Top Ten Upheavals in the Arab World Today

1. In response to the sting of defeat at the UN, Israel announced it is building a further 3,000 Israel squatter housing units on Palestinian land around Jerusalem. The Israelis had said that the Palestinians should come to the negotiating table instead of going to the UN, but they would be negotiating over this land that Israelis keep stealing. The US State Department deplored the Israeli move. But when Washington deplores the Palestinians’ actions, it cuts off funding, or designates people or parties ‘terrorist.’ When it condemns something Israel has done, nothing happens beyond a toothless tch tch.

2. Egypt’s Constituent Assembly abruptly passed the text of its proposed new constitution for the country on Friday, and likely President Muhammad Morsi will sign off on it Saturday. It then must be voted on in a nationwide referendum. The text of the constitution provoked anger among leftist youth, liberals and secularists, since it was crafted by the Muslim Brotherhood and incorporates religious strictures, nor does it provide firm protection for basic human rights. The Egyptian judiciary, which has been playing a major role in overseeing elections, says it will decline to administer the constitutional referendum. Egypt’s judges are angry at the president because of his high-handed decree putting himself, his senate and the constituent assembly above judicial review.

3. The opposition launched another major demonstration in Tahrir Square, demanding a new Constituent Assembly and a new text. But likely their only hope of derailing this one would be to campaign against its victory in the referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood is much better at campaigning.

Aljazeera has a video report on the protests in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood draft constitution.

4. All hell is breaking loose in Syria. Revolutionaries have captured at least 7 bases from the Syrian army in just the past two weeks, and they have been mining their depots for arms. They have gotten hold of SA-7 shoulderheld missile launchers and deployed them against the Syrian air force. The regime seems to have lost control of most of the north of the country, and roads north have been cut. The revolutionaries are now attempting to take the Damascus airport, to prevent the regime from being resupplied by Russia and other allies. The fighting near the airport has caused most international passenger airlines to cease flying into it, though it is technically still open and the regime may still be able to use it for resupply. The regime, desperate to disrupt the revolutionaries’ command and control, pulled the plug on the internet and also turned off the telephone service. Muammar Qaddafi turned off the internet during the uprising in Libya, but it did not help him in the end. It is hard to see how this regime can survive, given the kinds of advances that the opposition has been making in recent weeks.

5. Some twenty Lebanese young fundamentalist Sunni men from the northern city of Tripoli were killed on Friday in an ambush as they sneaked into Syria to fight the Syrian government. Tripoli is tense, and has seen faction-fighting between Alawite Shiites and Sunnis in recent months. The Alawites tend to sympathize with the present government of Bashar al-Assad, himself an Alawite Shiite.

6. Violence continued for the fourth straight day in the town of Siliana southeast of Tunis, as locals protested the lack of jobs, lack of infrastructure, and lack of development, and demanded that their provincial government be dismissed. President Moncef Marzouqi, himself a secular liberal, fearing that the protests could spread, called for a national unity government and a cabinet reshuffle. But so far the prime minister, Hamad Jebali of the fundamentalist al-Nahda Party, has declined to dismiss the governor, shuffle his cabinet or meet any of the protesters’ demands. The al-Nahda is running a minority government, with less than 40% of the seats in parliament, and new elections are scheduled for June, 2013 after the new Tunisian constitution is finished this spring.

7. The US State Department took the unusual step this week of warning the Bahrain government that the country could break apart if the monarchy went on with its heavy-handed repression of protesters. The Shiite majority in Bahrain wants constitutional reform and a greater say in governing, whereas the Sunni monarchy insists on something close to absolute monarchy and Sunni dominance. (There is a show parliament, but the king can overrule it and the Shiites have never had a majority even in the elected lower house, because of regime gerrymandering).

8. In south Yemen, thousands of protesters rallied to demand autonomy from the Sanaa-based government in the north of the country. South Yemen had been an independent Marxist state 1967 to 1990, but was united with the North then, though often uneasily, and the central government has used force to assert itself in the south.

9. The Zawiya refinery in the west of Libya reopened on Friday, after a protest by vets that they weren’t getting paid a pension had closed it. Government mediation with the former fighters succeeded in mollifying them for now. Meanwhile, Libya’s new prime minister succeeded in having his proposed foreign minister pass the integrity commission’s inquiry, so that the new, elected government is gradually being formed. Libya’s government was overthrown and the new one has not succeeded in asserting itself, facing hundreds of armed militias around the country (most of which, however appear to function as neighborhood watch organizations, and militia violence in the big cities is relatively rare).

10. Thousands of Muslim fundamentalist and leftist protesters gathered in downtown Amman, Jordan, on Friday to demand the sacking of the prime minister. The protests have swelled in Jordan because the government has allowed natural gas prices to rise, reducing the subsidy as an austerity measure. Muslim Brotherhood dissidents warned King Abdullah II that if their demands were not met, all possibilities were open (i.e. including overthrowing the king and making Jordan a republic).

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11 Responses

  1. “The US State Department deplored the Israeli move” Not quite, he spokeswoman said Palestine was responsible for failing to follow US orders to withdraw their request for state observer status (NYT) carried the quote

    • That is a gross misrepresentation of reality.

      Reality: link to

      US slams Israel’s decision to expand settlements

      “We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

      “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve of a two state solution,” Vietor said. “Direct negotiations remain our goal and we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to achieve.”

      I invite you to provide any sort of evidence to back up your claim.

      • Joe, USG condemnations of Israeli squatting on Palestinian land are merely pro forma. They are *never* accompanied by *any* practical consequences for Israel.

        The FP has a piece on how upset the US was with France for leading the charge in Europe to vote for Palestine.

        • The comment I referred to reads, “Not quite, he spokeswoman said Palestine was responsible for failing to follow US orders to withdraw their request for state observer status (NYT) carried the quote.”

          Mike made a false assertion about the State Department’s statement regarding the settlement expansion, and I presented the truth. There was nothing – not a thing – anywhere in any State Department statement about the settlement expansion that bears even the slightest resemblance to his depiction. Pointing out that the anti-settlement statement was, allegedly, “pro-forma” does not transmute it into a statement that the Palestinians were responsible for failing to follow US orders to blah blah.

          Why are you changing the subject?

        • USG condemnations of Israeli squatting on Palestinian land are merely pro forma. They are *never* accompanied by *any* practical consequences for Israel.

          Does this mean that, say, the US condemnation of the Palestinian recognition vote is also “pro-forma,” and therefore should be poo-poo’ed, because it also is not accompanied by any practical consequences?

          I would actually like to see this “It was pro-forma” observation applied more broadly, because almost everything this administration says about Israel and Palestine consists of such “pro-forma” statements, with no real consequences for anybody. They mouth the empty words that are expected – but when those words are critical of Israel, they are dismissed as “pro-forma” and not really worthy of notice, but when they are critical of the Palestinians, it turns into World War Three around here.

        • The US has repeatedly sanctioned the Palestinians, and publicly gone along with Israeli measures. Washington hasn’t protested just-announced Israeli theft of Palestinian tax revenue. You’re smart & usually insightful, but really — read up on this one.

  2. Taken together these observations remind me of how futile/counterproductive it is to lie about reality. We might have an argument on the margins about the reality of things, but whomever has the most accurate read is going to have a far better chance of responding appropriately to their own best interests. There is a drift you can see when you connect these ten dots that is anything but “manageable.”

    Not to go overlong about Israeli actions, but they are a big glaring case in point. They can go on with business as usual, but their Iron Wall strategy is unsustainable in the longer run. More and better lies, and too-clever-by-half tactics like increasing settlement construction at this point, will only make it tougher for them to negotiate their way out of the hole they are digging for themselves.

  3. Israel’s present status and direction is what it has been: belligerent and unsustainable. Being determinedly unsustainable is identical to being intentionally suicidal.

    The US is unsustainable and an overwhelming number of its key structures from local to federal government, military, and on to big business, want to maintain the status quo. Talk of necessary change is virtually all window dressing. The US too is now intentionally suicidal.

    The two spend far too much time trying to use each other.

    Much of the rest of the world appears to have a greater comprehension of the increasing fragility of human existence than the US and Israel. The salient issue involved is not oil, technology, markets, resources, political parties, political systems, or religious contention. All of those “top issues” are contained within the salient issue of human survival in the face of changes humans themselves have created.

  4. Mursi’s attempt to ram a constitution through without input from large sectors of Egyptian society and to have a vote on a complex vote within two weeks without giving people a chance to thoroughly and understand it is a recipe for disaster. Mursi’s behavior clearly indicates that he is intending to set up an authoritarian regime and all the hopes the “Spirit of Tahrir” engendered will be lost. While there still may be “free elections” like they have in Zimbabwe and Venezuela, Egypt’s chances for real development will be set back for years. Will their public accept this diktat for a new, undemocratic constitution?

    I must say that Prof Cole has been proven right. A year ago I thought he was off-base when he said that the Muslim Brotherhood faced a lot of opposition in Egypt, in spite fo the fact that the MB plus the Nour-Salafists got something like 75% of the vote and a well-publicized PEW poll on attitudes towards religious belief showed that something like 3/4 of Egyptians want more state-enforced religious observance. Prof Cole’s point apparently is that there are a significant number of Egyptians who are religiously devout but who don’t want and MB-controlled regime imposing religious observance on people. The question is how this group, as opposed to the liberals and secularists who oppose the MB ideology respond in the coming plebiscite on the proposed constitution. Will they accept it even if they don’t like the MB regime for religious reasons, or will the oppose it because they don’t like the MB. It will be interesting to see how things develop.

  5. The Jerusalem Post today contained a statement from PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi hinting that Palestine may now be turning over paperwork regarding Israeli settlement activity over to the International Criminal Court as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

  6. Positive sign on Bahrain–Jan do you think there is any hope of US pressure for real change there?

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