Today’s Top 5 Crises in the 2011 Arab Revolutions

1. The protest movement in Egypt, which started up in earnest again last Friday, is expanding. Thousands were camped out in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo throughout the weekend, and people streamed there Sunday evening. The crowds closed the Mugamma` administrative building. They are demanding a cleaner break with the old regime, trials for security police accused of murdering protesters, trials for the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, and his sons, reparations for the families of the martyrs, and more and swifter democratization. There are plans for marches this week and a campaign of strikes and civil disobedience. Many in the protest movement were deeply disappointed with Saturday evening’s speech by interim prime minister Essam Sharaf, which was short on specifics, in response to Friday’s demonstrations.

Aljazeera English reports:

2. Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa chaired a nationally televised debate at Damascus University between regime supporters and a few dissidents over the future of the country. (Most in the opposition boycotted the meeting, but a few joined in.) Dissidents called for a pull-back of troops from protesting cities and the release of prisoners of conscience. As regime officials have done before, Sharaa spoke of the country moving to a pluralistic, multi-party democracy. Dear Baathist Regime in Syria: It is easy to move to pluralistic democracy. You announce the date for elections, and let other parties freely contest them. Talking about it as a far-future ideal in the absence of practical steps will only enrage your citizens. And having a debate in which those who speak on the opposing side are likely to go to jail and be tortured is a farce.

3. President Obama’s national security council aide in charge of counter-terrorism, John Brennan, met with Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Riyadh and urged him to step down under an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council of small oil states between his government and the opposition, which Saleh kept saying he would sign but always wriggled out of. He says he has had several operations for burns and injuries sustained in a rocket attack on the mosque courtyard in his presidential palace weeks ago.

4. In an embarrassing rift within NATO over Libya, French defence minister Gerard Longuet called for the Transitional National Council in Benghazi to open direct negotiations with the government of Muammar Qaddafi, while the US stuck to its position that Qaddafi must go. In the French system cabinet members seldom have much discretion to carve out their own positions, so Longuet’s remarks almost certainly simply conveyed the current sentiments of President Nicolas Sarkozy. French backpedaling comes as Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close friend of Qaddafi’s, complained about having been forced into a war he does not support by his own parliament. Likewise, the head of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, had signaled last week that Qaddafi might not have to leave the country, but then was forced to retract. The French and the British, along with the Saudis, dragged a reluctant Obama administration kicking and screaming into the Libya war, so right about now the White House and Pentagon must be having a fit about the French remarks. Turkey, which was pressured into abandoning its own earlier support for negotiations and into recognizing and funding the TNC, must also be bewildered. Wars are in part psychological, and the chief hope for a quick end to the conflict was that Tripoli’s elites would see that Qaddafi’s prospects were dim, and would bundle him out of the country or to internal exile. But instead of showing its poker face to enhance this prospect, NATO member states keep giving Qaddafi loyalists new hope. If the US is indeed committed to the UN charge to protect Libyan civilians from Qaddafi’s murderous minions, now would be a good time for President Obama to play a leadership role instead of ‘leading from behind.’

5. Sunday saw renewed small protests in Morocco by members of the February 20 movement, who are not satisfied with the minor changes instituted by a recent referendum, and want to see the government become substantially more transparent and less corrupt. 8,000 are said to have come out in Casablanca, and 2000 in Rabat, provoking much smaller counter-demonstrations by conservatives supporting the referendum.

14 Responses

  1. It is becoming increasingly clear that what average NATO leaders want is Ghaddafism without Ghaddafi. Are such weird goals realistic enough now that freedom fighters are advancing towards Tripoli?

  2. #4. Libya.

    The moment is auspicious. This could be the opening where Obama finally earns his Nobel Prize.

    • Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that international nuclear arms reductions deals between world’s largest nuclear powers are important.

  3. I thought Gaddafi’s forces would scurry back to the protection of friendly cities within a week of air-strikes starting. They must have adapted, dispersing and camouflaging themselves – or NATO is not half what it is cracked up to be.

    Three months in and it is becoming clear what the situation is, Al Jazeera reports a heart warming story about volunteers making pizza – the real news is the pizza reaching the front line from Misrata is still hot.

    Gaddafi will survive this. The rebels are waiting for the air strikes to overthrow him and NATO is waiting for the rebels.

    Every armed force in peacetime has a stock of weapons about to expire and which must be fired or dumped, Once these are gone, it starts to get expensive. Expect some to pull back soon – that is the reason for the backpedaling.

  4. Minor point of correction on #3. I think it has been established that the explosion that injured Saleh was from a planted bomb rather than a rocket attack. (Which raises some interesting questions about how it got there.)

  5. [Dear Baathist Regime in Syria: It is easy to move to pluralistic democracy. You announce the date for elections, and let other parties freely contest them. Talking about it as a far-future ideal in the absence of practical steps will only enrage your citizens. And having a debate in which those who speak on the opposing side are likely to go to jail and be tortured is a farce.]

    Tom Friedman instantly comes to my mind. Like the world is flat, etc, etc. Tom speaks as if he is on TV and assumes that his readers never check him and don’t know, for example, about all the perils of Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

  6. I’d be curious to know Juan’s position on the French minister’s suggestion that the rebels negotiate with the Libyan government without insisting that Qaddafi and his sons give up power before negotiations begin.

  7. Good call on the need for Obama to add a little stiffening to the NATO effort.

    The decision to pursue this effort on such a half-hearted basis has backfired. As we see clearly now, time was never on NATO’s side. But I still don’t see Qadaffy winning this thing. Somehow, someway, his regime will be ousted.

    If Free Libya advocates are not sufficiently depressed by the crumbling of NATO alliance, enjoy this account of the behavior of Nafusa rebels:
    link to atwar.blogs.nytimes.com

  8. Mr Cole, I’m here for about the second time, and this is my first response. You wrote

    ……The French and the British, along with the Saudis, dragged a reluctant Obama administration kicking and screaming into the Libya war……

    That is indeed how it looks. It can hardly be true, though. The US is a very self-conscious and assertive leader in the West. It would likely be a unique and unexplained case in international politics if it were different in regard to Libya. Consider this snippet: “Despite the perception that the US was taking a back seat and leaving the anti-Gaddafi campaign to the Europeans, Nato officials said this was
    for public consumption” link to guardian.co.uk

    You also wrote:

    …….If the US is indeed committed to the UN charge to protect Libyan civilians from Qaddafi’s murderous minions……

    Any evidence of them lately? No. Any viable evidence from before? If it exists, it’s extremely well hidden by everybody, including the Libyan rebels.

    • There is no doubt at all that Obama and Gates opposed intervention in Libya. Privately Obama called it a ‘turd sandwich.’ Remember that he knew he was about to get Bin Laden, and he likely didn’t want an uncertain further theater of war taking the spotlight off that achievement. Gates was straightforward in his opposition. Any evidence of these two plumping for a Libya intervention before it happened would be welcome, but on the basis of the public and leaked private record, you are just wrong on this point, as is my colleague Glenn Greenwald. It is irrelevant that once the war started, Obama tried to downplay the extent of US involvement; that was only to be expected. But here the NATO tail wagged the US dog. We historians are picky about conspiracy theories not backed by evidence that fly in the face of the evidence we do have.

      The assertion that NATO has done nothing at all to protect Libyans from Qaddafi’s murderous attacks is plain silly and easily controverted by a mountain of data. It has repeatedly bombed attacking armored units and their ammunition depots. The Free Libya forces wanted more, but that is to be expected.

  9. Longuet also said: ‘They can talk to each other because we’ve shown there is no solution through force.’

    Golly, and it’s only taken 3 months and 6,000 bombing runs which killed 700 Libyan civilians for the French to work it out. One wonders what it will take before a certain Nobel peace prize winner catches on.

  10. Based on these protests in Cairo, is the perception among Egyptians (esp. youth) that the revolution is far from over? To use an American Revolution analogy (however poor), I tended to see the overthrow of Mubarak as a sort of Battle of Yorktown, where many details needed to be sorted out with a formal peace treaty, but one where the Americans effectively won at that point. Might it instead be fair to say that Egyptians see the overthrow of Mubarak more as a Battle at Saratoga, where they won a significant victory, but still are a long way away from achieving their goals? My guess is that reality is somewhere in the middle of those two.

  11. Moi, could you please provide some links in substantiation for your claim of 700 civilians kiled by NATO bombs. (something outside of Kaddafi’s flaks, please)

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