KAIROS commentary on demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa

4 February 2011

Reverberations from street protests in Tunisia and Egypt continue to be felt around the Arab world, and unrest is spreading. The first spontaneous protests broke out in Tunisia, aimed at its autocratic government. They have since spread across the region. Demonstrators gathered on the streets of Yemen last week for a ”day of rage” against their government. Syrian activists are planning to hold demonstrations in front of parliament in the capital, Damascus, and the Algerian government is trying to defuse tensions by saying it would lift its 19-year state of emergency. The King of Jordan dismissed his country’s government in an attempt to fend off unrest there.

Protests have now spread from Egypt to northern Sudan, where KAIROS works in partnership with the Sudan Council of Churches and recently assisted in monitoring Southern Sudan’s referendum on self-determination. While gatherings have mostly remained small they have been nonetheless widespread. Hundreds of arrests and beatings have fragmented the development of a large movement in Sudan, with reports of 40 to 50 activists detained or missing.

In the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, dozens of protesters gathered on Tuesday February 1 in Jackson Square, one of the principal bus depots in Khartoum, in part to denounce a recent spike in food prices, but also inspired by political unrest in Tunisia and Egypt. Human rights activists say as many as 30 people may have been arrested there and that protests have spread to Khartoum’s twin city across the Nile, Omdurman.

To date most of the demonstrations across the region have remained non-violent, with clashes in Cairo led by pro-government forces sparking the first extensive violence. Many of the demonstrations are spontaneous, both religious and secular, and led by young people who have known only the governments currently in power. Demonstrators are taking grave risks in the context of states with repressive laws, poor human rights records, and large security forces.

KAIROS remains concerned for the lives and welfare of demonstrators throughout the region. Students, citizens’ groups, and people in each of these countries are claiming greater freedom, protection of their rights including freedom of speech, democracy, and participation within government. In short, they continue to peacefully protest the lack of dignity in life under repressive regimes.

These people need the support of Canadians and our government.

KAIROS joins with others in Canadian civil society in calling on our government to  recognize these demonstrations as a call for basic rights: for democracy, civil and political rights and freedoms, and greater economic equality. KAIROS condemns the attacks on journalists that have begun to mark the demonstrations in Egypt, and we call on the Canadian government to use all available channels to press for the safety and basic rights of all human rights defenders in Egypt, Sudan and beyond.

For more information contact John Lewis, KAIROS Human Rights Program Coordinator, 1 877 403 8933 x233 or jlewis@kairoscanada.org

Filed in: Africa


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