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Arab revolt round-up

Written By: - Date published: 1:50 pm, March 21st, 2011 - 41 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags: , , ,

There’s a hell of a lot happening in the Middle East right now, with protests and violence from Morocco to Bahrain. It seems likely that more governments will fall in coming days. In every instance, these revolts appear to be genuinely grassroots movements. The West is turning a blind eye to some government crackdowns. Its support for democracy is overridden by the need for stability to secure its oil supply.

Libya: Acting on the UN mandate, US, Britain, France, and other countries have attacked the Gaddifi regime’s air defences and armoured forces. A French squadron destroyed up to 70 Gaddifi-loyalist armoured vehicles in a pre-dawn attack on their encampment near Benghazi, forcing the loyalist forces into retreat. The rebels say 8,000 of their people have died in the fighting. Undoubtedly, if those armoured forces had been allowed to attack Benghazi today, the city would have fallen and there would have been a bloodbath. But what happens now if Gaddifi’s forces retreat into the towns they hold? Air power alone can’t dislodge them and bombing in built-up area risks civilian causalities. It will come down to the rebels becoming a more effective fighting force (probably with the assistance of Western special forces, which aren’t barred by the UN resolution) and the loyalist leadership fracturing.

The US has signalled it doesn’t want to lead the UN force and, having supplied the cruise missiles for the initial assault, is handing over to NATO. Obama clearly wasn’t keen to get involved in this and I still think intervention was left too late.

Bahrain: Hypocrisy is the meat of realpolitick and while doing the right thing, eventually, in Libya, the US is turning a blind eye to what is happening only kilometres away from the base of the US 5th fleet in Bahrain. Last week, the Saud monarchy sent in troops to defend the Al Khalifa monarchy from the growing Shi’ite uprising. With this new firepower behind it, the monarchy imposed martial law and cleared the streets of protesters. There have been a number of deaths on both sides and many opposition leaders have been arrested. The US has called for calm but it won’t intervene to protect the Shi’ites. The stark reality is the US needs Saudi oil and the Saudis want the Shi’ites in Bahrain repressed so that their own Shi’ites (who live in the oil-making regions of Qatif) don’t get inspiration from their neighbours.

Yemen: violence in Yemen stepped up a notch with government snipers killing at least 52 protesters at a university on Friday. In recent days, soldiers have been ambushed and killed, apparently by Al Qaeda members who have bases in the country. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has fired his cabinet and pledged some reforms but the opposition, including his own tribe, say he must resign. The US has been training the Yemeni military to fight Al Qaeda and that assistance, apparently, has still not been cut off despite teh use of the military against civilians.
UPDATE: It would seem the tide is turning against the president, three top generals have come out in support of the protesters taking 60% of the military with them. Mummybot

Syria: thousands took to the streets on Friday in the largest protests since the Ba’ath Party (cousin of Saddam’s Ba’ath party) took power in 1963. Security forces tried to disperse protesters, killing several. As so often happens in these revolts, the funerals the next day became protests of their own and in turn came under attack from the police. The Syrian government is keen for this to not get out of hand and have sent a governments commission to the hot spot of Deraa to apologise for the deaths. The strength of Syria’s regimes means a serious uprising is not expected but the whole arab revolts have been one surprise after another.

Oman: in a move that is sure to set the oil markets aflutter, refinery workers have gone on strike, shutting in up to 200,000 of oil barrels a day (more than NZ’s consumption).

There are also reports of protests in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (Shi’ites protesting Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain), Lebanon (this one was against secularism, gulp), and Jordan. In fact, the only Arab countries that appear completely calm are Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, the last two of which are involved in the campaign against Gaddifi.

41 comments on “Arab revolt round-up”

  1. grumpy 1

    Sounds like a good place to keep out of. I think it will turn out to be a bad mistake going into Libya, the outlook for Egypt does not look promising.

  2. Irascible 2

    Sorry about the length of this paste but the Muscat Daily doesn’t have a web site. I received this from a colleague working in Sohar where the demonstrations appear to have begun.
    The Omani papers are reporting unrest in the Health Service with Doctors threatening to take action to improve conditions as well.

    Elsewhere in Oman the unrest of the industrial coast appears to be passing them by.

    Muscat Daily: 28 February

    Protests in Salalah: What do we want?

    On most days my office windows look out onto beautiful mountains, palm trees, pretty government buildings, and quiet Salalah traffic. This week, however, the view is a little more interesting. It includes protesters, banners, tents and police vehicles..
    .
    A few weeks ago I would have laughed off the mere thought of an uprising in Oman, let alone the peaceful town where I live. Nonetheless, on Friday hundreds of protesters marched from the Grand Mosque in Salalah to the central area of town where most government offices are.
    .
    Banners with clear demands were plastered to the gates of the Minister of State’s headquarters and the protesters set up camp for the night opposite the gates. It has been four days already and from what I can see it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. Not only have they increased in numbers, but they’ve actually set up one of the most organized protest camps I have ever seen. The quiet collection of donations and the distribution system for food and water is something to be admired. When I drove by last night, the protesters were sitting in groups, talking quietly.
    .
    So what is it that they want? Well, some of the demands seem perfectly realistic and feasible to me, whereas others may seem a little ambitious for the time being (canceling all personal and housing loans?). First and foremost, protesters are demanding an end to administrative and financial corruption in the government and private sector. Believe it or not, Omanis finally want to crack down on wasta (influence). I never thought I’d see the day.
    .
    Other major demands include the need for more jobs, higher wages, and lower prices for basic commodities such as water and electricity. Do I blame them? No. I live a comfortable life but all around me I see people who live from paycheque to paycheque. Most people I know are in debt, and by the end of the month many of them don’t have money to even buy petrol or groceries. Countless young people I know with university degrees are unable to find employment anywhere. Other demands include better healthcare and a complete revamp of the public schooling system. The list has been posted on every local internet forum and is being sent around in the form of emails and SMS.
    ..
    Before getting all excited about the protest drama, I find it’s extremely important to make a clear distinction between the situation in Oman and recent events that have taken the Middle East by storm. We cannot in any way compare ourselves to the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It’s completely irrelevant. Omanis have much to be thankful for. We live in peaceful country which has come a long way since His Majesty took over 40 years ago and we are truly blessed. With these current protests, Omanis are simply demanding changes to a few government policies.
    .
    The exaggeration I’ve seen in the international media regarding the protests in Oman is uncalled for. Simply put, Omanis are peaceful people who have recently discovered that protests actually work. Does that mean our protesters should become violent? No. Should we drop everything and go out into the streets? Absolutely not!
    .
    I’m a young Omani woman with very little experience in politics or anything of the sort, but I do know one thing; if we establish clear goals and collectively work towards them, they can be achieved. I’m hoping Oman can become a shining example of how protests should end up; in a win-win situation. We can’t demand an end to government corruption unless we as individuals stop depending on wasta ourselves on a much smaller scale. We cannot demand more jobs unless we prove that we are willing to really go out and work. There are definitely jobs out there but in many cases Omanis are too proud to go out and become shopkeepers or join other occupations which they consider to be beneath them. The age of comfortable office jobs for everyone is over.
    .
    Oman is not a huge country with an overwhelming population. With less than two million citizens, it’s definitely possible to work together in order to make positive changes. If we have the right attitude, change can happen. It’ll be interesting to see how the situation unfolds, but deep inside me I hope Omanis realize that by being proactive, lots can be achieved. Fingers crossed.

    by Susan Al Shahri

  3. Con 3

    What will really happen in Libya now? Will the Gaddafi regime (the “Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”) be overthrown? It seems unlikely to me that airstrikes will bring that about. It seems likely that NATO bombings will destroy much of the country’s infrastructure, the civil war will be prolonged, and may lead to a partition of the country into two states. Even if the rebels triumph, there will certainly be considerable unrest into the forseeable future. Whether this amounts to an effective “protection of civilians” remains to be seen, whatever pro-interventionists might wish.

    Interesting to see today the Arab League decrying the NATO missile attacks and saying that there were outside the scope of the UN resolution (and incidentally killing dozens of civilians already). But hey! When you give NATO a free hand, you get whatever NATO feels like doing, not necessarily what you had in mind when you asked for their “help”. Because let’s face it, the “responsibility to protect” is not the real reason NATO has intervened; if it were the real reason, NATO would have intervened in a number of other situations. The real reason, as usual, comes back to oil, and the “responsibility to protect” is a political fig leaf (at least for NATO politicians – there are plenty of well-meaning liberals in the Western public who take it seriously). Hence NATO’s activities shouldn’t be expected to protect civilians, expect where this can be achieved as “collateral” to their real aim, which is to weaken and subjugate Libya.

    • Bright Red 3.1

      there’s been no evidence of any civilians killed. Have you seen the wounded and dead ‘civilians’ that were shown on Libyan state TV? All military age men. funny that.

      I don’t get why you would think that NATO wants to “weaken and subjugate Libya”. If they wanted to overthrow Gaddifi with overwhelming and indiscriminate force they could, at any time.

      Instead, they have belatedly and limitedly reacted to the pleading of the rebels (are you anti the rebels?) to try to avert a massacre.

      • Con 3.1.1

        Red, weakening and subjugating nations in the middle east has been all the rage for hundreds of years. Especially since oil has been discovered, Western imperial powers have been at it every chance. What’s happened now is that the following the examples of other uprisings, Libyans have rebelled and this rebellion, and the repression of it, is an opportunity for the West to overthrow Gaddafi and even partition Libya, much more easily, and with less fuss being raised about it, than would have been the case otherwise.

    • Blighty 3.2

      Please explain how attacking a friendly dictator when he was on the verge of destroying a rebellion that had taken half of Libya’s oil offline, in the hope that the friendly dictator will be overthrown by unknowns with unknown objectives gets the West more oil.

      • Lanthanide 3.2.1

        “in the hope that the friendly dictator will be overthrown by unknowns with unknown objectives gets the West more oil.”

        Because the West know who the unknowns are and have made sure that their unknown objectives match their own.

        Brings Rumsfeld’s little quote to mind: known known, known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

        • clandestino 3.2.1.1

          Where’s the evidence for this though? We know the British sent diplomats with an SAS crew on a bungled entreaty to the rebels, and I’ve seen the Germans made contact. The French must know who the ‘other side’ is, as they’re so keen. But really, I haven’t seen one figurehead or General who’s come out as the spokesman of this thing. I’ve been following it pretty close and haven’t even seen a good analysis of the tribal/clan factor or military players in online media….
          As for the price(supply) of oil, do you really believe the oil market cares who’s in charge? Supply doesn’t mean shit if the images are of war and destruction.

      • David 3.2.2

        Because this is not just about Libya. The politics of the whole region is being reconfigured by the actions of masses of people. Until recently the US dominated the region through the threat of open intervention, either by Israel or itself, and its relationships with local dictators. Some of these were close allies, like the Saudis, some merely people they could do business with, like Gaddafi over the last 10 or so years.

        Now things are changing as the regimes fall. Would a democratic Saudi Arabia sell its oil so cheaply? Would it spend so much on US and UK arms?

        The US and its allies are desperate to regain control? The intervention in Libya is about taking back the initiative, legitimizing both military intervention in general and the West’s role in picking and choosing who rules which country. The “pleading of the rebels” has given that opportunity.

        Whatever we may think about the justification of the initial air strikes (and I suggest people take the question of depleted uranium into consideration), if it’s true that the assault on Bengazi has been stopped and a massacre prevented, then surely we can all agree that it’s time for the bombing to stop and the fight left up to the Libyan people themselves.

      • Con 3.2.3

        By joining in the civil war on the rebels’ side, the US gets to end up in control (assuming the rebels win). The rebels will be assisted just enough so that they do take control of the oil, but not so much that they can maintain control without US backing.

        Enough infrastructure will be destroyed so that the new regime will require massive international assistance to rebuild. That assistance will be performed by Kellogg Brown Root, and security will be provided by Blackwater. Funding will come from Libyan oil sales.

        That’s how it’s done; that’s how it’s always been done.

  4. joe90 4

    What if Arabs had recognized the State of Israel in 1948?

    I have seen and read about the lives of the Palestinians in the US and other places. They are very successful in every field. And at the same time I saw the Arab countries at the bottom of the list in education and development. And I always ask the question: What if the Palestinians and the Arabs accepted the presence of Israel on May 14, 1948 and recognized its right to exist? Would the Arab world have been more stable, more democratic and more advanced?

    • joe90 4.1

      Tariq Ali

      New Zealand has no foreign policy but is simply a vassal of the United States, he says, and there is no point in having a standing army.

      … It is the elites, and the reason they do it is they are tied to the tail of the only imperial power in the world.”

  5. Pascal's bookie 5

    Some other datapoints.

    Gaddifi has handed out arms to a million odd Libyans. This is a canny bloody move, long game it poisons the well. I’ll ask again, is the west prepared to fight an insurgency against whatever replaces the regime?

    He’s called another bs ceasefire and called for a peaceful civilian march on rebel held cities. A moving human shield in other words. Can the west bomb this when the UN res calls for protecting civilians? If so, how will that play throughout the middle east?

    Related question, if he pulls back and more army units defect to the rebels, (which western laeders are asking them to do) how wil the west react when rebel forces move on Gaddifi loyalist cities? Does the d2p extend to those cities as well?

    Unrelated question, how about that time when Gaddifi gave up his nuke program and now we are bombing him like we won’t bomb Korea and we did bomb Iraq and do you reckon Iran has noticed?

  6. Drakula 7

    Joe 90; ‘If they [Arab League] had recognised Israel in in 1948?’

    It would not make any difference to the economic advance to the Arab world. Would Israel be more leanient to the Arab nations after Ben Gurion’s terrorists had those massacres on his hands?

    No being ‘Gods chosen’ they would only be interested in looking after their own.

    The only difference that the immediate recognition of Israel would have on the Mid-East situation today is that it would have radically speeded up Israel’s Zionist agenda of expelling all Palestinians from their homeland.

    The biggest mistake the Arab world ever made was losing the war against Israrel in 1966!!!!

    • davidr 7.1

      1967 Genius!!!! (and 1948, 1973, etc, etc).

      Pity that Hitler didn’t finish what he started, eh? They encouraged him enough. (vis. Arafat’s uncle, the Mufti).

  7. What nobody seems to notice is that the reasons for the unrest in the Arab countries is not so much against their rulers as such but the fact that food prices have risen so dramatically that most can’t make ends meet any more. That coupled with an increase in suppression and anger against what a lot of people see as kowtowing to the US empire is what finally broke the camels back.

    What is interesting is that someone like Gerald Celente the face of the trend journal institute an institute predicting trends in the future points out that this is the beginning of a world wide trend. He says that with the US over stretching itself in ever expanding wars running up debts like there is no tomorrow and the worlds population being sucked dry ever more by the ruling elite and unable to earn a crust there will be more and more revolts world wide.

    In other words this is not an Arab thing so much as the beginning of a world wide anti globalist revolution.

    I wonder with John Key, a Wall street henchman after all, squeezing the lifeblood out of NZ’s population with ever increasing cuts in whatever social services are left how long it will take before people here will revolt and what and if the “government will do to maintain control over its angry population.

    • Rosy 8.1

      It might translate as anit-globalism in the long-term, but it might have an awful lot to do with knowing how the dictators live in the short-term. Bankers, industry leaders and politicians should keep their accumulation of wealth very low key in the short-term.

      Refreshing to read the CEO of Glaxosmithkline rail against companies moving offshore to avoid tax. Saying that they should be part of society, not that he’s a good guy but at least they paid their tax.

  8. Afewknowthetruth 9

    The oil-addicted nations of the western world will do whatever it takes to keep the oil flowing to western refineries ….. supporting despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, no fly zones for nations whose leaders who don’t tow the line, military invasions, toppling nationalisitic governments…… Meddling in order to obtain cut-price resources has been going on for centuries and isn’t going to stop soon.

    However, the effects of Peak Oil are becoming more apparent by the day. Complele collpase of present economic arrangements is now more or less certain before 2015.

    • Rosy 9.1

      The problem with this arguement is that Gaddafi was toeing the line, as far as allowing private companies to exploit oil. The west would have been better off with him there, especially as the rebels and their aims are unknown. I think the balls up with the SAS ill-thoughtout attempt to contact them makes it quite clear that the UK at least didn’t know what was going on. I also don’t think Libyan oil is a big deal for the U.S (which might account for the Pentagon’s reluctance to get in to this).

      Saudi Arabia…. same but different story… The U.S. will be anxious to keep the dicators in power because they really are important to the U.S oil supply, and maybe the royals have been encouraged to use a few of those oil $$$ to buy their people’s complicity in their lack of democracy.

  9. joe90 10

    More defections.

    Several top Yemeni army commanders have declared their support for anti-government protesters seeking the resignation of the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

  10. uke 11

    Question that has not been asked: Why are France and Britain so prominent in the foreign coalition attacking Libya?

    Those I have been talking to surmise that these attacks are partly designed to boost the current French and British leaders’ domestic popularity. They are “doing a Thatcher”. Sarkozy, for example, is currently suffering severe local election defeats to the Socialist Party with Marine Le Pen’s National Front almost on a level pegging:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-21/merkel-sarkozy-punished-by-voters-questioning-their-leadership.html

    “Dissatisfaction with Sarkozy rose to the highest level since his election almost four years ago in an Ipsos institute poll published March 14. Sixty-eight percent of respondents disapproved of Sarkozy’s leadership, 5 percentage points more than in February, the survey for Le Point magazine said. His approval rating dropped three points to 31 percent.”

    • Rosy 11.1

      Yep that makes a lot more sense that the oil conspiracies. Libya = Argentina, just cause fell in to their laps.

      • Con 11.1.1

        Except that of the two politicians in the article, Sarkozy is into the war, yet Merkel is not. So that’s not a great strike rate for that particular hypothesis.

        The next elections in the UK aren’t for years are they? Shouldn’t Cameron be waiting a bit for his Thatcher moment, if it’s just electioneering?

        • Rosy 11.1.1.1

          No, Cameron needs it now to try and head-off the protests about service cuts and the bankers have just hit the headlines again and the Lib Dems just got trounced in a bye-election.
          Al power the Merkel if she kept out of it.

        • uke 11.1.1.2

          The hypothesis is that Sarkozy is reacting to his election losses by attacking Libya. Merkel has simply decided the other way and – the pollsters predict – her popularity will consequently continue to decline.

          “Shouldn’t Cameron be waiting a bit for his Thatcher moment, if it’s just electioneering?”

          Gotta take your chances when you can get them. Remember Cameron & co. are pretty unpopular at the moment for cutting all those public service jobs, student fee rises etc.

    • Interesting observation.

      Rosie,

      The one doesn’t preclude the other though.

      • uke 11.2.1

        “The one doesn’t preclude the other”

        Indeed, just ask George W. Bush.

      • Rosy 11.2.2

        Yeah, I just don’t get the oil thing between Libya and the U.S. Libya supplies 20% EU oil – and their big companies were doing nicely out of it under Gaddafi.

        • David 11.2.2.1

          20% of EU oil seems like a valuable prize to me. Gaddafi is not a dependable puppet, and if the rebels continued to fight him even after he retook Bengazi oil supplies would be disrupted. A new government dependent on Western support controlling either part or all of Libya would be a better bet. But this is bigger than just Libyan oil.

          It’s about relegitimising Western military intervention, both in the minds of the people at home and in the Arab world. And ensuring that the West has a degree of control over at least one of the new governments emerging from the revolts.

          • Rosy 11.2.2.1.1

            Yes, but that may explain the EU’s willingness to go if – IF they didn’t already have good access, but they do. It doesn’t at all explain why the US might want to. Because Gadaffi appeared a happy puppet since he was brought back from isolation it’s costing the EU more to control oil this way than by their successful buying Gadaffi.

            I’ll be thinking that the uprising came from grassroots – influenced by regional unrest and success in Egypt and Tunisia – that the lack of resources to the people and observing the huge amounts of money coming into the country and knowing it stayed at the top. (That’s what will start ‘reform’ in the west too, when the people get angry enough and have nothing left to lose and if the elites don’t sort their stuff out).

            The big question for me was why France and the UK got involved – it doesn’t seem in their financial and diplomatic interests – I’m quite convinced that the Thatcher moment explains it really well.

            • Carol 11.2.2.1.1.1

              Actually, to me it seems to be the other way around. The US seems to have been a reluctant participant in the UN action. They are in quite a contradictory position & probably over-stretched militarily. I have seen some reports in the US news media, saying that it was Hilary Clinton who convinced Obama to join the UN resolution & its implementation. I don’t know if that is totally accurate, or if it is just part of the way Obama has supported the action on Libya in a muted way.

              Cameron, is having a Thatcher moment, but also, he has the motivation to stop the mood of reform also spreading to the UK – maybe more so than the US, because Cameron has faced stronger left wing protests against his economic policies than Obama eg UK Uncut.

              On France 24 (on Stratos) I’ve seen French commentators drawing parallels between the Arabic uprisings and the French Revolution. france sees itself as a leader in that kind of thing,.

  11. joe90 12

    More unrest in Syria.

    Syrians chanting “No more fear!” held a defiant march Monday after a deadly government crackdown failed to quash three days of massive protests in a southern city – an extraordinary outpouring in a country that brutally suppresses dissent.

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