Tag Archives: Protests

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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Egypt in the Army’s Hands

Further developments in Egypt! As you may have heard, the Army has been deployed in many parts of Egypt, effectively replacing the police.

The problem with this, from Mubarak’s perspective at least, is that the people love the Army.

While it wouldn’t quite be accurate to say that the Egyptian Army’s machine guns fire jelly beans and butterflies (actually, jelly beans would really do some damage at those speeds), the Army has thus far allowed protestors free (peaceful) reign of the streets, preventing only violent action and the destruction of government property. The people on the street certainly aren’t feeling pressured or threatened by this new military presence either. In fact, many civilians have been seen cheerfully chatting with soldiers as others hold up signs and shout “Down with Mubarak, down with the regime!”

The sentiment on the ground seems to be that the Army is taking the job of peacekeeping very literally, taking no aggressive action against civilians. Ironically, the heavily armed and armored military presence here is both more reserved and more welcome in Cairo than the notoriously violent police ever were.

The Army here has pulled coups in the past, and it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to me if the very troops Mubarak called on to maintain order were the same ones to take him out of the office he used to issue that command. Many people (this author included) think that the ultimate decision about Egypt’s political future is in the hands of the Egyptian Army. Nearly 500,000 troops strong, and led by generals of uncertain motives en rie Mubarak, the armed forces here will be the tipping point in the next few days and weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye on things over there!

PS! I’m posting a poll (which I’m guessing will get no responses cuz I don’t have readership yet) about whether Mubarak will remain in power! What do you think?

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Chaos in the Middle East

For those of you who have been reading the news lately, things have gotten a little crazy over in the Middle East as of late. Starting in December of last year, Tunisia had a little uprising, one that ended badly for then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a vaguely creepy-looking head of a corrupt authoritarian government. Ben Ali had been funneling money to his extended family and spending huge quantities on his and their pleasures as the rest of the country foundered (similar to what Louis XVI pulled back in the French Revolution).

This uprising (and overthrowing) in Tunisia was fairly alarming to other Arab leaders, as many of them led similar autocratic governments. And lo and behold, Egypt is foundering in political turmoil and civil unrest. The protests have spread not only to Egypt, but to Jordan and Yemen as well. Throw in the collapse of the Lebanese government, and you have a pretty big explosion waiting to happen.

Now, the way I see it, there’s two ways to look at this. The first might be a bit stupidly optimistic (and I consider myself something of a master of stupid optimism), but here goes. The governments in many of these countries are notorious for their authoritarian rule. The country on everyone’s mind right now is Egypt, so I’ll focus on them for a bit. The president of Egypt, a guy by the name of Hosni Mubarak, has been in power in Egypt for 30 years. Even if the Egyptian people had the option to elect someone else, 30 years is an egregious amount of time for one person to remain in power without the option of ousting said leader. So you could look at these protests in that way: An eruption of anti-autocratic sentiment, when the oppressed people rise up against the oppressors and break their chains.

Like I said, that’s the stupidly optimistic view. The other, more realistic view is of course more complicated. Egypt has always acted as one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, a region full of pies that America has dug its fingers into. While one can hardly say that Mubarak’s police state is humane or “American,” we risk losing a firm foothold in that part of the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these protests. People want Mubarak out, but it would seem there’s not much of a plan for a replacement (though I’m sure many people will present themselves as candidates). Chances are that if the government were to be replaced (and Mubarak with it), America would stand to lose a lot. But who knows? Maybe it’s about time we do.

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