After the fall of Egypt and Tunisia, the world and particularly the Arab world was ecstatic at the possibility of a region-wide peaceful democratic solution that would sweep unpopular dictators out of power. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak fell rather peacefully; any violence by protesters or the government was relatively isolated in a sea of peaceful chanting and unique displays of unity. Indeed, as Marc Lynch notes, the revolutions brought a sense of unity to the entire region: “Yemenis don’t watch Tunisia as spectators but as participants.” Unfortunately, just as popular unrest was starting to grow in many Arab states, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi stuck back against his people. The violence employed by Qaddafi against the Libyan public has been brutal and shocking. Videos of murder have swept the internet while Al Jazeera has nearly nonstop coverage of what has turned into basically a civil war. Qaddafi will not all as easily as Ben Ali and Mubarak and it remains to be seen how the Libyan crisis will affect other demonstrations.
Outside of Libya, one might begin to feel concern about the situation in Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh is perhaps leaning towards the Qaddafi model of demonstration resistance. Although the President recently told soldiers to protect the demonstrators, more violence seems just around the corner for Yemen. While the capital of Sana’a has been generally quiet recently, the sea port of Aden has been very tense for weeks. Yet recently, a prison riot demanding the resignation of the President broke out in Sana’a, leaving one dead and 60 injured. Hours later, the army attacked demonstrators who had taken over Sana’a University, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, leaving 98 people wounded. Soldiers also attacked a peaceful protest in Yemen’s version of Tahrir Square – Taghyeer Sqaure – leaving at leave 75 protesters wounded. Furthermore, protests have reached President Saleh’s home region of Dhamar – a development that could leave Saleh rather isolated.
Yemen’s protest movement and the government’s repression of it are both escalating. Understandably, all eyes at the moment seem to be focused on the disastrous situation in Libya – including the attentive gaze of Saleh and the other dictators facing domestic protests. Libya, it seems, could be a crucial test in the regional push for democracy. If Qaddafi is able to defeat the demonstrators using brutal force, other leaders may be inclined to follow suit. From Lynch:
At the same time, even as protests continue from Bahrain and Oman to Yemen and Algeria, there’s a sense of stalemate emerging. The bloody stalemate in Libya has drained away the carnival atmosphere from the Arab upheavals — something which may not be displeasing to many of the other Arab leaders, despite their distaste for Qaddafi. Arabs who yearn to be part of the Tahrir Square celebrations may be less excited to be part of a brutal, grinding struggle against entrenched security forces — a lesson which I suspect that Arab leaders are quietly encouraging. But they may have miscalculated. If force fails here, it may be seen to fail everywhere… which is one more reason to make sure that it does in fact fail.
Last thought: the Obama Administration has come out strongly against Qaddafi, going as far as to demand his resignation. Of course, in a country in which the maintenance of the regime matters little to American interests, this is an easy thing to do. It would be more difficult for Obama to repeat such calls in countries like Yemen and Bahrain, whose leaders are allied with the US (Bahrain houses a massive military base and Saleh in Yemen is an ally against the Al Qaeda presence in the Gulf).
By resorting to such full force in Libya, Qaddafi has decided on an all-or-nothing approach. There will be no debates about former members of the regime participating in the new government (aside from those who defected and will be motivated to demonstrate a complete break from Qaddafi) and, thus, the Libya revolution, if successful, will be truly revolutionary. This is in contrast to Egypt and Tunisia – not to discount anything from the revolutionary success there – where there is still a resemblance of the anciens regimes in the government.
Given that the US has come out such against Qaddafi, the Obama administration will presumably react similarly to a continuous violent crackdown elsewhere – such as Yemen and Bahrain. Perhaps the US is proactively working to push strategically important leaders to make sacrifices and to avoid a Qaddafi-like strategy in order to keep some of the structure that protects American interests in place?
Photo from Mouth News