Will The Violent Response Spread?

Is Yemen the next Libya?

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

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10 thoughts on “Will The Violent Response Spread?

  1. It seems to me that four entirely possible scenarios for the spread of violence exist:

    1. Arab dictators (Gaddafi, Saleh, Bouteflika, Saudi’s Abdullah) decide to go for broke;
    2. As Arab reform starts to win, Israeli expansionists both seize the moment and give way to paranoia;
    3. The Iranian neo-con war generation of IRGC self-made men decides that a little war would be a great way to eliminate Rafsanjani, the Green Movement, and the Mullahs all in one fell swoop;
    4. Al Qua’ida, so far sitting hapless on the sidelines, figures out a way to exploit the tension, perhaps by attacking US installations in a way that makes the reform movement appear guilty.

    Surely someone in the US must be thinking about some of these dangers, but I have yet to see much commentary about them, and the latent threat from the increasingly strident Israeli right wing is in particular something about which Americans appear to be completely in denial. Yet these four scenarios each represent a real and serious danger to Mideast peace and US national security.

    An academic workshop, an Internet debate, a wiki…whatever steps could be taken to evaluate these risks would be worthwhile, I would think. Any further thoughts on how we might most usefully spell out these threats and watch for evidence?

    1. 1) I think this outcome is possible if Qaddafi succeeds. If Qaddafi falls (and if he falls, he’ll fall hard) it is unlikely that others will follow this strategy.
      2) I don’t see this as happening. Israeli paranoia will certainly kick in (its pretty much a permanent state no?) but I cannot imagine that they will push for any more expansionist policies. Israel is walking a knife’s edge in the international community. It would lose support from across the world – perhaps even the US – if it, for example, tried to take the Sinai. This doesn’t mean that Israel will not try to bomb Iran or something equally foolish. But, even then, such a move would legitimize the Iranian government and undermine the reformers. I imagine Israel just bitching a lot about its loss of security and demanding more support from the US – they already asked for some $20 billion more in military aid (if I remember correctly)
      3) Linked to #2, but an Iranian strike would undermine the gov’t and support the reformers. Same as #2 but switch roles.
      4) Why would Al Qaeda set up the reform movements who are trying to replace US backed regimes with ones that are more democratic. It is possible that Qaeda makes a move, but a) they would not blame the reform movement and b) Qaeda has been pretty much reduced to a meaningless synonym for terrorism. It has fallen far.

      My real fear is that US backed regimes try for a Qaddafi type push against reformers, leading to the fall of a US ally and a new regime eager to remove links to teh US. There US must be pushing to support the reform movements in a way that ensures that whatever comes next does not completely severe ties. In Bahrain, for example, the US should be pushing for a transition – not a revolution – to ensure that the island can remain a port for our navy. Ditto in Yemen, which cannot become a home for al Qaeda – one country where the group remains.

  2. The only thing that will ensure the success of this the revolution is for the west to take a genuine stand to protect the protesters, they should stop being hypocritical life people is at stake.

    1. Possible. But that depends on the level on engagement. Troops on the ground or an extensive bombing campaign (such as Serbia) would be too far. An international no-fly zone (with participation from Muslim and African countries, not led by the US) would be fine. Various military logistical support would go far. Humanitarian support is a must. How are they being hypocritical?

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