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Saturday, March 26, 2011

A whole mess of updates from all over!

Friday is always a big day in the Middle East.  Just about every single major protest or rally that has taken place from Morocco to Iran has reached its peak after Friday evening prayers.  Yesterday was no exception, and today seems like a good day to sort out some of the events from the past few days and try and make sense of where things are in the Middle East.

The first point to mention is my recent entry into the world of Twitter. I’ve been following multiple Twitter feeds for quite some time (beginning back in 2009 with the Iranian post-election protests), but I’ve been leery of going any deeper into that chaotic yammering mass.  My time at the nonprofit technology conference last week however convinced me that it was no longer something I could reasonably avoid.

My Twitter name is ixakRubicon, but if you’re not on Twitter you can also see my “tweets” on the right column feed of this blog. I’ll be mostly using the feed to share links and “re tweet” notable tweets from other people that I’m following.  I promise, I won’t be using it to talk about my new haircut (which is spiffy), what I ate for breakfast (egg sandwich), or what the guy next to me on the train yesterday smelled like (urine).

If you are among the twitterati, please follow me. It gives my life purpose and meaning.

Now on to the things that matter:

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Libya - rebels are making progress once more.  Pro-Qadhafi forces have retreated from the besieged cities of Misrata and Ajdabiya.  There have also been reports of tanks and armored trucks being abandoned by the pro-Qadhafi forces because of fuel and ammunition shortages (remember what I said the other day about supply chains?).

White House comments on America's involvement in the NFZ+ can be found here if you missed them, with a more extensive speech coming on Monday. Steve Negus has some relevant comments over at thearabist.net - "Consensus vs Clarity"

The US role in the operation has been downgraded, with NATO taking the leadership role and the majority of the sorties being flown by French and British planes as well as several miscellaneous European countries and Canada.  Fighter planes from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also participating, though it should be pointed out that Qatar is one of the only countries in the ME that hasn’t had major protests (it is also the home of Al Jazeera), and the UAE may have committed planes in order to buy themselves some slack for their participation in the Bahrain crackdown. Nonethless, the participation in this campaign by Arab governments should not be taken lightly.

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The United Arab Emirates have also made another interesting move with some ambiguous geopolitical ramifications. They have joined the African Union as officially recognized observers.  This is notable for a few reasons, most immediately the contrast between their active participation in airstrikes on Libya and the denunciation of those attacks by the African Union. Their respective diferences over Libya, this certainly indicates a heightened degree of interest in Africa by the UAE, presumably for commercial reasons, but potentially for other reasons as well.

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In Yemen,  talks of a potential  power transfer are under way, possibly over the next few days.

Frankly, this may be little more than a stalling tactic on the part of the current president - power would most likely be transferred into the hands of one of his supporters.  Despite the fact that nothing really seems to be happening beyond talking, it’s still too early to write off the power transfer idea. The fact that the people of Yemen have been able to push Saleh this far means that they can probably push further.

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On the topic of elections, Egypt’s Wafd party is showing its true colors, stating that they are opposed to any international election monitoring in the fall (Google translate version here). Reaction to the statement has yet to be seen on a wide scale, but initial reactions have been (predictably) outrage and anger by the youth who participated on the protest movement.
Another interesting event took place in Egypt as well.  Two of the men responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat were released from jail a few days ago. This is part of a very complex power play by the military that I’m still trying to decode. I’ll try to keep you apprised of the situation as clarity comes.

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Some interesting power struggles going on in Gaza as well, as Hamas tries to rein in the violent actions of Islamic Jihad.

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In Jordan there have been some protests calling for a transition to a constitutional monarchy, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will gain traction. There have also been robust counter-protests - The King of Jordan still enjoys strong support from certain sections of the country, and some angry rhetoric has been flying back and forth over the issue. A heartfelt and melancholy account of a March24 protest can be found here: "The Quick Death Of Shabab March 24 And What It Means For Jordan" I HIGHLY reccommend it. The author really cuts to the heart of the issue in Jordan, and why reform of the type that we are seeing elsewhere may be a long time coming in Jordan.

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The situation in Syria keeps getting more and more serious (or should I say Syrias?). Protesters burnt down a Baath party headquarters today and the protests continue to escalate in response to the governments violent attempts to suppress them.
An interesting consequence of the current situation in Syria is that Hezbollah has positioned itself very squarely on the side of Assad, a strategic decision that will probably come back to bite them in the ass later on.  The Alawite sect of Islam that Assad and his core supporters belong to is viewed with some suspicion by many of the more conventional Sunni Arabs of Syria.  The government’s close ties to the Shiites of Hezbollah and to the Iranian government have give the unhappy parts of the population ammunition for accusations of borderline heresy.

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On the topic of Iran, an additional point to mention – the US government is considering dropping Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the list of international terrorist organizations, a move that could have a serious negative impact on the homegrown Iranian green movement.  Excellent article describing the situation over at salon.com http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/03/26/iran_green_movement/index.html

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There is also some positive State Department news - they have developed a nifty piece of software called the “Panic Protester Button”, a phone app that can be activated if a protester is about to be arrested. If the “panic” button is pressed the phone immediately erases all saved contact information from the phone and sends an emergency alert to other activists. This useful little piece of software shows an encouraging degree of innovation and adaptability on the part of our own State Department, (though an independently developed third-party version probably has a better chance of widespread adoption in places where the US government is viewed with almost as much suspicion as the local government.

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One last thing to mention: SudanProtests against Omar al-Bashir are still trying to take off. I’ll keep you posted on those.

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Well, that’s all for now, thanks for tuning in, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!

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