There was peaceful protest in the capital of Djibouti on Friday. Protesters gathered near the governmental palace to protest against the current Djibouti president Mr. Ismail Omar Gelleh. The Police escorted the protesters after the Friday sermons along the major street that leads from the Djibouti International Seaport to the governmental palace in the business district of the country. The protesters shouted slogans that denounced the current president and demand him not to seek another six-year term. Demonstrators carried signs and large banners that called for more liberty and for political and social reform
This protest coincided with the events taking place in neighboring countries in the region like Tunis, Egypt and Yemen. Last Friday, was the tipping point in Egypt, where thousands of people defy the imposed national curfew and took to the street to demand for President Husseini Mubarak to step down. It seems the spark of Tunis revolution is catching on and spreading throughout the region. In neighboring Yemen, thousands of people have gathered on Friday also to demand for president Salah to step down. With access to more information through the Internet, people feel empowered to demand for more liberty and rule of the law in a region known for lack of democracy.
The demonstration in Djibouti was peaceful and small in comparison. There was no any report of violence or clashes with the security forces. Organizers from different opposition parties had permission from the Interior Ministry to march on that day. Unlike Egypt and Tunis, the demonstration was not organic eruption of public frustration with current status quo, but rather more focused to demand for the current president not to seek another term and allow opposition leaders to compete more freely.
In addition of political demand, demonstrators complained about high unemployment and dissatisfaction with economic conditions. Residents of poor parts of the capital, who feel marginalized by high unemployment and poor living conditions, joined the demonstration to express frustration with current economic opportunities. The largest district in Djibouti, Balbala, which is on the outskirt of the capital, has been the center of public dissatisfaction with the current president. Residents in Balbala have been suffering from shortage of running water, blackout, lack of basic infrastructure and joblessness.
Current Djibouti president Ismail Omar Guelleh has been in power since 1999 after replacing his uncle as the leader of the ruling party. He lifted the constitutional limit to run for a third six-year term at the end of this year. The country has been without creditable opposition for last 15 years, after the largest opposition group (The Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, FRUD) signed agreement with current government and joined in to form a unity government. With absolute majority in the parliament, the current ruling party has modified the constitution to allow the current president to run for a third term. Number of prominent opposition leaders have accused the government of corruption and self-serving power manipulations.
Djibouti, a former French colony which separates Eritrea from Somalia, hosts France’s largest military base in Africa and a major U.S. base. Its port is used by foreign navies patrolling busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia to fight piracy.