After the Tunisian protests in January 2011, 200 Omanis gathered in the capital city of Muscat to protest government corruption and demand a minimum wage increase. After a series of similar, relatively calm February protests, Sultan Qaboos bin Said increased the minimum wage of private sector workers, raised stipends for college students, and replaced six members of his cabinet. Further protests in the industrial city Sohar left some bloodshed, resulting in further government restructuring, most prominently elevating the role of parliament from advisory to legislative.
A major source of the country’s peace is the people’s love for the sultan. At age 70 and without an heir however, the sultan’s influence over Oman might not last much longer. Coupled with the country’s depleting oil supply, the source of its recent economic boom, experts are concerned for Oman’s future. Some factors are promising though: the new legislative role of parliament represents a promising move toward democracy, and the country’s friendship with the West and Iran will prove pivotal in future dealings between the two entities. ¶
Protests here against high food prices early last year eventually developed into a wider call for political reform. Rooted in criticisms of then Prime Minister Samir Rifai’s ineffectual policies and corrupt administration, the protesters’ calls for Rafai’s dismissal by the king succeeded. However, the monarchy remained largely free from criticism. Eventually, King Abdullah II replaced Rifai with ex-general Marouf al-Bakhit, but following additional slow economic growth, Bakhit himself was replaced by Awn al-Khasawneh, a former judge with the International Court of Justice.
Because the government has largely failed in attempts to placate the people, Jordanians have begun lodging complaints against the monarchy, Amman’s ultimate fount of political power. Interestingly though, these new protesters are different from before. Comprised of tribal members outside the cities, they are typically unwavering supporters of the monarchy. This underlies a shift in attitudes toward the existing power structure, and could pose a far more significant threat. ¶
Similarly, Algeria’s protests also began in response to food price hikes and evolved into a clarion call about problems including a 10 percent unemployment rate, police state restrictions, and the two-decade long state of emergency that has stifled public protests. Mimicking Tunisian protester Muhammed Bouazizi, ten protesters self-immolated or committed other such acts. In an attempt to counter this trend, the government halved food prices, and then afterwards lifted the state of emergency, allowing protests in all areas outside the capital. Finally, in an attempt to permanently resolve wthis, President Bouteflika, who has ruled the nation since 1999, announced parliamentary elections tentatively scheduled for May 10th this year.
Last February’s protests were considered ‘a key turning point,’ given the concessions extracted from the government. Indeed, activist Ali Rachedi of the Front of Socialist Forces party explained that protesters broken the ‘psychological barrier’ that previously hindered such popular action. However, the solutions proposed by the government seem are nominal and unsustainable: political concessions aside, continued economic stagnation in a country where 70 percent of the population is under age 30 represents a fundamental challenge to = government’s stability. Coupled with new dissatisfaction of the disbanded Communal Guards, the state militia that has been fighting terrorist forces, Algeria remains a kettle of volatile forces reaching its boiling point. ¶