Top Ten Arab Spring Advances this Week

With the horrid crackdowns on dissent in Syria and Bahrain and the vicious shelling by Qaddafi brigades of the port of Misrata in Libya on Tuesday, it would be easy to concentrate solely on the negative news. But the Arab Spring is still producing some positive reforms and questioning of past corrupt practices, and even major governmental change. Tuesday’s positive developments:

1. Yemeni opposition leaders and dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh will meet in Riyadh on Monday to sign an agreement stipulating that Saleh will step down within 30 days and there will be a peaceful transfer of power, with Saleh and those close to him granted amnesty. The compromise was negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises 6 Gulf nations, most of which have oil or natural gas riches. Yemenis hope that the deal will calm down the tense situation in the country, which has seen big demonstrations and sometimes vicious repression. The government intervened on Tuesday against a big demonstration in Taizz on Tuesday, with 1 killed and 12 wounded in the ensuing altercation.

2. One reason for Saleh’s sudden flexibility may be that many Yemeni troops have been joining the protest movement. Euronews has a video report:

3. A decision in the case against former Egyptian Interior Minister (head of the secret police) for ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters in February will be rendered in late May. It is incredible that high officials in Egypt may be held accountable for their actions virtually for the first time in decades.

Aljazeera English reports:

4. Egyptian prosecutors are investigating whether President Hosni Mubarak agreed to a 20-year deal to provide natural gas to Israel at a low fixed price because he received kickbacks. The gas pipeline was attacked early on Wednesday, possibly by Sinai Bedouin who are protesting their neglect at the hands of the government.

5. The Moroccan government has given public sector workers a substantial pay raise and will reduce interest rates for loans held by farmers. This, in the wake of demonstrations by thousands of people in several cities on Sunday, the third day of major protests since February. Protesters also want constitutional reforms, including an independent judiciary and a more democratic system of governance than the hands-on monarchy they now have.

6. King Abdallah II of Jordan has created a commission to suggest amendments to the Jordanian constitution. Protesters in Jordan want an elected prime minister rather than an appointed one, and a stronger parliament (and hence less powerful monarchy). Initially, there is pessimism that the reforms will amount to much, but once the principle that there should be reforms is accepted by the elite, it may be possible for the people to push them further than is now envisaged.

7. Turkey, which has moved toward more popular participation in politics and an opening up of its system in a more democratic direction in the past decade, is attempting to intervene with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to restrain the use of violence against protesters. Turkey’s trade with Syria has mushroomed since relations were repaired in 2002, but the turn in Damascus toward an authoritarian crackdown has threatened to attract international sanctions on Syria and could throw a monkey wrench into Turkish hopes for a prosperous free trade zone with the Arab Levant. Turkey’s pressure for a lighter touch and more compromise helps offset an Iranian push to prop up the Baathist regime at all costs, since it is Tehran’s avenue of influence in the Levant, through which money and arms are transshipped to Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

8. Tunisians continue to take steps toward greater press freedom in the wake of the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship.

9. Iraqis in Mosul continue to protest regularly by the thousands against any plan to keep US troops in Iraq past this December. They accuse Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ordering troops to use live ammunition against the rallies, in which two persons have been killed and dozens wounded since Sunday. Al-Maliki himself appears to be leaning against trying to amend the Status of Forces Agreement that stipulates a US departure by the end of this year, precisely because he is feeling pressure from the Iraqi people both in the Sunni center-north and in the Shiite south (where Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement have agitated against an extended US presence; al-Maliki depends on an alliance of convenience with al-Sadr to remain prime minister).

10. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos has acquiesced in protesters’ demands that he release nearly 300 dissidents arrested since the Arab Spring protests began in Oman a couple of months ago.

6 Responses

  1. Arab Region positive Reforms are almost invisibles! I like your point of view…is something different! I’ll keep an eye on your comments, well done.

    @CarlosReyesIntl Tweeter

  2. 7. Turkey vs. Iran

    Iran needs to worry about Iran.

    Does the concept of sphere of influence apply here? If so, Syria is Turkey’s primary concern. Can anybody envisage like minded governments in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and (who am I forgetting? Oh yes!) Palestine. If so, Hezbollah and Hamas could put their guns back into the closet and pay attention to politics, food, water and trade.

    Now, *that* would be a solution.

  3. These are all excellent news, including #9. We’ve done all we could in Iraq, and we really need to leave.

    In fact, it’s time for America to thoroughly renegotiate its role in the region. Now that it’s clear that we no longer need to have “our SOBs” around to keep extremists in check, it’s time to disinvest in tyrannies that aren’t stable anyways. Instead, we need to support the nascent democracies in Egypt, Tunisia, and potentially other countries as well.

    The idea that America should not have a role in the Arab World is simply unrealistic. We will want to buy oil from them, and they will want to buy American food and industrial goods. The question is what our role should be.

    Personally, I think we should assist the new democracies in building transparent markets and strengthening their infrastructure, both physical and human. We’ve got a head start on China here due to their dead-end backing of strongmen, and the potential for lots of exports.

  4. All good to hear about the Arab Spring. Now is there going to be an “Iranian Winter” of authoritarian forces descending after the old regimes are overthrown in a wave of poitical and social idealism and before even the celebrations stop?

    The left in particular needs to be vigilant about counter-democratic forces gaining mass support (and access to arms), as they will be its first victims.

  5. Should it be a top 11? The deal between Hamas and Fatah seems like a big deal. link to

    It follows protests in the Palestinian territories demanding unity talks. These protests seem part of Arab Spring, but got little attention.

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