Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February was an interesting month, wasn’t it? Wait till you see what's next.

February was an interesting month, wasn’t it?

Mark my words, March will be even more interesting.


Egypt and Tunisia still have a long way to go, though Tunisia has finally lifted its state of emergency, and Egypt is fast tracking elections. I’ll try to keep you apprised of those situations as best I can, but it won’t be easy given how much other stuff is coming down the pipeline. Updates are probably going to come in the form of links, rather than summaries.

If you're interested in the current power structure in Egypt, Issandr el Amrani over at the has put up a particularly informative post that's worth checking out.


Iran – The March 1 protests were notably different than those seen previously, particularly in the degree to which violence has been a factor. Although the Feb14 protesters did suffer a few attacks, and the 2009 protests saw several clashes between the protesters and the police/militia, yesterday there was much more rapid aggression on the part of the police (including deployment of riot squads) and the crowds (which were notably larger than the Feb14 crowds) were quick to counter with violence of their own. A recap of the days events can be found here.

Prominent opposition leaders Moussavi and Karroubi, already under house arrest, may have been recently imprisoned by the Iranian government. The government denies this, however, saying it is only propaganda generated by the MKO. (Not than anyone believes them)

The Iranian government began utilizing an interesting tactic in response to the tech-driven nature of the protests – anyone (particularly youth) walking or driving in the area near where the planned protests planned took place was stopped by police. The police checked their ID and searched their bags/pockets. Anyone with a phone, camera, or laptop was then photographed. This represents a frighteningly smart shift in the government’s efforts to counter the protests, and provides them with a fairly comprehensive database of tech/media savvy youth that may or may not be connected to the protests. The database will doubtlessly be used to identify potential activists for targeted monitoring.

There is good news as well - some unrest among Iranian labor groups has begun to surface. As I said before, the Green Movement has little hope of success if it doesn't gain traction among the trade unions and merchants.


Saudi Arabia has done an interesting thing...and by interesting I mean, awful with ominous portent for the future.

Shooting random Saudi facebook protest-organizers is not a good way to tell the world that you are secure in the legitimacy of your mandate to lead.


Over in Libya, Qaddafi is holed up in Tripoli with the last of his army, periodically making attacks on nearby cities. This situation has gotten so bad that the supposedly elite Khamis Bragade has been unable to break through the defenses of a civilian uprising.

Looking back at my post from Saturday, it seems that I was less generous than I should have been with regards to how long brother leader’s regime will stand – with close to 90% of the country lost (geographically and demographically) the only thing keeping Qaddafi afloat now is the hard-line loyalists, his mercenaries, and his fanatical self-confidence and delusion.

Regardless, the inevitability of such a thing is virtually inarguable.

Intervention seems to be a faint possibility, but at this point the most important services that our (and by “our” I mean “American”) troops can do is be prepared to deliver services to a country in desperate
need of food and medical supplies.

The possibility of a no-fly zone may be moving closer, but given the relative speed of your average United Nations resolution versus the pace of this particular revolution, it seems unlikely that we will see anything resembling the enforced no-fly zone that that we saw in Iraq during the last few years of the 20th century. Furthermore, it seems that many of the recent reports of air attacks against protesters and anti-government forces are not actually air attacks, but halfhearted overtures of attack, followed by deliberate mis-targeting that harms no one. There has even been at least one reported case of a Libyan pilot deliberately injecting from his plane, deliberately crashing it into an open field rather than fire on Libyan citizens.

Regardless, the longer this conflict continues, the greater the likelihood of intervention.

In terms of Libya’s outlook for the future - it’s anybody’s guess, but some scenarios seem more likely than others.

The two that I have seen cited most often are worlds apart – stable constitutional democracy or fragmentation. (note: both of these scenarios are contingent on the absence of US/UK/UN intervention. If external forces are involved then the dynamic changes rather dramatically.)

Libya does have few advantages over egypt and Tunisia.

1. When this grisly scene finally reaches its conclusion, there won’t be much left of the old guard. Some of the more powerful tribal leaders will certainly win big in an election scenario, but it’ll be pretty difficult for anyone with deep connections to the Libyan regime to retain much power. Libya will be taking their steps towards freedom without the entrenched pwer structures that Egypt and Tunisia are still struggling with.

2. Despite the general failure of the political system invented by Gaddafi and promulgated in his “Green Book”, an important aspect of the “Jamhariyya” is its heavy reliance on direct democracy for local governance. Although the system was severely hampered by the corruption and interference from nepotistic elites, the Libyan people are quite familiar with the democratic process.

3. Lack of diversity – Libya has a strong sense of self identity. This is not to say that Libya is homogeneous, but its religious and ethnic minority populations are quite small - this is also good because it means they are less likely to be seen as a political, cultural, or demographic threat and can more comfortably be integrated into the process of democratization.

However, some inclinations towards chaos are also present, particularly the inter-tribal rivalries that Gaddafi has spent decades exploiting. I am fairly optimistic about the potential for good outcomes but the issue of vendetta and retaliation is very real, and will probably be with us for years if a vehicle resolution is not in place.

This is an issue that many countries face in the aftermath of heavily repressive regimes, and a variety of coping methods have been used by the dazed and damaged populations as they emerge from under the boot of oppression. I’ll try to get a post up in the next few days on how South Africa, Spain and Argentina handled the ghost of their bloody and brutal history – there are important lessons to be learned from all three examples.


The most notable “I sure didn’t see that one coming” from the past week is Oman. I know a thing or two about Oman (I did some work for the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center when I was interning at the Middle East Institute) and the Sultan has a reputation for being progressive and forward thinking, so I was particularly surprised to see that they, too, are not immune from the momentum of the Arab Spring. I’ll be putting up a piece on Oman, Sultan Qaboos, and Ibadi Islam in the next few days - stay tuned.
(In the meantime you can scroll through a piece on Frankincense that I put together for the SQCC five years ago - I think some of it got lost when it was posted online, but it's still a fun little piece)

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