Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More updates...

So here’s where we’re at: the old orders have dug their heels in. They will hold out as long as they can by any means necessary.

It’s been hard to write updates, because although things are happening, they are mostly small advances, or gradual increases in scale.

This is particularly true in Libya, where the freedom fighters have made remarkable strides, none of which seem dramatic to the outside observer. With elements of the former Libyan military leading the anti-Gaddafi campaign the dramatic back-and-forth capture of towns and cities has ended. The rebel army is moving steadily forward in a coordinated fashion, taking and holding key points as they move west.

The pro-Ghaddafi forces have taken a different track, turning their attention to the isolated towns in the mountainous regions, where they have been wreaking havoc outside of the NFZ/civilian defense umbrella. The results have been horrific, but there is little that the rebels can do to assist. Meanwhile, not far from Tripoli the rebel-held city of Misrata has continued in its persistent defiance of Ghaddafi’s repeated attacks. The fact that attacks have continued on the city speaks to its importance as a symbol for bothe sides of the conflict. As long as the rebels hold the city it cannot be said that the rebellion is simply a regional phenomenon, and the longer it holds out, the weaker Ghaddafi looks to his supporters.

Some highlights from the past 12 hours:

  • NATO 18 Apr: 1 building destroyed near #Brega #Libya (nature of building not given)
  • NATO 18 Apr: 3 tanks, 1 anti-aircraft weapon system and 1 armoured vehicle destroyed near Zintan
  • NATO 18 Apr: 6 SAMs, 4 tanks, 3 air defence missile sites and 1 mobile rocket launcher were destroyed near Misrata
  • NATO 18 Apr: 3 ammunition storage bunkers destroyed near Sirte
  • NATO 18 April: 9 ammo bunkers and HQ of 32nd brigade destroyed in Tripoli
  • CONFIRMED: NATO hit "Khamis Brigade" Gaddafi 's son HeadQuarter 10km South of Tripoli several times last night

As I’ve said before, despite the persistence of those who predict a Libyan stalemate the pro Ghaddafi forces are losing ground steadily. For more on the situation in misrata and Libya in general I will again direct you to libyafeb17.com


Some regimes elsewhere have had some success in making concessions while controlling the protests – particualry Morocco and to a lesser extent Oman (though some things seems to be brewing there). Jordan and Lebanon seem to be far more concerned with issues of ethno-national self-identity than the otherwise prevalent issue of simple dignity (not because they aren’t concerned with dignity, but more because their very existence as nation-states is intimately intertwined with issues of ethnicity and self-identity)


Syrian protests have grown continually since last week – Assad seems weirdly paralyzed by ambivalence, probably a result of his delay in responding to the situation quickly enough. This response-delay has been one of the hallmarks of the “Arab Spring” – the Arab leaders repeatedly ignored or neglected the stirrings of discontent, or answered them with half-assed measures to placate very serious concerns. Of course, now that the angry mobs have toppled two long-standing dictators the Middle Eastern regimes are taking them much more seriously.

Be that as it may, things might have already gone too far too fast for Assad. The Syrian regime was one of the few that was initially deemed safe from upheaval due to the regime’s chokehold on society in general, but even despite the brutality evidenced by his military and police force (who may be under the authority of one of his cousins) he still hasn’t taken a decisive step in any direction yet.

Slight side note - Friends who spent any amount of time in Syria always commented on the security that they felt while living and traveling there.

“There’s no crime!” they said. “I never felt unsafe the whole time I was there!”

Their enthusiasm reminds me of a comment by an older Italian man that I used to know who would regularly reminisce about Italy’s fascist era. “Under Mussolini, if someone would steal even a cabbage from your garden, he would leave a coin on the stem where he cut it off with his knife. ”

So, anyway, Syria’s protofascist era seems to be seriously at risk.

Yesterday one of the leading Sunni religious leaders publicly condemned the Assad regime for their indiscriminate actions against protesters and every day the protests grow steadily. Interestingly, the Syrian regime has set up several twitter accounts to flood the twitterverse (twittersphere?) with random minutia under the #Syria hashtag. This piece identifies some of the more prominent twitter spammers, but if you’re looking for a few reliable Syrian tweeters here are a few that I’ve been following:


Just an hour or two ago it was announced that the long-standing "Emergency Law" has been revoked (accompanied by an order outlawing the protests)
Too little too late, most likely.


Yemen unfortunately hasn't been at the forefront of my radar, but here's a good timeline if you need to figure our where we're at: http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/131956 


Bahrain continues to be brutal. The government has been employing vicious tactics to hold the protests at bay – bloggers and twitterers are being detained continually, brutality abounds, and dozens have died. I must emphasize that the death toll is deceptively small – Bahrain is a country with a population of a little over a million. The approximately 30 reported deaths in Bahrain are equivalent to 600 deaths in a country the size of Syria, or 2400 in a country the size of Egypt.

Saudi Arabia seems to have chosen Bahrain as a line in the sand, as though to say “political unrest will come no closer”, and given their ridiculous quantities of money they may be successful in quelling the uprising on behalf of the Bahraini royals, but I expect the cost to be terrible. This is a situation that desperately calls for a stronger voice from both the UN and the US, but any political wrangling that takes place will be messy and fraught with seriously negative outcomes for the US.

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