Friday, February 25, 2011

Libya and the wider situation - Updates

Algeria has finally lifted the state of emergency that has existed since the early ‘90s which means that the government’s authority to use the military will, in theory at least, be curtailed. Given that Bouteflika has been using the military against dissidents for 20 years, it remains to be seen whether ending emergency powers will actually change anything.

“Gaddafi’s gift”, as I called it on Wednesday, may be paying off in Yemen, where after multiple deaths the President actually issued an order for the military to protect the protesters. We’ll see how long it lasts.

The violence against protesters in Bahrain also seems to have paused for the moment, as the various parties gather themselves for the next round of who knows what.

Iran seems grim. The protests aren’t really getting as much traction as they need to, and without the support of the workers unions and the merchants it doesn’t look good for them. Some rather sobering analysis here. An interesting election took place yesterday for the leadership of Iran's chamber of commerce which may play out in some interesting long-term ways as Iranian business leaders continue to flex and grow their power.

Saudi Arabia – After several weeks of surgery and convalescence in Europe and Morocco, King Abdullah returned home and showered his citizens with $37,000,000,000 in gifts/benefits in a move that, frankly, comes across as a cheap way of paying off his citizens to keep them happy. And there’s plenty more money where that came from, particularly given that oil prices are now over $120 a barrel. (On that note, Tom Friedman, whose NYT columns have been pretty hit-or-miss for quite some time, finally had a really good one this week)

Overall, even if countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Jordan only see minor reforms in the aftermath of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, it’s still a positive step forward. Rights, once given, are harder to take away, and every crack in the façade is a step closer to regime collapse.

In Israel there were rocket attacks from Gaza into Be'er Sheva yesterday, which fortunately only damaged a building and didn’t take any lives. As expected, the IDF response was swift and unequivocal. I’ll be putting up a post on Israel in a day or two, so I’m not going to get too deeply into that right now.

The situation in Libya can’t last much longer. A constitutional committee is underway in Benghazi and despite the viciousness of Gaddafi’s actions his troops are rapidly losing ground. His personal Envoy just fled to Egypt to beg for asylum and there are rumors of a split in the Khamees brigade, which (if true) would mean that it’s pretty much over for Brother Leader.

End of the line, G.

(Stay tuned to for continual updates)

I’ve had some interesting conversations about US intervention in Libya, and as much as a no-fly zone would be nice, it unfortunately isn’t as simple or easy as it sounds. Some good analysis here and here. As shocking and horrifying as the reports of planes firing on crowds of people is, the vast majority of the killing has been done on the ground with soldiers, mercenaries, tanks, and artillery. To do something really effective would require much more than keeping the government’s planes on the ground, and if this was a more protracted event intervention would probably be a realistic option but it looks to be just about over.

So what can we do? For one, Libya will need tremendous amounts of medical assistance once this ends (they actually need it now, but their #1 priority is to get rid of Gaddafi). I’m in the process of contacting some relief and aid agencies and some Libyans to see if we can coordinate or participate in some assistance activities – I’ll keep you posted.

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