Amanpour: 'Freedom Fever' Spreading in Middle East

Iran, Bahrain, Libya and Yemen protesters are taking to the streets in droves.

Feb. 17, 2011 -- As protests unfold today 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 Arab 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 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, 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.

And the Sunni king even went on television and allowed people to protest peacefully; so this crackdown is quite bad.

Protests Spread to Libya, Yemen

And then, of course, in Yemen, we are seeing the seventh consecutive day of protests. And 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.