Revolutionary updates: 21 March

Aside from Libya, which is getting wall-to-wall media coverage, here are some other noteworthy events from the weekend:


In the southern city of Deraa, protesters clashed with security forces on Sunday, for the third day running. Numerous buildings associated with the regime were set on fire, including Syriatel (the mobile phone company owned by President Assad's corrupt cousin, Rami Makhlouf). The Omari mosque was turned into a makeshift hospital (video). Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya have reports on the situation in Deraa.

Smaller protests have been reported in other parts of the country, mostly resulting in dispersal and arrests.

As I suggested on Friday, it does seem that an uprising in Syria is now under way, though still in its early stages. The picture is likely to become clearer today. March 21 marks the start of the Kurdish new year (Nawroz) – which has often been a time for agitation by Syria's Kurdish minority. In the light of disturbances elsewhere in the country, they may see this as an opportune moment for some action.


Saturday's referendum on constitutional amendments produced a 77% "yes" vote: 14 million in favour, four million against. Many activists (though not all) had been opposing the amendments, seeking an total overhaul of the constitution instead.

Issandr el Amrani discusses the referendum on the Arabist blog, while Sandmonkey considers the struggle ahead.


Following the massacre of demonstrators on Friday and the declaration of a 30-day state of emergency, President Salih dismissed his cabinet (though he has asked members to stay on until a new government can be appointed). This brings to mind the old quip about rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

The Yemen Observer suggests this is a step towards forming a national unity government – allegedly in reponse to Saudi-led mediation (!). If so, the question now is how many opposition figures will be willing to help Salih by becoming ministers in his hour of need.

Dismissing the government could also be a move to forestall any further resignations. In a separate article, the Yemen Observer says "Politicians and academics are continuing to turn their backs on the ruling General People's Congress." The human rights minister, Huda al-Ban, resigned at the weekend – the third minister to do so since protests escalated last month. The Yemen Times has more on the resignations.


Peaceful demonstrations, attended by thousands, took place on Sunday in Casablanca and several other Moroccan cities. (in French) has a series of photos and videos. News reports: al-ArabiyaAFP and Reuters. AFP says:

"The call for demonstrations was backed by the youth wing of the Justice and Charity movement, regarded as Morocco's main Islamist movement, and by several human rights bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH)."

Reuters notes: The Socialists' USFP party announced late on Saturday that it would join the protest – the first government coalition party to do so.

Complaints about corruption and lack of civil rights figured strongly in the protests.

On March 9, the king made a speech promising a series of reform but this does not appear to have dampened the protests. Reuters quotes a government official as saying that the numbers on the streets on Sunday were "at least as many" as those who protested on February 20, before the king's speech.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 21 March 2011.