Arab revolt


Arab Spring flares up | 

Flickr, Jonathan Rashad

Egypt's Tahrir Square, at the start of the uprising

The popular uprising across the Middle East has intensified this week with the eruption of violence in Egypt and the resignation of Yemen’s president President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As the Washington Post reports, the level of violence in Egypt has reached levels unseen since the original protests which nine months ago forced President Hosni Mubarak out of office. Protesters are demonstrating against what they see as the military’s attempt to hold on to power. So far, 38 people have been reported killed and the UN has condemned the interim government’s response.

Meanwhile, Time magazine says, the UN has announced that Yemen’s President Saleh has agreed to step down if he is allowed to flee to Saudi Arabia and avoid prosecution.

In Syria, the government has continued to crack down on protesters with a death toll so far estimated at 3,500. As Reuters reports, many believe Syria’s violent response to the popular uprising could foment widespread bloodshed and violence for the entire region.

The only bright spot right now is Tunisia, where the Arab Spring started, sparked by the suicide of a fruit seller long abused by the authorities. As the AP reports, Tunisia’s first fairly elected political assembly went to work this week:

Tunisia’s newly elected assembly held its inaugural meeting Tuesday, and begin the yearlong process of shaping the constitution and the democratic future of the country that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

And it didn’t take long for the legislators to feel one result of free speech: hundreds of people protested outside Parliament, demanding everything from women’s rights and a crackdown on security forces to limits on Qatar’s influence over Tunisia’s affairs.

Yeah, democracy is messy. Whether the rest of the Middle East and north Africa follows Tunisia’s promising lead remains in question.

Dispatch from inside the Malawi protests: An African spring? | 


Flickr, tlupic

Malawi protesters

Malawi is in upheaval.

Just as when Tunisians first rose up against their government, few outside are paying much attention.

The same basic forces — unemployment, high food prices, human rights abuses and mistrust of government — which sparked the revolt in Tunisia and then led to today’s widespread popular revolution across the Arab world, is now at play in this small, southeastern African nation.

Time magazine sees From Malawi to Senegal, signs of a Sub-Saharan Arab Spring:

Malawi is the latest in a series of sub-Saharan countries to face political unrest in recent months — what some analysts claim are echoes of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.

President Obama says two interesting things about the Middle East | 

President Barack Obama said a lot today in his speech focused on our policy approach to the inflamed Middle East, but two things stood out for me:

1. He sided with popular revolutions trying to overturn Arab governments, many of which the U.S. had previously supported despite their history of repression and dictatorship. “The people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.”

2. He called for reinventing foreign aid so that it serves the need of people rather than governments. We’ll have to see what this means. Obama cited the $1 billion in proposed aid to Egypt as if this was somehow a new thing. We’ve been giving massive aid to Egypt, and Egypt’s former dictator, for years – mostly for military purchases.

Here’s a brief clip from the AP excerpting Obama’s speech.

The conservative Heritage organization denounced Obama’s aims to assist Egypt as a “mini-Marshall Plan” — claiming that the original post-WWII Marshal Plan was also a fraud. I dunno enough to say.

The Washington Post also “deciphered” Obama’s speech and offered perspective on the rhetoric.

Much more was made of Obama’s call for Israel and Palestine to agree to a two-state resolution of their conflict based on the 1967 borders — which has already prompted internecine media conflict, such as the Atlantic referring to the AP as providing “the nuttiest” perspective (really? THE nuttiest?).

But haven’t we all heard this two-state-resolution sort of thing from the Obama Administration before?

What most interests me is exactly how President Obama intends to support the popular Arab revolt (he forgot to mention Bahrain’s revolt, I think, and didn’t talk about democracy for Saudi Arabia) and in what way our approach to foreign aid will change to avoid supporting repressive governments.

Guardian: Time to abandon the democracy vs dictatorship debate? | 

Flickr, People's Open Graphics

Mussolini praises Mubarak

The Guardian has published this very thought-provoking article arguing we need to stop thinking so simplistically when it comes to pushing for political progress in other countries.

Well, who would argue with that?

But David Booth, with the Overseas Development Institute, actually appears to be suggesting donors and development organizations stop demanding dictatorial or authoritarian regimes convert to open and free democratic governance — especially in Africa. Booth says:

We should be thinking more actively about alternative ways of improving governance based on the “local reforms” and practical hybrid institutions that we are finding here and there in several countries (Ghana, Malawi, Niger), and more comprehensively in at least one (Rwanda).

Malawi? Wasn’t the British ambassador just kicked out for describing it as a dictatorship? Here’s a BBC columnist asking if Malawi is slipping back into dictatorship. Continue reading

New humanitarian standard for warfare? | 

Flickr, Jayel Aheram

Except for euphemistically calling warfare “intervention,” I think this article in The Atlantic about our current military efforts in Libya “The New Standard for Humanitarian Intervention” is a good read. Says the author Robert Pape:

We may be witnessing an historic shift in international norms.

Flickr, Runs with Scissors

Gandhi and Che, two kinds of freedom fighters

Pape’s article answers a question I raised a few weeks ago in my post asking “What determines the humanitarian military response?”

I will refer Pape’s article to my brother who, over the weekend, was challenging me on this — about Obama deciding to wage “intervention” against Libya without congressional approval, about the geopolitical wisdom of using warfare as a means to stop or resolve conflict and so on.

And it’s not just me and my brother. The chattering class (of which I am a card-carrying member) has been all over this issue as well, with some pundits who had been criticizing President Obama for not taking action in the Middle East now criticizing for him taking this action.

I recently looked at the reasons why I believe it is in our national interest to take aggressive “humanitarian military action” in Libya, as did Nick Kristof, who argues it is the better of several bad choices. For more than a month now, I’ve been citing stories about Ivory Coast that raise the question of why there has been so little international response to that crisis so similar in nature to Libya.

Pape goes beyond these specific cases and issues to look at what the rapid military intervention in Libya may mean for the future of foreign policy, and if it signals a more “humanitarian” approach by the international community — a lower threshold of intolerance for brutality. Says Pape:

Crises short of genocide, such as the Libyan conflict, justify a military response when it can save thousands of lives with reasonable prospects of virtually no or only very low casualties to international allies.

On Libya, the Arab revolt and the national interest | 

Flickr, Messay Shoakena

Anti-Gaddafi protests in Libya

The popular revolt in Libya began in Tunisia, gained force in Egypt, and is continuing its spread across much of the Arab world.

Libya is different mostly in that we are supporting the rebellion militarily, which has raised other questions.

The Arab revolt appears to be re-writing the political power grid in the Middle East and yet some continue to argue that none of this is in our national interest. Why then has Egypt been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid?

Those who contend the Arab revolt has nothing to do with our national interests appear to have their heads in the desert sand. Geopolitically speaking.

But as a humanitarian issue, if this popular revolt continues to spread and grow, as some think it will, one question we need to ask is if we would intervene again.

Would we take action in another Arab country if there is a similar risk of large-scale, violent government retaliation? Is there a moral obligation, a precedent being set here, that will shift the discussion beyond the ever-debated political calculus focused simply on whether or not it is in our interest?

That’s what I wondered after hearing the question being asked by NPR’s Jackie Northam in a report today, Will U.S. policy in Libya spread to other nations? Continue reading

Analysis: Could the Middle East “Jasmine Revolution” spread to America? Should it? | 

Flickr, Megan Skelly

Grass fire

The grassfire Arab revolt sparked last December in Tunisia by the self-immolation suicide of a poor, abused fruit seller is now being called the Jasmine Revolution, apparently because the media likes to color code these kind of things.

Like Iran’s green revolution (which failed) and Ukraine’s orange revolution (which succeeded).

Right now, most of the attention is on Libya where Muammar Gaddafi (or Gadhafi, or Mallomar Godzilla, however you want to spell his name) is waging war on his own people, trying to turn back the tide of political reform. Continue reading

Wikileaks on Libya, Tunis and Egypt | 


The Telegraph published a worrisome article today about Libya, based on its interpretation of a Wikileaks diplomatic cable. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the cable says, Libya’s popular revolt may be fueled by extremist Islamic elements.

Former jihadi fighters who underwent “religious and ideological training” in Afghanistan, Lebanon and the West Bank in the 1980s have returned to eastern towns in Libya such as Benghazi and Derna to propagate their Islamist beliefs, the cables warn

Of course, this was much the same rumor that accompanied the revolution in Egypt — with the media focused on the Muslim Brotherhood — which so far appears to have been not the case.

Still, it’s worth remembering that the Arab revolt’s launch in Tunisia may have been prompted in part by Wikileaks making public the excesses and corruption of the former regime of President Ben Ali.

Here’s a somewhat amusing 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli about Gaddafi’s children getting in trouble overseas and fighting among themselves for power.

Here’s a less amusing, perhaps revealing, 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Cairo that describes the Egyptian military as having great economic and social influence but also in decline.

Diplomat Matthew Tueller writes of the military’s “decline” in terms of its influence within the Mubarak power structure. What Tueller could not have predicted, of course, is that the military’s declining influence among the power elite may have been what contributed to the military’s identification with the popular revolt:

Recently, academics and civilian analysts painted a portrait of an Egyptian military in intellectual and social decline, whose officers have largely fallen out of society’s elite ranks….

Contacts agree that presidential son Gamal Mubarak’s power base is centered in the business community, not with the military. XXXXXXXXXXXX said officers told him recently that the military does not support Gamal and if Mubarak died in office, the military would seize power rather than allow Gamal to succeed his father.