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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Three major shifts

Things seem to be picking up speed once again, and the last few days have seen some significant milestones for three of the countries we've been paying close attention to.

Yemen: frankly, my coverage of Yemen has been fairly weak compared to some of the other countries. Unfortunately, aside from some research I did several years ago concerning the reunification of North and South Yemen, it's not a country that I've really immersed myself in. Despite its small population, it is extremely diverse, with cultural influences coming from North and East Africa, Arabia, and South Asia, thanks to its advantageous location near the horn of Africa, the southern entrance to the Red Sea, and the coastal Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina.

Its glory days as a major link in both overland and sea trade are long past, and now it's largely known for his poverty and fractious infighting. two days ago, the GCC put forth a proposal whereby Saleh, the current president/dictator of Yemen would step down within the next 30 days, and free and fair elections would be held shortly thereafter in exchange for guarantees of immunity for himself and his people. Saleh seems to have accepted the plan (although that may not stand)  As encouraging as this news might be, there are some issues that do concern me.

1. The most obvious is the simple question of “will he leave office in 30 days?” It is, of course, entirely possible that he will abide by the GCC agreement, but he could also use the 30 day long to marshal his forces, eliminate key opposition members, and strengthen his position vis-à-vis the protesters in preparation for a major crackdown a month from now.

2. Then, there is the issue of the rest of the country. The idea of immunity from prosecution will likely stick in the craw of many who were on the receiving end of his brutality. Not only that, the protests in Yemen have been far less unified in any coherent sense than those in Egypt, Libya, or even Syria. Rather than a cohesive body of protesters, instead there are an abundant number of individual factions all of whom are interested in Saleh's departure from office, but with little shared objectives beyond that. A variety of post-election worst-case scenarios can be imagined, ranging from 1980s style Lebanese civil war to straight up Somalian style anarchy outside of a few controlled urban centers. As I've said from the beginning, I'm not all that optimistic about Yemen's potential for positive outcomes.

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Libya – Things are definitely moving forward, but unfortunately this means that the regime is getting more desperate in its actions. For the last three days the people of Misrata have been steadily cleaning buildings full of mercenary snipers, with a wide range of foreign nationals being taken into custody by freedom fighters. Captured merc units include Sudanese, Syrians, and Algerians (including an Algerian Colonel) as well as many Libyan soldiers (including a pro-Qaddafi General). As the pro-Qaddafi forces have been eradicated from their strongholds in the city, their support outside the city has taken to shelling the city more heavily.

The NATO strikes have certainly been moving things forward, taking down several of the Libyan state television stations and destroying two of the main buildings in Ghaddafi’s main compound in Tripoli Bab Al-Azizaya today. Additionally, the gas shortage in Tripoli has escalated to the point where there is none left for nonmilitary usage - this is bad news for everyone in the city, but ultimately it moves us that much closer to angry mobs dragging brother leader out into the streets.

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While Libya is moving closer to conclusion, Syria is ramping up. Blood in the streets. Tanks, live ammo. I highly recommend this piece http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2011/04/24/syrian-protesters-cut-down-weeds Body count is past 200, and still climbing. Not much to say. It’s awful.

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