Intifada update

Friday protests erupt in Arab world
Protests erupted across much of the Arab world on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, with demonstrators killed in Syria and Yemen while Egyptians staged one of the biggest rallies since President Hosni Mubarak’s fall.
Syrian security forces killed 17 pro-democracy demonstrators and two were shot dead in Yemen. In Saudi Arabia local Shi’ites protested in the oil-producing east to call for the withdrawal of Saudi troops from neighboring Bahrain.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, perhaps the spiritual home of the Arab protest movement, crowds demanded Mubarak’s prosecution as discontent with military rule grows; but in Oman heavy security prevented a planned demonstration after Friday prayers. (Reuters)

Egypt rallies swell against military
Protesters poured into Tahrir Square in one of Egypt’s largest marches in two months, marking growing frustration among many here at the military’s perceived slowness in removing and prosecuting officials from the deposed regime.

Friday’s “Day of Trial and Cleansing” drew several thousand protesters, one of the biggest gatherings since President Hosni Mubarak was replaced on Feb. 11 by an interim high council of military officers, a show of the abiding strength of Egypt’s youth-led protest movement.

The gathering also demonstrated how the prosecution of lingering elements of the old regime, such as Mr. Mubarak and his top aides and officials, will be a critical task for Egypt’s military officers if they hope to maintain their high standing among the public.

“People feel they are not doing enough—and if they are doing enough, it’s too slow,” said Ahmed Wahba, 41, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is leading Egypt’s transition toward democracy. Mr. Wahba, who was protesting in the crowded square Friday, said the Egyptian public won’t be satisfied until they “see Mubarak in the middle of [Tahrir] Square, locked up or executed.” (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. was told of Yemen leader’s vulnerability
A billionaire Yemeni sheik met with a high-ranking officer from the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa less than two years ago and revealed a secret plan to overthrow President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s longtime autocratic ruler.

Hamid al-Ahmar, an opposition party leader and a prominent businessman, vowed to trigger the revolt if Saleh did not guarantee the fairness of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2011, according to a classified U.S. diplomatic cable summarizing the meeting. The sheik said he would organize massive demonstrations modeled on protests that toppled Indonesia’s President Suharto a decade earlier.

“We cannot copy the Indonesians exactly, but the idea is controlled chaos,” Ahmar told the unnamed embassy official. The embassy, however, was dismissive of the sheik, concluding that his challenge posed nothing more than “a mild irritation” for Saleh.

Today, Saleh is barely clinging to power amid a popular uprising in Yemen that is unfolding more or less along the lines that Ahmar predicted. Several previously undisclosed U.S. diplomatic cables, provided by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks, show that influential Yemenis and U.S. allies repeatedly warned U.S. diplomats of Saleh’s growing weakness in 2009 and 2010. But despite those warnings, the Obama administration continued to embrace Saleh and became increasingly dependent on him to combat an al-Qaeda affiliate that was plotting attacks against the United States from the Arabian peninsula. (Washington Post)

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