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Thursday
Feb172011

'Freedom Fever' Spreading in Middle East

Photo Courtesy - ABC NewsReporters Notebook
by CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC News


(NEW YORK) -- As protests unfold Thursday in the Middle East, we are seeing a freedom fever spreading across the region that will not easily be broken.

It is happening for many different reasons in different parts of the world but with an important similarity: the demand for freedom.

They have shaken off the shackles of fear.  They are coming out.  How far it goes in each different place is uncertain at the moment.  But unless the militaries do come in and really crack down, these protests will continue.

In Iran, you saw on Monday that they did crack down but nonetheless they came out in the hundreds of thousands.

In Bahrain, we are seeing protests that have been at times quite violent.  And while Bahrain's protests are similar to Egypt, there are some important differences.

In Bahrain, we have a Shiite majority that is demonstrating for more rights.  For many years they have been living under a Sunni minority in power and what they want are more economic rights, more rights to be in a position of power.

The Bahraini royal family is Sunni and very close to the U.S.  In fact, the U.S. 5th fleet is there.  Bahrain is pro-Western and they had just recently been touting their progress in parliamentary and free assembly.  The Sunni king even went on television and allowed people to protest peacefully; so this crackdown is quite bad.

Over in Libya, where 14 people are already dead in protests this week and demonstrators are calling for a day of rage in several cities, again we see a leader who has been there for the last 40 years -- Moammar Gadhafi.

And then, in Yemen, we are seeing the seventh consecutive day of protests.  There, they did get the attention of the president -- another key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda.  He said he wouldn't run again for election and his son wouldn't run.  But now protesters are upping their demands for regime change.

Will we see regime change as we saw last week in Egypt?  It is too soon to say.

These countries are different, but by and large the protesters are there for the same reason: freedom, the ability to assemble, speak and choose their leaders.

The crucial differentiator will be, as ever, the willingness of the authorities to crackdown and crush the dissent. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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