It looks like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi will be the next dictator to fall to the wave of protests and revolts sweeping the Arab world. The military initially sided with the regime and fired on the protesters, killing hundreds. But the loyalty of the security forces to the Gaddafi regime seems to be wavering. If this hard-man can crumble, who next?
As in Egypt, the tipping point was when soldiers, probably initially at quite a low rank, refused to fire on the protesters, who after all, are their compatriots. I’m willing to bet conscript armies are especially unwilling to fire on their own people (this is part of the reason that Germany maintains conscription – to prevent a distinct military class from forming and taking over). The reports out of Benghazi suggest some soldiers have already actively changed sides and protesters have been given access to weapons. The loyalist security forces may have lost the city and neighbouring towns completely.
Once those first soldiers and units refuse to follow orders or even side with the protesters, the generals face a choice: fight the mutineers or switch sides. Do they think they can rely on their remaining forces or will the mutinies spread? Can they put down an armed revolt without unacceptable losses? Or do they risk losing the fight and at least losing their positions of privilege, if not their lives, after the revolution? With Libya’s largest tribe, the Warfala, from which many troops are presumably drawn, now siding with the revolt along with leading Muslim clerics and the oilfields lost to the revolt, the cold calculation for the generals rapidly becomes to protect themselves by turning on the regime.
Gaddafi’s son, in a awful PR mistake, has threatened civil war. It won’t come to that. If the protests were confined to one region or one ethnic/religious group, there could be civil war but the revolt is widespread and appears to include a cross-section of society. And it’s unlikely significant parts of the military will be willing to go to war against their own brothers in arms to protect the Gaddafi regime.
Reports of jets conducting strafing runs on protesters in Tripoli (while other pilots high-tail it out of the country) is a sign of how weak Gaddafi’s position is. If you’re in a situation where you’re unforced to unleash heavy weapons against your own capital, and the masses of protesters are sufficient for strafing then you’ve already lost.
The situation in Bahrain is somewhat different. The goal of the mainly Shi’ite protesters is to be allowed equal rights in the Sunni regime (Shi’ites make up 70% of the population), not to overthrow it. Shi’ites aren’t allowed to serve in the security forces, for example, and this will be a major barrier to the protests succeeding because it makes that vital moment when elements of the military begin to side with the protesters less likely. Of course, that shows the reason why the King has kept Shi’ites out of the security forces in the first place. The day he lets the repressed majority into the military is the day he starts the count-down to his overthrow.
And let’s not forget the US 5th fleet is based at Bahrain. The Yanks have a much higher interest in ‘stability’ there than they do in Libya or Yemen. The Saudis want ‘stability’ as well, their own heavily discriminated against Shi’ite population lives close to Bahrain on top of Saudi Arabia’s main oilfeilds.
I think you’ll see the Shi’ites thrown some bones, maybe even being allowed into the military but not regime change as in Tunisia and Egypt.
Yemen is something of an oddball. Divided in colonial times, it became two separate countries on independence. A short civil war led to unification with the South’s collapse in 1994. A good deal of the protests in Yemen seems to be centred around South separatism. I wouldn’t hazard a guess what will happen there, although Saudi Arabia has traditionally favoured a split Yemen to help keep its own Yemeni population under control.
If and when Gaddafi falls, it will show the Arab people that even the hardest of hardline regimes is vulnerable. After decades of authoritarian rule, the people are learning their rulers are paper tigers. That could give new impetus to the nascent revolts in Syria, Jordon, and Iran, not to mention Morocco, Kuwait, Algeria, Oman, and Djibouti. And if unrest should spread to Saudi Arabia, the centre of Arab culture and Islam, and the world’s largest oil producer … Interesting times.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has had its own, very middle-class, Tahrir Square moment. The Republican dominated State Senate has to deal with a spiraling deficit – raise taxes on the rich, or force through massive cuts in social spending. Naturally, the Republicans, urged on by the Tea Party, have gone for cuts and confrontation. The severity and nature of the proposed cuts, means state sector unions will need to be crushed.
In a filibuster move Democratic Senators have boycotted the chamber, denying the State Senate the necessary quorum to legally sit. State police have been sent to get them back. Prompting all Democratic senators, bar one, to flee the state.
And Wisconsin union members have turned out in unprecedented numbers to oppose the cuts. Some 68,000 are believed to have gathered outside the State Capitol, while thousands more flowed into the building. An Egyptian flag was seen flying in the crowd. Could this be the start of American workers finally standing up for themselves? Maybe, just maybe.