All Hell Breaks Loose in the Middle East

Friday saw major protests in Syria, Jordan and Yemen, along with continued fighting in Libya. The Arab Spring has not breathed its last gasp, but rather seems to be getting a second wind. Protesters are crossing red lines set by governments and risking being shot. They know that movements are watered with the blood of martyrs. One of the major protests, in Deraa, Syria, on Friday was actually a funeral procession. But the Baathist regime created dozens more martyrs in response to being challenged. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to have admitted he is outgoing, though he is bargaining with the crowds about the timing and circumstances.

The Aljazeera correspondent in Ajdabiya south of Benghazi writes that liberation movement fighters were able to enter the city via the eastern gate, which they now control. They were helped by the bombardment of Qaddafi’s tank brigades by UN allies, which forced the dictator’s troops to withdraw to the western gate. The liberation movement killed 4 pro-Qaddafi troops and took a number prisoner, as well as destroying some of their weapons, including two tanks. For the first time in two weeks, the liberation movement was able to break the blockade of Ajdabiya imposed on the city by Qaddafi’s forces. Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who defected to the transitional government based in Benghazi, said that his fighters had only entered the city when negotiations with pro-Qaddafi forces aiming at allowing them to leave the city broke down.

Euronews has video from the Ajdabiya:

UN human rights experts are worried about hundreds of activists taken into custody and made to disappear by Qaddafi’s secret police.

Aljazeera Arabic is reporting a small demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in support of Libya’s liberation movement, demanding that it be protected from Qaddafi government brutality. Protesters also demanded that the Mubarak family and their associates be put on trial for corruption.

Meanwhile, UN allies bombed Libyan forces near Zintan, which they had been trying to take. On the other hand, Qaddafi’s tanks subjected Misrata’s downtown to a fierce bombardment lasting hours. Since the UN allies are reluctant to bomb tanks already inside cities for fear of civilian casualties, the armor inside Misrata seems to have felt itself out of danger.

In Syria, tens of thousands of people marched in the southern city of Deraa, in a funeral for protesters killed earlier by the government of Bashar al-Asad. Security forces are alleged to have killed 20 protesters on Friday. Protests spread to Hama and even Damascus. The crowds were not mollified by al-Asad’s pledge to lift the state of emergency and restore some civil liberties.

Aljazeera English has video:

Thousands of protesters came out in Aden and other southern Yemeni cities to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In the capital of Sanaa, there were dueling demonstrations, with tens of thousands demanding that the president depart (they called Friday ‘the day of departure’), while another big crowd showed their support of him.

Saleh addressed his supporters, saying he would only step down after elections, such that there could be a clean transition. The speech was despised by the protest movement.

In Jordan, protesters were attacked by a pro-monarchy mob. Police intervened, mainly against the protesters, and one was killed. Nearly a hundred people were wounded. The protesters are demanding that King Abdullah II become a constitutional monarch.

Euronews has video:

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Posted in Libya,Yemen | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. Looking in from the ouside, I can’t help but be impressed at how the Arabs are going about demanding change from their oppressive governments. Makes you wish we had that kind of backbone…

  2. What do the clashes in Hauran have to do with the ethnic mix of that particular region? Easy to see why they didn´t take place in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains …
    this is the first of the Arabian unrests that rather worries me right from the beginning instead of just inspire hope for the people. Its not to be expected that the secret police in Syria would act any less rapid and brutal then in the past, which is clearly repugnant to human rights. (They´re “only doing what they have always done” and I can relate to the Syrians that they want this era and attitude to be gone once and forever).
    Still I remember that people put great hopes in Bashar El-Assad. I didn´t get the impression that he personally was any worse a ruler then M6 or Abdallah, who will certainly “profit” from some pressure from the people below but nevertheless seem to be the best kind of insurance against anarchy, horrible blodshed and finally just another shady new “strong men”. I can relate to such fears. I would wish for the Syrians that they take the Moroccan or Jordanian route.

  3. PS: for those who rightfully say “the Alawite minority rules the country and noone else has much of a say, not just the Druze and Sunni population of a single region” – yes, I know that. But in my eyes, that´s what´s making a power vacuum in a country like this so dangerous. Every ruler will be accused of putting his own people first (and probably will indeed be expected by his folks to do that.) Nothing is won for the Christians, the Alawites, the Kurdish, the Druze etc. when the next president is a Sunni from Bosra, I think having someone from a relatively unpopular minority is an advantage because he´s got to work on his popularity. What happens to minorities when the ruler is from the majority can be studied with the Glaoua Berbers or the Rifi..

  4. Dear Professor Cole

    It is clear that Nicholas Sarkozy, the President of France has taken leave of his senses and is threatening all and sundry with war. The stress of being third in the opinion polls prior to next year´s elections has obviously got to him. He is quite obviously trying to position himself to the right of Marine LePen in stoking hostility to Arabs, Muslims and immigrants.

    The UK Prime Minsiter is quite obviously a throwback to an earlier age, who has engaged Niall Fergusson the Imperialist historian to rewrite the history syllabus. He has quite obviously caught Blair disease and is following the lead of the crazed Sarkozy.

    It is hard not to associate these events with the parlous state of the UK economy and the exisitence of two large oil companies BP and Total who would quite like to get their hands on the Libyan oil and gas fields, thus delivering the objective of the Iraq invasion, i.e. cheap oil and tax revenues.

    The intervention of the purposeless NATO organisation in North Africa looks like a Trojan Horse for Africom the homeless US command based in Stuttgart.

    The recent reports of unrest in Syria, being encouraged by US politicians fills me with dread.

    If anyone says NATO in the same sentence as Syria in the next six months, I will assume that the whole episode has been cooked up in Tel Aviv with the support of the revived neocons.

    I will not speculate on the relationship between Sarkozy and the Israelis.

    From where I stand, the apropriate places for no fly zones are Gaza and Lebanon.

    I am disapointed that very few people other than the perceptive Vladimir Putin and Guido Westerwelle the German Foreign Minister seem to have stood back and wondered what is going on, and reacted apropriately.

    It remains to be seen whether the Turks can be sidlined as a rising power in the Mediterranean and Middle East, as seems to be then Israeli/ Sarkozy objective, and how the endgame is morphed into an all out attack on Iran.

    • “the exisitence of two large oil companies BP and Total who would quite like to get their hands on the Libyan oil and gas fields”

      Western companies already had access to libyas oil fields, in fact, if they wanted oil they could have just stood by and let gaddafi crush the rebels and allow the oil to start flowing the same way it did before the conflict.

      “The recent reports of unrest in Syria, being encouraged by US politicians fills me with dread.”

      According to freedom house and reporters without borders Syria is one of the most oppressive nations, in a region known for its oppressive nations, if would be foolish to believe that some outside force is the main power directing these protests.

      “From where I stand, the apropriate places for no fly zones are Gaza and Lebanon.”

      One can sympathise with the gazans and the lebanese, but it is a mistake to believe that at this current moment they deserve a no-fly zone over the libyans, the violence in libya is currently far worse than anything going in those two other regions at the moment

    • “From where I stand, the apropriate places for no fly zones are Gaza and Lebanon.”

      Well, you have to start somewhere and our “words” of support for Egypt and our “material” support Libya and our ‘cautions” to Saudi and others…is at least a beginning.

      Every successful popular revolt in the ME means increased pressure on the US to apply pressure to Israel.

      It will get harder and harder for the US to keep up the hypocrisy…at least under this adm.
      ME rulers now having been forced into some kind of action in response to their own street and into at least showing up on Libya will find it harder and harder to just offer up lip service and talk out of both sides of their mouths.

      As for Syria and Iran, not every situation is the same.
      Even if Israel was behind a revolt, with the Arab street attitude toward Israel and the US, the instigators regime would soon be turned out themselves.

    • Eurofrank, you spell out some interesting opportunities that the Arab revolts offer to Western interests. Then you overplay your hand and start to insinuate that those interests are directing the revolt, as if the Arabs possess no nous, agency, courage, or legitimate radical demands.

      A similar regional upheaval occurred after during world war one (against the Ottomans) and another occurred after world war two (against the European colonisers and their puppets); both upheavals featured extensive foreign involvement, but both had their origins in the region, and answered legitimate political demands. The “Arab Spring” has these characteristics as well. What the distant opportunists do with it is another story.

  5. The incompetence of the dictatorial Arab regimes is amazing. Whenever an insignificant demonstration occurs, they rush to drop stones on their own feet – by sending cavalry on camels or arresting children or shooting at peaceful protesters. When they “compromise,” it has been similarly incompetent – regime offers focusing on monetary moves rather than responding to calls for legal or political reforms and thus giving (the quite correct) impression they hope to bribe their way out of trouble.


    The more extreme, the more unjust, the more oppressive the regime, the more difficult it seems to be to change course. The crimes of a politician are no less crimes simply because the politician decides to stop committing those crimes. The criminal politician is trapped: he must fight to the death or pay for his crimes. But fighting to the death just undermines his position all the faster.

    With all the al Jazeera reporting, all the Wikileaks, all these unofficial folks voicing their opinions on the Internet, being a crooked politician just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

    • Why? Because genuine legal and political reforms would mean that they would lose their power and their money. Much easier to bribe the gov’t workers and keep the army happy. It’s been the same since the time of the Roman emperors.

  6. I haven’t seen you report on Bahrain. I have heard that the gov’t has increased their armed forces outside of those already brought in from Saudi Arabia. But I haven’t been able to confirm this. Was hoping to see you shed light on this.

    I love your blog, thanks so much!

  7. Maybe switch to a “Mustn’t Lose Zone”

    Extract for Washington Post article:

    Obama did not directly call for Gaddafi’s ouster, as the administration has done repeatedly in the past. But he said the Libyan dictator must stop attacks against civilians and pull back his forces. He added that Gaddafi had “lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule.”

    The administration has in recent days been discussing with its allies the possibility of supplying weapons to the Libyan opposition as coalition airstrikes failed to dislodge government forces from around key contested towns, according to U.S. and European officials.

    France actively supports training and arming the rebels, and the Obama administration believes the U.N. resolution that authorized international intervention in Libya has the “flexibility” to allow such assistance, “if we thought that were the right way to go,” Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Friday. It is a “possibility,” he said.

    Gene Cretz, the recently withdrawn U.S. ambassador to Libya, said that administration officials were having “the full gamut” of discussions on “potential assistance we might offer, both on the non-lethal and the lethal side,” but that no decisions had been made.

    The coalition has stepped up its outreach to the opposition, inviting one of its senior leaders to a high-level international conference in London on Tuesday, called to determine future political strategy in Libya.

    Even if one accepts that every word coming from our/NATO/Rebel side is true, and every word for Qaddafi’s side is false, its becoming clear that what we/NATO/Rebels have in mind is military victory that eliminates Qaddafi. The Rebels make it clear that they are helpless without air support, and our side is beginning to make clear the no-fly-no-drive-no-logistic support operation has its limits, if the objective is victory (rather than just stopping the massacres of civilians}.

    So we’ll have to dig into our limitless arsenal and figure out how to massacre Qaddafi’s forces. If only they would lay down their guns and run, we wouldn’t be forced to massacre them, but they don’t have our respect for human life.

  8. Please don’t forget about Bahrain, Prof. Cole. A greater percentage of the population has died in Bahrain than died in Egypt’s revolution, and Bahrain’s has only just begun. Please don’t forget about Bahrain just because it is small. All people deserve the same humanity and attention.

  9. Professor Cole, I am surprised and disappointed that you have seemingly jumped on the neocon bandwagon that asserts that the U.S. should wield its military might throughout the world. Your militaristic position on Libya seems wildly out of character.
    Bob Herbert made a portion of the case I would make: link to
    for why we must stop now.
    There is no limit to the countries and atrocities the U.S. could be militarily involved with to potentially solve or alleviate human disasters. We no longer have the resources or the knowledge of where we can be effective.
    We must admit to our limitations.

    Given your present position on Libya, I humorously wonder if you thought we should have initiated drone attacks on the camel riders attacking demonstrators in Egypt.

    • Juan is otherwise occupied and unable to answer your questions. He is currently somewhere west of Benghazi, heading for Tripoli where he will impose a “No-Walk Zone.”

      In other news, it is becoming increasingly clear that Libyan civilians pose a threat to other Libyan civilians and as such are legitimate targets under UN Resolution 1973.

      Juan Cole, aka as “Juan of Jamariya,” is not considered an occupation force.

  10. Juan,

    As we wait for Bashar al-Assad to speak (and I believe it’s already 10:00 pm there, or perhaps 11:00 pm) I have a question about something pretty basic – the time-cycle of daily living in south Mediterranean cultures.

    I was surprised when Mubarak’s first speech addressing the protests happened at a time I thought was extraordinarily late. I pointed to it as a sign of weakness in the regime – they must have been arguing about what to say. And indeed, that speech happened hours after aides had said it would.

    But other important speeches have also seemed to come quite late in the evening. Today, realizing how late Assad seems to be, I was reminded of a line I read somewhere, maybe in Steve Coll’s book from 8 years ago, about the Saudi king (at this point, I don’t even know which Saudi king), that he tended to sleep 4 hours at night, and 4 at mid-day.

    Now I’m starting to wonder if the daily cycle is simply different there. Is there something like the traditional siesta of cultures on the north side of the mediterranean? Is it a longer period, with a serious sleep rather than a nap, resuling in later evenings? Or am I just making things up? Is there any explanation for these late speeches? Or is it really just that the leaders don’t get their scripts written till late-by local standards, but expect their subjects to stay up till whenever it takes to hear from them?

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