| (01 Feb 2011)
Historic events in the Arab world gripped the world’s attention in January. In Tunisia weeks of escalating riots and demonstrations over dire economic conditions, corruption and government repression culminated in the ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January. He was replaced by an interim government which announced the country’s first free elections since independence.
The direction of Tunisia’s transition, and its significance for the region, are not yet clear. But, assuming a successful transition, this could mark the first genuine popular revolt leading to a democratic government in the Arab world.
Inspired by the Tunisian uprising yet fuelled by their own long-standing grievances, hundreds of thousands took to the streets across Egypt towards the end of the month, protesting against authoritarian rule and poor living standards, and calling for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Over 135 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured during the initial police response. The army was deployed at the end of the month to curb increasing chaos and looting, but vowed not to use force against the protesters.
The situation in Egypt was rapidly evolving as CrisisWatch went to press on 1 February, with a major day of protests ongoing. Much will depend on the actions of the regime and of the army over coming days, and CrisisWatch identifies opportunities for the situation in Egypt to escalate or improve in February.
Events in Tunisia and Egypt have fuelled anti-regime protests elsewhere, including in Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Sudan.
In the South of Sudan, preliminary results of the landmark self-determination referendum indicate 99 per cent of voters in favour of secession. The peaceful conduct of the vote drew praise from international observers and President Omar al-Bashir pledged to support an independent South.
Elsewhere in Sudan the situation deteriorated, however, as clashes between the government and Darfur rebel groups intensified. Localised deadly clashes in Abyei signalled potential for further conflict as its future status remains unresolved. Anti-government protests in Khartoum and elsewhere at the end of the month, inspired by events in the Maghreb, were violently suppressed by the government.
A deadly attack at Moscow’s main airport killing at least 35 people was blamed on a suicide bomber from the Caucasus. The attack highlighted the gravity of the situation in Russia’s North Caucasus region, as President Medvedev and some senior parliamentarians linked the continuing insurgency to socio-economic problems.
In Albania, three people were shot dead and over a hundred injured during clashes between police and opposition supporters during anti-government protests.
CrisisWatch again identifies a conflict risk alert for Côte d’Ivoire as former president Laurent Gbagbo refused for a second month to hand over power to the elected president Alassane Ouattara.