By JUDI CHENG and LISA GOODMAN
The spirit of revolution is spreading through many countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Large and angry protests in Tunisia succeeded in kicking out a dictator, and this inspired people throughout the region who are unhappy with government corruption (stealing) and mistreatment of citizens.
People in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria, Iran, Sudan, Bahrain and Libya have also come out onto the streets to protest, most demanding that their rulers step down. Many of these rulers have been heavily supported by the U.S. government.
In the Middle East, as in the United States, there is a small class of wealthy people, along with larger middle, working and poor classes. The extreme wealth of a small percentage of the population causes resentment and frustration among the rest, who may not be able to find work or buy the food they need.
In response to mainly peaceful protests, the governments in the region have used violence, sending in military troops and police. Still, the people of Tunisia and Egypt successfully forced out their dictators and world attention is tuning in to see who will fall next.
The question is, even if the ruler is kicked out, how much will people’s lives change for the better? Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst at Al Jazeera English, offered his opinion on the Democracy Now! news program: “I think it’s a work in progress, and I think, sooner rather than later, we will see also the regimes being swept away after their symbols, their faces, have already left the scenes.”
Here are four of the many countries in the Middle East and North Africa where citizens are demanding changes in their government:
Population: 10.5 million; 3.8% below the poverty line
Percentage of the population unemployed: 13%
Annual U.S. economic aid: $1.9 million
Annual U.S. military aid: $13.7 million
Government: President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was president for 23 years. His government was supported by the U.S. and France. Tunisia won its independence from its colonial occupier, France, in 1956.
People’s main complaints: Not enough jobs; police are known for spying on, imprisoning and torturing people
Update: On January 14, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after 29 days of protests which began in December 2010. “For the first time in decades, people could speak their minds without fear of being snatched by the secret police,” wrote Stuart Schaar, professor at Brooklyn College who is now living in Tunisia, in The Indypendent. Tunisia’s revolution became known as the “Jasmine Revolution” because jasmine is Tunisia’s national flower.
Population: 6.4 million; 14% below the poverty line
Percentage of the population unemployed: 12%
Annual economic aid received from the U.S.: $578 million
Annual military aid received from the U.S.: $238 million
Government: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been a dynasty since 1921. Jordan’s latest ruler, King Abdullah II, has been in power since 1999, and is heavily backed by U.S. funding.
People’s main complaints: Rising food prices; not enough jobs; poverty
Update: King Abdullah II fired his government’s cabinet and prime minister on February 1, in an attempt to end street protests. The Jordanian people continue to protest for meaningful political and economic reforms.
Population: 34.5 million; 23% below the poverty line
Percentage of the population unemployed: 10%
Annual economic aid received from the U.S.: $11 million
Annual military aid received from the U.S.: $.9 million
Government: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ruled for over three terms since 1999. Algeria was a French colony before the people won independence in 1962.
People’s main complaints: High food prices; not enough jobs; lack of housing and healthcare; dishonest presidential elections
Update: Police disrupted demonstrations of thousands of people by breaking up the crowds so they could not march. Responding to the demand for him to leave, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to lift the state of emergency that has been in effect for 19 years. This would end the government’s ban on public gatherings.
Population: 23.5 million; 45% below the poverty line
Percentage of the population unemployed: 14%
Annual economic aid received from the U.S.: $171 million
Annual military aid received from the U.S.: $3.8 million
Government: President Ali Abdallah Saleh has ruled for 28 years since he came to power in 1978 by military force. He is strongly supported by the U.S. government.
People’s main complaints: Hunger; illiteracy; not enough jobs (especially for young people); poor education; government corruption
Update: President Saleh is under intense pressure to resign, as the citizens of Yemen – both young and old – demand that he step down. He says he will only step down when his term is up in 2013.
Sources: New York Times, C.I.A. World Factbook; U.S. A.I.D. (economic and military aid is from 2009)