Yet another busy day here today, both at work and in the news: the UN approved a No-Fly Zone (NFZ) in Libya (look for a longer post on that later), Bahrain took down the revolutionary symbol in Pearl Square, Yemen protests got bloodier, and rare demonstrations arrived in Syria. Though, today my commentary on these events will be pretty limited. A quick look at some serious events:
- In Bahrain – see my earlier post – where Saudi Arabia and the UAE have joined the effort to completely secularize the protests of the country, the government has dismantled the monument at the center of Pearl Square that had come to represent the cause of the protesters. The crackdown on protesters continues with the help of (mainly) Saudi forces, with opposition leaders predicting more violence to come. Mark Thompson wonders how much violence will be allowed by this important US ally before we start hearing calls for a NFZ there. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had some harsh words for the Bahrain crackdown, saying that the government “on the wrong track.”
- Yemeni forces continued their violent crackdown on protesters as well, opening fire on a group of protesters in the capital Sana’a yesterday, killing 41 and injuring over 200 – including several children. One medic on the scene called the government actions a massacre while President Obama responded to the massacre by saying that the government “must be held accountable” – strong words. A curfew has been imposed by the government, though opposition leaders are encouraging protesters to remain vocal from their rooftops.
- Until now, Syria has remained immune to the protests that have swept the region; two “days of rage” in February both fizzled under the watchful eyes of the regime. Though yesterday State Security forces violent broke up protests in 6 provinces across the country, killing at least five people and detaining many others. The expansion of protests to Syria would be a rather important step, as the country is one of the most closed and repressed in the region. The recent protests were small – perhaps due to the regimes history (in 1982 then president Hafez al Assad bombarded the town of Hama to quell a Muslim Brotherhood uprising, killing upwards of 40,000 people) – but remain a big step for Syrians. If Syrians can continue to stand for their rights – to break the “fear barrier” – they might be able to shake a regime that seems unsure of how to respond. Of course, considering the repression on Syria, continued protests could unleash a Qaddafi-esque response from Assad.
The brutal violence against protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia one has to wonder if the (relatively) non-violent revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia are really just flashes in the pan that will not repeat themselves in other countries. After Qaddafi declared war on his own people, the international community largely reacted with indecision and disagreement. The United States – despite calls for action – remained largely on the sidelines, unwilling to become involved in a third Muslim country. The delayed and hesitant reaction from the world has perhaps encouraged other regimes to fight; Qaddafi – despite being universally condemned – has had much more success than Mubarak and Ben Ali. That is to say that the time of peaceful falls of dictators might have come to an end. Moreover – for Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – the Obama administration has refused to make any truly damaging condemnations of the government violence in the Gulf, reflecting the strategic importance of those countries.
Undoubtedly, if Syria violently suppresses mass rallies, Obama and the west will give al Assad the Qaddafi treatment of condemnations and sanctions (and NFZ?) as the Syrian leadership is no friend of the US. However, it is entirely possible that the Gulf states use: a) the preoccupation of the west with Libya; b) the lasting power of Qaddafi due to force; and c) their role as strategic allies to the US to justify the use of force to control protests. Of course, if US allies continue to violently disrupt peaceful protests, at what point does the United States and the international community step in? Furthermore, do more strategically important allies (i.e. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain) have a higher immunity to foreign intervention than less important allies (i.e.Yemen)? Finally, if these countries fully accept a Qaddafi-esque strategy of repression, would the west step in with a NFZ, even if it meant losing access to Saudi oil or the home of the fifth fleet?