Arab revolt update: Syria rising

Written By: - Date published: 2:30 pm, March 26th, 2011 - 20 comments
Categories: democratic participation, International, war - Tags: , , , , , ,

The revolts around the Middle East are still heating up. The coalitions air strikes are dealing havoc to Gaddifi’s heavy weapons, giving the rebels a fighting chance. In Bahrain, the Shi’ites are brooding as the country remains under de facto Saudi occupation, Saleh looks gone in Yemen, while violence is escalating in Syria and Jordan.

Rebels have largely re-taken Adjabiya after coalition bombing destroyed tanks controlling key junctions. However, the cities of Zintan and Misurata remain under siege with many civilian deaths reported from artillery and sniper fire.

The Saudis are still in Bahrain in force. This has effectively ended large public demonstrations and leaders of the reform movement have been disappeared but this can only surely be delaying the inevitable and making it even more certain that when they leave Al Khalifa will fall. Small Shi’ite protests continue in Saudi Arabia.

The crucial moment for Yemen may have come with two senior generals and their troops switching sides. Just as Ukrainian special forces pledged to protect the protesters during the Orange Revolution, which at the last moment dissuaded Interior Ministry forces from attacking them and ensured the success of the revolution. The defecting soldiers are standing guard over the Yemeni protesters and fired warning shots when loyalist security forces arrived. One of the defecting generals has apparently met with President Saleh to discuss terms for him to step down. However, the political map in Yemen is fractured and the South secessionists are mobilising.

Protests are spreading across Sryia. Having really kicked off about a week ago in Deraa they were joined by protests in several cities, including Damascus on Friday, the Islamic holy day. The protests have been brutally repressed, with dozens killed in Deraa alone. President Assad is no stranger to repressing his people – his father put down a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in the 1980s, killing at least 10,000. And there’s no hope of the West coming to the Syrian people’s aid if they revolt as they have in  Libya. Syria has a much more powerful military and the West will not want to over-extend itself. The UK used up 20% of its cruise missiles (which, admittedly, was only 12) in taking out Libya’s air defences.

In neighbouring Jordan, protests turned violent for the first time with reformers and government supporters clashing in Amman before security forces intervened. At least one person was killed. King Abdullah II is one of the most moderate leaders in the region. Expect further compromises from him – he won’t risk losing his head to keep his crown.

There’s no sign of the security forces in Syria or Jordan fracturing, yet. But, interestingly, protests in Syria have included the Alawi population, a minority Shi’ite sect which the ruling family belongs to and from which most senior officials are drawn.

Iran’s quiet but it may not remain so.

20 comments on “Arab revolt update: Syria rising”

  1. Irascible 1

    The problem for everyone in the Arab world is that the protest movements in all the states has been built on social media – facebook, twitter, blogs, cell phone MSMs – by the essentially young and disadvantaged and lacks an identifiable leadership focus so that there is no apparent plan for a transition of power given the successful over throw of the regimes.
    In Egypt the recent voting on the interregnum after Mubarak was dominated, not by the “revolutionaries of the social media” but by the conservatives and the Muslim Brotherhood who had established physical local contacts throughout the neighbourhoods and were able to mobilise the voters more efficiently. Even so the voter turn out was less that 40% despite the popular revolution that over threw Mubarak.
    The same problems are there in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Oman, Tunisia, … popular discontent with the inadequacies of the regimes but no visible or popular leadership or plan to replace that which is overthrown.

  2. Maui 2

    .. but in Aotearoa, particularly Ōtautahi, the natives are restless.

  3. Drakula 3

    Libya is the most interesting; Do we really know who the protesters are? If they are people striving for a genuine social revolution to improve wages and conditions I am all for it.

    Then Gadaffi says things like ” those protesters are 17 year olds who are on hallucinagenic drugs given them by Al Queda”

    Anyone who makes a statement like that would have to be thought of as a loose cannon, but other people on the left think that the Al Queda could be jumping on the band-wagon and Gadaffi could have a point. I don’t know, but there is an interesting article in the argument goes that Obama attacking Gadaffi is unwittingly aiding the Al Queda.

    • Bill 3.1

      Well Drakula, it’s pretty easy to say who the protesters are. They are ordinary Libyans. But who faccilitated the speedy decent into violence? I mean, protestors are being shot all over N. Africa and the Arab World and yet the protesters either have no access to arms or don’t care to go down that road. But not in Libya. Apparently. See, arms just kind of fell into the laps of young pumped up men who went hooning off across the desert where, for some strange reason, the rabid and mad Libyan fighter pilots seemed to be bombing to….well, miss. Hell. Even a prominant BBC correpondent remarked on that strange phenomenum.

      If you want to know the likely future being shaped by the protests and the no-fly zones, then you might do well to look at the people who make up the National Transitional Council. ‘Cause they are the ones running the show…or at least orchestrating the actions of the protests. Have a wee read of the bios of numbers two and three on the self compiled National Transitional Council list that I’ve pasted here. And then go have a look at their just a tad too slick and contrived web site…and their claims to extraordinary levels of organisation given the time lines they present. From nothing to ‘Revolutionary Local Councils’ who then nominate the ‘Grand Council’. And all done between between Feb 17 and March 5.

      2. Mr Mahmood Jibril:
      Born in Libya n 1952, obtained a BSc in Economics and Political Science from Cairo University in 1975. Holds a masters’ degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1980. He also obtained a Doctorate in Strategic planning and decision-making from the same university in 1984 where he worked as a professor in the same subject field for several years. So far he has published 10 books in Strategic planning and decision making. He led the team who drafted and formed the Unified Arab Training manual. He was also responsible for organising and administering the first two Training conferences in the Arab world in the years 1987 and 1988. He later took over the management and administration of many of the leaders’ training programs for senior management in Arab countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Britain
      3. Mr. Ali Al Issawi
      A political and education Libyan who was born in the city of Benghazi in 1966. Has a PhD in pivatisation obtained from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest Romania. He occupied the position of Minister of Economy, Trade and Investment in Libya, and was the youngest minister to fill such a post. Before taking the ministerial position, he founded the Centre for Export Development in 2006 and became the first Director General for it. He also assumed the position of Director General for the Ownership expansion program (privatization fund) in 2005

      • Marty G 3.1.1

        there are 31 members of the council. so, there’s two with overseas connections… must all be fakes.

        “I mean, protestors are being shot all over N. Africa and the Arab World and yet the protesters either have no access to arms or don’t care to go down that road. But not in Libya. Apparently. See, arms just kind of fell into the laps of young pumped up men who went hooning off across the desert ”

        They took military compounds. And they’re actually massively underequipped, not even an AK per man and a fighting force of about 1,000.

        “where, for some strange reason, the rabid and mad Libyan fighter pilots seemed to be bombing to….well, miss.”

        Yeah, and the BBC reporter was making the obvious point. If you were a pilot in the Libyan air force, ordered to bomb your own people but you’re sympathetic to the anti-gaddifi cause, what would you do? refuse to fly and get executed like those 150 airforce officers in benghazi? Or fly and drop your bomb in the desert with your commanders not able to verify what you hit or if you missed on purpose?

        Also, intentional missing is common in was, especially militaries with low morale. It’s a big deal to try to kill someone, western militaries undergo intense training to get them mentally fit for it and the evidence from past wars is that a large proportion 20-50% still shoot to miss.

        “In 1947, U.S Armed Forces historian, Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall, published the controversial book, Men Against Fire, releasing his startling discoveries into the world for the first time. Using data obtained via interviews with thousands of soldiers in World War Two, Marshall came to realise that only a minority of soldiers would fire their weapon at an enemy combatant. Only 15-20% of the soldiers interviewed claimed to have consciously fired at the enemy. Many soldiers simply wouldn’t discharge their rifles. Others would purposefully aim above their opponents heads. It didn’t seem to matter where they were stationed, nor whether they were battling against German or Japanese troops, the 15-20% figure remained consistent.”

  4. Bill 4

    And we get unverified shaky cell phone videos that could, lets face it, be from any one of a dozen countries that purport to show unarmed dead Syrians and it’s accompanied by strong condemnation from the US.

    Just like in Libya; the unconfirmed, unverifiable and shaky cell phone images and the accompanying US condemnation.

    But not so in Bahrain or Egypt or Tunisia or Yemen or….oh, you get the picture…the media and our governments are kind of muted on the actions of ‘our’ official friends killing unarmed citizens. But the video quality is so much better!

    By the way. Haven’t seen an explanation yet for how unarmed citizens in Libya who were apparently being slaughtered left right and center on those cell phone videos managed to capture so many Libyan cities just a few short days later. Maybe they weren’t so armless? Army units surrendered? The same ones who were engaging in the apparent cell phone slaughters?

    And that National Transitional Council was up and running kind of quick smart, was it not? Tell me it’s not full of Washington’s men. International recognition after 12 days? Claiming to be the only legitimate voice for Libyans?

    While in all the other countries people are going to pains to impress that they are not speaking on behalf of the people.

    • Marty G 4.1

      cool down the conspiracy theories there, bill. If you’ll remember, gaddifi was rehabilitated in the West’s eyes, he was selling the oil. The US, in particular was extremely reluctant to do the no flight zone – last thing Obama wants is another expensive and pointless war – and they’ve have handed over leadership of the air campaign to the french as quickly as possible.

      “Haven’t seen an explanation yet for how unarmed citizens in Libya who were apparently being slaughtered left right and center on those cell phone videos managed to capture so many Libyan cities just a few short days later. Maybe they weren’t so armless? Army units surrendered? The same ones who were engaging in the apparent cell phone slaughters?”

      If you haven’t seen an explanation, you should do some reading of the reports. How it started with protests which were fired on, then with protesters besieging the military base in benghazi, which fell only when a middle aged guy (perfume seller I think) turned his car into a bomb and drove it into the gate.

      more towns fell to the rebels because initially there was little organised military resistance. The local police forces and barracks largely chose not to fight (and still largely aren’t fighting). The rebels’ initial gains weren’t from them going town to town, it was the locals in each town rejecting gaddifi’s rule. Then came the fight back from gaddifi’s forces, there was no organised rebel military force.

      “And that National Transitional Council was up and running kind of quick smart, was it not? Tell me it’s not full of Washington’s men. International recognition after 12 days? Claiming to be the only legitimate voice for Libyans?”

      Democratically elected in benghazi – locals. I’m not sure how you think Washington has planted people among the population of benghazi and given them the reputation to win elections. But any evidence you have, other than empty theories I would like to see.

      washington says they like the basic constitutional document from the NTA but are worried about al-qaeda types getting elected because they don’t know much about what is going on in there.

      • Bill 4.1.1

        I’m not at all into conspiracies Marty.

        Whether you wish to question the official line on Libya or not is up to you. But there are details that just don’t quite pan out. Take the National Transitional Council for one. You seem happy to accept that democratic elections were organised and held in the space of a couple of weeks. I can’t see how that’s logistically possible given the time scale.

        It seems we both accept the line that unarmed protestors were beng shot by the army (as in other Arab and N. African states) and that sections of the army took the side of the protestors. But you have no curiosity as to why it is only in Libya that the protestors have taken up arms? Doesn’t that turn of events suggest that there are factors coming into play in the Libyan situation that are absent in other affected states?

        We know that the National Transitional Council is comfortable with the idea of seeking a resolution through violence and that the NTC has been regarded as the legitimate voice of the Libyan state and the Libyan people by the west right from the get go. But its legitimacy has never been questioned or examined. Like I said, the idea that some selection process and popular democratic election was organised and held in the space of a couple of weeks simply isn’t tenable. (Actually, if the statements of the NTC are to be believed there was a series of elections!) If such a thing had occurred, do you not think ‘our media’ would have been all over it and presenting us with images of downtrodden but jubilant people filling in voting papers and excercising their new found democratic freedoms?

        My concern with the shaky cell phone imagery is that its generic and mostly indescernable. You could put almost any voice over on it and claim it shows whatever you wish to suggest it shows. In comparison to the images we have been fed from other countries there are no details (such as flags, placards or banner images) that would tie them to a particular location. So yeah. Did footage from the other night show some dead people on a street? Yes. But was there anything in the images that informed us as to their location? No. The voice over presumed to fill in the balnks and suggest to us what we were seeing. Which, surely, is reason enough to reach for the salt?

        It’s not as though our media doesn’t indulge in a little pulling of the wool over our eyes. And it’s not as if our leaders don’t knowingly peddle lies as truth. Remember the uncritical reporting that accompanied claims of Iraqi troops throwing babies in incubators out of the windows of Kuwaiti hospitals? A complete fabrication that was concocted by our leaders and their mates in Kuwait in order to (successfully) generate public support for US intervention. Or maybe you remember the media coverage of the Venezualan coup against Chavez that claimed to show events that were in fact a complete fabrication and direct contradiction of the truth? Or maybe you are simply far less critical and evaluative than me and assume there is no possibility of a disconnect between what an image is and what a voice over says an image is?

        To suggest, as I think you do, that there was no western machinations occuring within Libya prior to the popular protests is naive in the extreme. Just as there are western connections and presences in the ‘officially friendly’ states seeking to exert influence, so there are in the ‘officially unfriendly’ states. Just that they operate differently given the difference in the situation they are in. Gadaffi hadn’t been rehabilitated. The regime he headed had been somewhat rehabilitated. There’s a big difference between those two things. So would the west have contacted, encouraged and nurtured government officials and others who expressed anti-Gadaffi sentiments or/and more pro-western sentiments? Of course! And would they have had a game plan ready to put into operation in the event of instability? One that would seek to install a more pro-western regime in Libya? Of course!

        It’s just that the game seems to not quite have gone to plan. The NTC hasn’t ousted Gadaffi and all the insider contacts are now well and truly outed….a big fuck up. So time for plan ‘b’…or making it up as they go along if they didn’t make contingencies for plan ‘a’ not quite panning out.

  5. Drakula 5

    The title of the above article is Libya Rebels: Gaddafi Could be Right about Al Qaeda by Alex Cockburn.

    • Marty G 5.1

      funny that this is the opposite theory to Bill’s.

      Here’s what the US ambassador says:

      Libya’s opposition National Council is “off to a good start” in organizing politically, providing basic services and embracing a vision of human rights, US ambassador Gene Cretz said Friday.

      But Cretz, who served in Tripoli until December, said there remained legal hurdles to US recognition of a group that could one day replace Moamer Kadhafi’s regime if it falls in Libya’s weeks-old armed conflict.

      “They are off to a good start in word and deed,” Cretz told reporters, praising a document from the council that supported human rights and women’s rights. “It was really a very, very good document.”

      A recent document presented “their vision of what a future Libya would look like, and it had all the right elements in it in terms of human rights, in terms of women’s rights, in terms of equal participation,” he said.

      Despite being a good start, he said, the United States still has more to learn about the council.

      “And we have to be very careful about, you know, who might be included in the future and how they go about forming a government, if in fact they have that opportunity,” Cretz said.

      The opposition “do not seem to be, at least in the statements and the actions that they’ve taken, in any way incompatible with the kind of ideals that we would be advocating … in that situation,” he said.

  6. Bill seems to think the revolts are really happening at all, all a western con using that famous tool of the US, Al Jezeera as the primary information/propaganda channel. Others say it’s Al Qaeda, that bunch of incompetents who have a 90%+ fail rate in their terrorism operations.

    I wonder if there isn’t a subtle prejudice here – that Arabs can’t really be genuinely wanting democracy and freedom. Sure, Eastern Europeans can overthrow in their police states in largely bloodless protests and are willing to die for the cause if need be but if arabs do it, there must be secret pullers of the puppet-strings, either the US or Al Qaeda.

  7. Bright Red 7

    yeah, this gaddifi guy and his thugs sound really great (

    the people of libya would never want to overthrow him. must all be a us/alqaeda/commie plot!

  8. Nadis 8

    I agree that the revolution seems to be a genuine grass roots phenomenon. But I also don’t doubt there will be all manner of influence peddlers trying to shape that game. And that will bs a contest between tribalism, reactionary Arab regimes, fundamentalists, the west etc. Just hope the people dont get squeezed back in to their box as is happening in Egypt.

  9. kevin rudd just made espiner look like a total dick on q+a. hilarious. everything espiner accused him and the west of was brushed away easily. espiner got antsy about wanting a brief answer, rudd said ‘give me some oxygen and i’ll answer in my own terms’. that shut espiner up.

    then espiner said ‘your predecessor, julia gillard…’ and rudd just says ‘successor’ and grins, espiner was totally flummoxed, hadn’t caught his own mistake, so rudd explained it to him.

    • Bored 9.1

      Rudd (or anybody for that matter) would not have to strain their intellect greatly to make Espiner look like a turkey. The guy is a joke, the sad thing is that he is representative of the tawdry joke that is the MSM.

    • Bored 10.1

      Well spotted Joe, I never cease to be amazed by the way the “jornos” and MSM try and get closure, they cannot see events as a continuum. Their whole modus operandi is todays story in separation, which in turn suits the status quo as the bigger issues dont get discussed.

  10. Irascible 11

    Worth a read…Stories from the Middle East as reported in the UAE.

    A quick skim through these stories gives a different picture to that presented in NZ media outlets.

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