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Egypt effect felt across Mideast

Revolt inspires range of protests unique by nation

More than 1,000 protested in Yemen for a fourth day yesterday, demanding political change. More than 1,000 protested in Yemen for a fourth day yesterday, demanding political change. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)
By Brian Murphy
Associated Press / February 15, 2011

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The possible heirs of Egypt’s uprising took to the streets yesterday in several parts of the Mideast: Iran’s beleaguered opposition stormed back to central Tehran. Demonstrators demanded more freedom in Bahrain. And protesters in Yemen pressed for the ouster of their ruler.

The protests — all with important implications for Washington — offer an important lesson about how groups across the Middle East are absorbing the message from Cairo and tailoring it to their own aspirations.

The heady themes of democracy, justice, and empowerment remain intact as the protest wave works it way through the Arab world and beyond. However, the objectives change. The Egypt effect, it seems, is elastic.

“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing,’’ said Mustafa Alani, a regional analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “Each place will interpret the fallout from Egypt in their own way and in their own context.’’

For the Iranian opposition — not seen on the streets in more than a year — it’s become a moment to reassert its presence after facing relentless pressures.

Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with security forces along some of Tehran’s main boulevards, which were shrouded in clouds of tear gas. At least one civilian was killed.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed support for the Iranian demonstrators, saying White House officials “very clearly and directly support the aspirations’’ of the protesters. She also criticized Iran’s government for claiming to support prodemocracy protesters in Egypt while repressing dissent at home.

Bahrain is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, one of the Pentagon’s main counterweights to Iran’s attempts to expand influence in the Persian Gulf. Yemen’s militant networks offer safe haven for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has launched several attacks against the United States.

The Yemen protests, which entered their fourth day yesterday, are about speeding the ouster of the US-allied president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has promised he would step down in 2013.

More than 1,000 people, including lawyers in their black courtroom robes, joined the protests in the Yemeni capital of Sana — a day after police attacked antigovernment marchers with sticks and daggers.

Protesters in the tiny Gulf nation of Bahrain are not looking to topple its monarchy. But their demands are no less lofty: greater political freedom and sweeping changes in how the country is run.

The Bahrain demonstration yesterday was more violent. Security forces fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and birdshot pellets at thousands of antigovernment protesters heeding calls to bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf. At least 25 people were injured, and one man died after suffering severe head trauma.

Police later used vans and other vehicles to block main roads into the capital of Manama to prevent a mass gathering that organizers intended as an homage to Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

“We are experiencing a pan-Arab democratic moment of sorts,’’ said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “For opposition groups, it comes down the question of, ‘If not now, when?’ ’’

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