Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some Thoughts on Three Insurrections

I've but a moment to write here but, as I've been piecing together the fragments of news about the continuing insurrections spreading across North Africa and the Middle East, I've been struck by how little except anti-government motivation the ongoing uprisings share.

Yemen: This is really just the latest continuation of the South Yemen (Aden) revolt-in-all-but-name against the Saleh regime that has been going on for years. The motivations there are those of a post-colonial South born of both socialist and liberal desires against a classic Arab Nationalist regime... which can of course be quite socialist (cf. Egypt in the past) but has no tolerance for Socialists of the former-Soviet-inspired type, at least not in their own population. There is also an ongoing Islamist insurgency across the North and South that has in equal measure cut deals with the movement-anti-government types and with the Saleh regime. So there really isn't the "ordinary people against the autocratic regime" situation there was in Egypt, or Tunisia before that. The current circumstances are just an opportunity.

Libya: I have scoffed before as to the possiblity that a genuine popular uprising could stand a chance against the al-Qaddafi (al-Gaddafi) regime. That may actually have been premature of me, although the Libyan State Security forces have happily killed eighty-some-odd protesters so far in Benghazi and other parts of the east so far. But there is some real determination in the demonstrations to the point that they are on the verge of making eastern Libya a region in full revolt. There is so little news reporting possible, though, that it is rather unclear as to *who* is doing the demonstrations; Islamists? a Shopkeepers revolt? the entire population irrespective of politics? No good way to know, at least for now. The other issue is that the protests have not spread to the capital city, Tripoli. While it is almost always better for a mass popular uprising to start in the outlying areas, it can't make the essential jump from being a local insurrection to being one that brings down the regime unless the movement has enough strength to at least threaten the seat of power. If that comes, then you may politely discard any respect for my previous dismissal of possible success and cheer for what would be one heck of a revolution. We'll sort out exactly who the revolutionaries are after they win, ne?

Bahrain: This one is the hard one. There really is a revolt in progress, and the regime really is making the protesters pay in blood for every day in the streets, but... there is a lot more to what is happening than merely the loyalists gunning down the demonstrators (about 5 dead, all in, as of yesterday; lots of wounded, though). The matter is vastly more difficult for the following reasons: because Bahrain was actually the regional leader in the advancement of civil rights under a monarchy from 1999 up to 2008; because the territory of Bahrain is still claimed by Iran as part of their sovereignty (cf. Saddam Hussein's claim vs. Kuwait as a model); and because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia considers the monarchy on Bahrain and indeed the land itself to be one of its vested interests (the island is connected to Arabia by a causeway, for one reason; as a buffer against Iranian pretensions of 'owning the Gulf' as another). I'd like to say that the demonstrations are at least well-intentioned, that they are genuine, popular and of a liberalizing intent. I can't. I know all too well how much it serves Iranian interests to pour fuel on the discontent held by the (roughly) 70% of the Bahraini population that share Shi'a Islam and near-brotherly ethnic ties with the coastal regions of Iran. If the Pasdaran (IRGC) isn't shoveling in all it has to stir things up on Bahrain, then they've really lost a step. This is a golden opportunity for them to make the monarchy and the Saudis look very, very bad... and they might end up controlling the place at least in part if things go completely out of control.


There are, of course, several other movements and insurrections happening across the region. I'm not discounting any of them; I've just little to add today about those other areas. You shouldn't overlook them, though. Jordan, Algeria, there are more, and reports do occasionally penetrate the all-too-inattentive mass media from time to time.

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