of the more popular protest signs in an area rife with division and legal controversy.

The political situation in Wisconsin just keeps getting more and more sticky. As you’ve probably heard by now, Republicans in the WI state Senate forced through their union-busting law through a tricky technicality – which seems like a pretty underhanded way of legislating to me.

What was this trickery? Well, the senators, using a ploy that some Democrats in the state have denounced as illegal, removed parts of Governor Walker’s bill that were related to appropriating funds (technically at least), which allowed them to pass the bill without the minimum quorum of 20 senators required for bills of that nature.

The Democratic senators who retreated to Illinois to hold the bill back, known by some as the “Wisconsin 14,” were outraged by the shifty legality of the Republican senators’ maneuver. And who can blame them? Even after all of their determination and the furious protests of state workers in the capital, the Republican senators have said, essentially, “Enough is enough.” The consequences of this decision are more or less exactly what Gov. Scott Walker wanted to happen: Unions have lost their collective bargaining abilities and have suffered an effective cut in pay.

To me, this seems like pure shenaniganery (which is now a word) on the Republicans’ part. Now, it’s true that these officials were elected by the people back in November for a reason, and that reason was a new desire for fiscal conservatism. So it makes sense that the newly elected Republicans would want to honor that desire by effectively cutting the pay of public workers. But what point could there be to taking away collective bargaining rights, except to slice into a stronghold of Democratic sentiment? The idea that “budget” came into the decision is frankly ridiculous.

On the positive side, this tactic has called the newly elected Republicans’ wisdom and discretion into consideration, and as many as 12 Senators may face recall this spring. The political fallout from this decision will no doubt be significant, and protests are still ongoing in Madison. So soon after the national turnover in elected officials from blue to red, it’s possible that new Republicans will be ousted from office before they can even get the rest of their plans into action.

With similar bills under consideration in Indiana and Ohio, and a national rethinking of the role and privileges of unions, it’s hard to say what might happen in other parts of the country. On the one hand, it’s possible that similar bills will be pushed through in other parts of the country, as Republican lawmakers are spurred forward to mimic their Wisconsinite brethren. On the other hand though, I think it’s quite possible that this can be a strong rallying cry for Democrats and public workers’ unions all across the country. Now, it’s possible for them to say, “Look what the Republicans here had to resort to to remove our rights! Don’t let them do the same thing to you.”

And even if no Republicans legislators are recalled after this, chances are this action hasn’t helped their street cred much, and we could see another total turnover in Wisconsin back to the democrats in the next election cycle. And if similar bills are passed elsewhere, by similar tactics, it’s quite possible that Republicans will lose a considerable amount of political momentum, perhaps even on a national level. Many people, even some who voted them into office, feel that GOP legislators and governors have taken the wrong approach to cutting the deficit, and are hacking away at things like collective bargaining rights, which is unlikely to save the country any money, instead of tackling real problems like social security or bloated military spending.

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Ever-Rising Tension in Libya

A rebel burns Green Books, a relic of Qaddafi's past military revolution.

The situation in Libya, which didn’t have a particularly pleasant start, seems to be continually deteriorating. Both sides, neither particularly well-organized or seeming to possess much of a plan, are arming themselves and drawing up plans that seem destined to lock them in an ever more-violent civil war.

This violence is even more striking when one considers the direction that the other prominent uprisings have taken as compared to this one. While protestors in Egypt and Tunisia managed to topple their governments with relatively little violence, and now are taking leaps and bounds toward progress, the revolts in Libya have quickly turned into a revolution, and again morphed into an outright violent rebellion.

I can hardly blame them for reacting this way. The protests began with peaceful sit-ins, but after Col. Qaddafi brutally attacked peaceful protestors in Tripoli, a stunned and appalled population turned against him, determined to have justice in the most expedient way possible. After taking much of the eastern part of the country (see map), the rebels have been gearing up for war. After a pro-Qaddafi attack on Zawiyah and rallies for the same in Tripoli, the tyrannical leader has shown that he really meant what he said about not letting go of power, claiming he would die as a martyr before he would “give up on his country.”

Yet even while Qaddafi tries to solidify his power and give the world the impression that the situation is under his control, the rebellion has become more and more defiant and determined. In fact, the political face and governing body (or the closest thing to a governing body) for the rebellion, the National Transitional Council, announced yesterday that it considered itself the “sole representative all over Libya.” As you can see, both sides seem determined to hold onto the power they have (and take more of it) until the bitter end.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the events of this rebellion seem strikingly similar to the events of the French Revolution, back at the turn of the 19th century. In both this rebellion and what I see as its French predecessor (in spirit at least), a group of revolutionaries unilaterally named themselves the sole government body that possessed any governing power, and grew increasingly resistant to an increasingly oppressive regime. There are, of course, key differences. First, the French version was very much focused in Paris, with the city being torn apart by conflict and drawn-out strife. In Libya, the factions have taken power in separate areas of the country, and both are gearing up for further struggle. Second, there is much more international involvement in Libya than there ever was in France, which could help things from becoming too excessively violent as they did in France. Finally, there will be a much different impact of this revolution than the one in France. In Libya, the largest impact on the international community, at least as I see it, is likely to be on the price of the oil we’ve become so dependent on.

No matter what similarities or differences there are between this revolution and the French one, I think that the rebellion in Libya is unlikely to have a resolution soon, in either direction. Both sides have become too stubborn and immovable to give any ground at this point. But with almost the entire international community on the side of the protestors, and with the UN and NATO considering further sanctions against Qaddafi, my vote is going to be cast in favor of the rebels. Even if Qaddafi manages to violently quash the growing rebellion, it would be impossible for him to reconstruct the country and the government in a way that would serve his interests. Too much of the country has turned against him, and he faces too much international pressure to keep holding on. While the rebels want no foreign military intervention, they seem to welcome the sanctions, asset freezes, and condemnations being directed at Qaddafi.

So! While I can’t be sure how things will end, I’m feeling optimistic for the rebels and their cause. With the back-up of the United Nations, a rising number of military defectors to their cause, and the power of having already caused irreversible change in their country, the Libyan Peoples’ Army and the rebels of Libya will seize the day eventually. The only question is, what will Libya become once they do?

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Libya on the Verge of Civil War

Worshippers in Libya, mourning the dead and looking to a brighter future.

Unrest and protest seem to be swiftly turning to outright civil war and rebellion in Libya, the North African country that seems likely to be the third to topple in the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world and North Africa. Unlike the other countries in which major protests have occurred or are occurring, Libya’s uprising has been an extremely bloody one, with Colonel Moammar Qaddafi using brutal and heartless attacks on his own people in an effort to hold onto power.

Following Friday Prayers in Tripoli, thousands of protestors poured out of mosques and stormed the streets in another concerted effort against Qaddafi. After a short while of marching, they were fired on by Qaddafi’s men and supporters, and at least several were killed or injured in the shooting. Qaddafi has begun turning the capital city of Tripoli into a stronghold of his remaining power and support, even as more eastern cities like Benghazi and Tobruk have fallen completely out of his control.

This has created a tense state of affairs in Libya, to say the very least. The rebellion has been building in the eastern cities of Libya, particularly Benghazi, and Qaddafi has been building up his defenses in the capital of Tripoli. This seems to me to be the beginning of the civil war that Qaddafi’s son said would come to pass if the Libyan people didn’t comply with the government, but the people seem ready and willing to fight it.

The network of protests, staged all across the country but focused in the east primarily, have begun to coalesce into what seems to be a greater revolutionary movement committed to opposing Col. Qaddafi and any of his allies. Many signs seem to be indicating that the opposition movement toward Qaddafi is more of a full-scale rebellion than an uprising, and there’s evidence that the war against his authoritarian regime is not going to be fought with words and political pressure, as was seen in Tunisia and Egypt, but with rocket launchers and automatic weapons.

Early on Friday, a speech delivered by Qaddafi (see 4th paragraph) attempted to galvanize the nation’s youth to defend their nation. Going so far as to say “Every individual will be armed,” he reiterated his intention to hold onto power no matter what. Qaddafi has given no signs of flexibility or even a pretense of reform to his people since the struggles in Libya began on the 15th, and because of this, the people have taken their protest to another level.

Since the city of Benghazi fell to the rebellion last Sunday, it almost seems as if two separate countries are taking shape within Libya. In fact, an opposition government is already taking form in Benghazi, as lawyers, judges, police, and defected military officers patch together a new, informal government in a city of more than 600,000. There’s still a lot of suspicion in the city, as it has become the epicenter of the rebellion against Qaddafi.

To me, it looks like Libya is in great danger of splintering into two countries, at least in a de facto sense. Rebel forces have taken almost complete control of the eastern parts of the country, and Qaddafi continues to centralize his power in Tripoli and surrounding areas. A number of prominent military leaders have joined the rebellion, offering their weapons, troops, and tactics. In fact, one leader, Colonel Tarek Saad Hussein, is purportedly leading an attack on Tripoli soon with a fairly substantial strike force armed with weapons expropriated from Qaddafi.

At this point, it really seems as if both sides are gearing up for a new level of conflict resolution of a kind waged with weaponry instead of words. Rebels talk of raids and attacks on Tripoli, and Qaddafi has sent veritable death squads into neighboring towns to try and clear out rebels. Time will only tell how this will resolve itself, but I’m sure that much more blood will be spilled before Libya quiets down.

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Unrest in… Wisconsin?

A protestor's sign in Madison, comparing Governor Walker to ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak.

Typically, when someone says the word “Wisconsin,” I don’t think of protests, civil unrest, and accusations of a governor’s similarity to Hosni Mubarak. But over the last few days, the state’s public workers have reacted strongly to Republican governor Scott Walker’s recent plans to require them to pay more for health insurance and pensions, effectively slicing away a substantial amount of worker income. More surprising are the governor’s hopes to severely castrate (unpleasant yet appropriate imagery) the bargaining rights of these union workers.

The governor has made the claim that such cutbacks are necessary in these tough economic times, and he and supporters have said that so-called excessive benefits and pay for public employees have contributed to the dire economic straits that many parts of the US find themselves in.

Now, it’s understandable that Walker would want to cut back on certain benefits and bonuses for state workers, and in fact, prominent union leaders have agreed to this cut in pay (which works out to around a 7% drop in income). But my real concern with Walker’s action isn’t about the financial side of things so much as the union rights aspect. While I can sympathize with a desire for cutbacks in spending in the public sector, I really fail to see what economic benefits the Republican bloc of Wisconsin hopes to find in the restriction of collective bargaining among unions.

Generally, I don’t have a fantastically high view of unions, to be perfectly honest. While I’m typically a very liberal thinker (and voter), I often find myself taking a more Republican view toward unions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have increased protection and fairness toward workers, particularly those in the lower or middle working classes, to prevent abuse from higher-ups. In this sense, I love unions. In another sense though, unions have the potential to elevate certain professions higher than they should be, and guarantee protections and privileges to only a few.

In this sense, I agree with supporters of the governor’s action (or at least their sentiment). In a recent New York Times article, a number of Wisconsinites have expressed their frustrations over the seeming extra protections that such unions provide to state workers. Many workers for private companies, especially in the industrial sector, feel that people such as public school teachers, policemen, nurses, or firefighters shouldn’t get such excessive benefits and bargaining rights when those working in the private sector don’t have those same bonuses.

And so it goes. I definitely wouldn’t say that these protests will have similar results to those in Cairo, as some seem to be hoping for. But they do raise an interesting and important question of the modern roles and rights of unions, and whether public workers do have this inherent right to collective bargaining. Either way, I think it’s fair to say that this right isn’t what needs to be taken into consideration right now. Walker and other Republicans are trying to turn a budget cut into an outright attack on union rights and union workers, using the excuse of a federal budget as a justification to hack into union power. I fail to see how collective bargaining is going to have a negative impact on Scott Walker’s budget, and it’s time he abandoned the argument that taking this right away will help his state’s economy.

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Genocide in Libya

The ruthlessly brutal Qaddafi, despot of Libya.

Determined to outdo his dictatorial Arab counterparts in violence, cruelty, and bloodshed, Col. Moammar Qaddafi (alternatively, Muammar al-Gaddafi) has declared outright war on his own people, ordering an effective open slaughter of Libyan protestors. The long-time revolutionary despot has surpassed any other attempts to suppress uprisings in this year of protest, at least in terms of raw, horrifying violence. Reports have indicated that hundreds have died in the protests, primarily in the cities of Tripoli (the capital) and Benghazi. Qaddafi has reportedly been using small air strikes, gunship attacks, hollow-point bullets, and ruthless mercenary forces against protestors in a bid to hold onto power, no matter what the cost to his own people.

As grim and appalling as this genocide is, there are signs that Qaddafi’s bloody grip is slipping away. A number of Libyan officials have taken a direct stand against him, including Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who has called for Qaddafi to leave the country immediately and has accused him of genocide. He even went so far as to say that Qaddafi has only a small number of days left, whether his departure is a voluntary one or one by (possibly violent) forced removal by the Libyan people. Besides Dabbashi, two Libyan pilots landed their jets after refusing orders to fire on protestors, defecting to Malta, and rumor has it that one of Qaddafi’s top generals disobeyed orders to fire on protestors and was subsequently put under house arrest.

It seems that Qaddafi’s Libya is tearing at the seams. With the opposition building in the east and a shockingly transparent declaration of war and proposal of possible civil war by Qaddafi’s son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, it now seems inevitable that Libya will either be torn from Qaddafi’s lifeless hand or torn apart by further unrestrained violence. I think it’s safe to say at this point that Libya’s protests have gone far past a point of no return. Even if he retains power, which seems nearly impossible, Qaddafi could never bring the country back to how it was before.

Libya looks to be quickly becoming the next domino to fall in the astonishing sequence of events that started only two months ago in Tunisia. While other oppressive leaders have shown the kind of restraint and deliberation that might at least earn them a little more time in power, Qaddafi has signed his eviction notice (if not his death sentence) by his atrocious response to protests in Libya. It’s only a matter of time before Qaddafi is gone. The real question is whether he’ll leave in a private jet or a coffin. As one Libyan, Abdel Rahman, said, “He will never let go of his power. This is a dictator, an emperor. He will die before he gives an inch. But we are no longer afraid. We are ready to die after what we have seen.”

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Mubarak is Gone!

Egypt is free!

On Friday night in Egypt, then-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak resigned from office and moved to the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. No flowery resignation speech, no final words, only an announcement from VP Omar Suleiman that he and the military would be taking power and helping to set up a new government.

This is completely astonishing, considering that, only yesterday, Mubarak made it clear that he intended to stay in office. Though many are still unsure what exactly went through his mind between then and now, it seems to me like Mubarak finally realized something that I would’ve thought of much sooner: “Do I really want to spend the last years of my life trying to hold together a country in revolution? Wouldn’t I much rather spend it at a resort on the Red Sea?” Well, that’s why I think he threw in the towel.

In all seriousness though, Mubarak’s resignation is a hugely significant event, not just for Egypt, but for the greater Middle East, and for America. Egypt has an opportunity to remake itself into the country it wants to be, but it needs to do things right, or it risks slipping again into the wrong hands. Like the French Revolution hundreds of years ago, this turnover of power has the potential to go bad. Now, I’m not saying that Mohamed ElBaradei is anything like Maximilien Robespierre, but there’s always the possibility  that another  corrupt government will fill the vacuum left by Mubarak. But I’m optimistic! The Egyptian people have shown their mettle over the last 18 days, proving that they simply will not tolerate the kind of state-of-emergency government established by Hosni Mubarak. In this author’s opinion, the Egyptian people have come too far to lose it all now, and there’s no way they’ll let another such government come into place.

That said, there’s still quite a bit to take care of. Many of Mubarak’s “security-driven” measures, such as the permanent state of emergency law and the skewed constitution, still need to be axed and safely replaced, and that will take some time. Besides that, all of those in power (and hoping for it) need to be extremely careful to set up a system that not only facilitates free and fair elections, but works hard to make sure this can’t be reversed. There’s a lot of work to do.

Egypt has finally gained the freedom it hoped for and deserved, and they must use it wisely. Having already become a beacon of hope to other oppressed peoples in the Arab world, Egypt must shine even brighter to show that they are certain to have a proud, democratic future.

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Blood in Tahrir

Egypt has been in turmoil for 11 days now. What started as smaller, peaceful demonstrations against Mubarak’s regime have grown exponentially to encompass the entire country. More than 2,000 American citizens have been evacuated from Cairo, and more on their way out.

But things took a terrible and bloody turn on Wednesday. As thousands upon thousands of anti-Mubarak protestors assembled in Tahrir Square, near the center of Cairo, armed “supporters” of Mubarak began to enter the square as well, after disembarking from buses that pulled up nearby. The men carried chains, rubber hoses, knives, clubs and all kinds of other makeshift weapons. At first, they simply chanted in support of Mubarak. But, as if each of them were following orders, they all began attacking the anti-government protestors at 2:15 pm, throwing rocks, pieces of metal, and all kinds of projectiles. There’s little suspicion among the anti-Mubarak group that these men were what are called “baltageya,” plain-clothes hired arms for Mubarak. In a way, they’re mercenaries. After a while, the anti-government protestors began to fight back, returning the attacks against the mercenary protestors. The battle raged well into the night, eventually progressing to use of homemade firebombs and live arms fire. More than 800 people were injured and at least 8 killed.

And the army just watched.

While the government-sanctioned violence in Tahrir was atrocious (in fact, President Obama has openly broken ties with Mubarak’s Egypt), it’s really not all that surprising. At this point, Mubarak has huge amounts of pressure on him from all sides: The United States, other important countries like Germany, Britain, and France, and most importantly, his own people. The bloodshed on Wednesday was tragic, but it showed the dedication of the Egyptian people to their cause of democracy. They’ve battled through brutal riot police and now their own fellow Egyptians (hired thugs really), and many of the anti-government protestors have said that they’ll either get the democracy they want or die right there in Tahrir Square. That’s dedication.

Mubarak’s already given significant ground to the protestors, but it’s not enough. It’s been made abundantly clear by the Egyptian people that his time is up, and they seem determined to keep the pressure on him until he steps down from power. It’s only a matter of time until his time is up.

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