Anti-Government Protesters Rally On In Libya, Bahrain

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Flashpoints of violence in Libya and Bahrain continue to keep international attention on North Africa and the Middle East. In Libya, government forces are reportedly moving on rebel stronghold of Benghazi. While, in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, security forces have attacked and expelled protesters from Pearl Square in the capital, Manama. Demonstrators had been camped in the square for weeks. Host Michel Martin discusses these developments with Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera International Washington Bureau Chief.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're going to spend some time now on developments in the Middle East and North Africa. The fighting in Libya continues as pro-government forces fight back against those who want to end Gadhafi's 42-year rule. Caught in the middle are hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, especially black Africans who are now under threat as suspected mercenaries. We will hear from one migrant worker from Nigeria and we'll hear about his dramatic escape with his very young children and we'll hear about conditions on the border.

But first, we want to understand the latest about the situation there. There have been many developments in recent days, so we've called upon, once again, Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera International. He's with us in our studios in Washington. Abderrahim, thanks so much for joining us once again.

Mr. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA (Washington Bureau Chief, Al Jazeera): Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, let's go to Bahrain first. The soldiers and riot police attacked and expelled protesters from Pearl Square where the opposition had been camped for some weeks. And this news comes after more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops arrived in Bahrain and the king declared a state of emergency. Can you help us understand what this means?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, basically, the Saudis have been feeling very nervous about what's been going on in Bahrain over the last few weeks because the fear in Saudi Arabia is that if the protests catch on in Bahrain, and the regime is toppled there or if the regime, the monarchy is forced to offer big fundamental concessions to the protesters, then the contagion would spread to Saudi Arabia and the monarchy there would feel under threat.

So they've worked out this deal whereby they've deployed the - what's called (unintelligible) or the peninsula shield, which is a force, a joint force from various gulf countries in Bahrain to deal with the protests. Although now many Bahrainis are saying that that force was not designed to deal with civil unrest in any individual gulf country. It was actually supposed to deal with external threats to that country.

And a lot of Bahrainis are calling now the Saudi intervention, together with intervention with forces from United Arab Emirates and other gulf countries, an invasion of Bahrain. So it's getting...

MARTIN: But were they invited, though, by the regime?

Mr. FOUKARA: They were invited by the regime, but you have to understand that the regime was under tremendous pressure from the government of Saudi Arabia to actually deal with the protests, and we saw in the early stages of the protest that the government of Bahrain actually moved in very heavily trying to crush it. It didn't work. So they backed down and said let's have a dialogue. But they came under tremendous pressure from the government of Saudi Arabia to do something about it.

MARTIN: And this, as I understand it, is the first cross-border action since the series of revolts began in the Arab world. And I'm just interested in what you think. Is there a domino effect of that? Do you think that there are broader implications of that? Or is there a precedent for this?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, there are clearly broader implications for that. You know, when the revolution, as it was called, happened in Tunisia and then it spread to Egypt, inevitably it led to a euphoria in the region that things will begin to change. The pace of change, the pace with which the regime collapsed in Tunisia and in Egypt, led people to believe that it was going to be like that throughout the region. Turned out that as we're seeing in Bahrain, as we have also been seeing in Libya, that Arab spring, as it's called by many people around the world, particularly in the region, may not be around the corner yet.

MARTIN: And let's go to Libya now. It does appear that Gadhafi's forces, the pro-government forces are now moving toward Benghazi, which has been the seat of the, you know, opposition. What is the latest there? Do you - I know it's obviously a very chaotic situation on the ground, but what is your assessment of the latest there?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, as you say, it's still very unclear exactly what's going on because Libyan television, Gadhafi's television out of Tripoli, is saying that they've controlled the town of Ajdabiya, which is really crucial to getting to Benghazi, which is the capital of the opposition. And from there on, Saif al-Islam, the son of Gadhafi, has been saying that they will be - it'll be all over in 48 hours.

The opposition and the rebels have been painting a different picture. They're saying that it's not a done deal yet in Ajdabiya and that Benghazi is heavily fortified and that it would be very difficult for Gadhafi's forces to capture it. Although yesterday we heard of reports of gunfire in Benghazi itself. It's not very clear yet even if he got to even if Colonel Gadhafi's forces get to Benghazi, it's not very clear what would happen there, because the reports are suggesting that if the rebels drag him into a guerilla warfare, urban warfare in Benghazi, if that happens, then obviously the situation will be very different.

MARTIN: You know, the Arab League has put its support behind imposing a no-fly zone on Libya. The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on a resolution later this week, or next week. How significant is that? Or is it too late?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, a lot of people are saying too late. We've suddenly heard the French foreign minister. And we know that the French have been spearheading the campaign to actually slap a no-fly zone over Libya. And we heard the French foreign minister saying that it's too late now. Although what he meant is that it's too late - the West, whether including the United States or others, should deliver strikes against Gadhafi's positions, and that's the only thing that would help.

But there are certainly people who are saying that the no-fly zone is too late. Now, not to the rebels, because the rebels are still insistent that it would help them. It would at least provide a psychological support to them against the forces of Gadhafi.

MARTIN: And finally, Secretary of State - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the site of Egypt's successful revolt, Tahrir Square, where Egyptians gathered and camped out, you know, for days and for weeks. I just want to play a short clip of what she had to say, one of her remarks there.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): The United States stands ready to help in every way possible to translate what happened in Tahrir Square and to the new reality for Egypt.

MARTIN: As, of course, you know, 'cause you've reported this, there's been a lot of discussion about the U.S. role in this. How is her visit there being received regionally?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, there are two things about her visit to Egypt in particular. Egypt, and as we said earlier, when we're talking about the Arab spring, a lot of Egyptians are very hopeful about what their revolution has achieved so far. But there are also other Egyptians who feel that the optimism may be a little too overstated because now they're coming to realize that the army was not actually always the protector of the revolution.

They're accusing the army of undertaking torture even while the revolution was going on in Tahrir Square. So that's one part of it. The other part of it is that while the secretary of State was talking about supporting democracy in Egypt, a lot of people in the region are saying the United States is not doing enough in Libya, and that obviously casts a shadow over the U.S. role throughout the region.

MARTIN: Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera International. He's kind enough to visit us from time to time and keep us up to date on these ongoing and important events in the region. He was kind enough to join us in our NPR studios in Washington, D.C. Abderrahim, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. FOUKARA: Great to be with you, Michel.

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