If you are still checking my blog, you will have noticed that I have been absent for the last week, the most dramatic in the Middle East in about 40 years. On February 11, a few hours after Mubarak’s departure from power, I caught a plane to beautiful Costa Rica. I had a lovely, disconnected vacation in a country that is proudly without an army and which has earned a reputation as a stable democracy in a region that has seen enough bloodshed, instability, and U.S. manipulation to rival the Middle East. I am back now, and desperately scrambling to wrap my head around the astounding developments that have taken place in the region. The headlines of “Mubarak steps down” and “Libya promises reforms in the wake of massive protests” still seem fake to me. If you are like me (and have been living in a cave or on a sandy beach for a week) here is a quick laundry list of what has been going down.
1. Mubarak’s long-awaited departure makes it official: Egypt had a revolution. The devil is in the details, so expect more posts on what to expect and how to understand the post-Mubarak Egypt.
2. In a shocking development, Libya seems to be on deck as the next Arab country to undergo a revolution. With each passing hour, it seems more and more likely that anti-government protests may bring down the maniacal regime of Muammar Qaddafi. While Qaddafi’s quirky fashion and ridiculous antics have made him the laughing stock of MidEast aficionados, the brutality of his 41-year regime is no laughing matter. Hundreds of protesters have been killed, and the regime has even used fighter jets to fire upon its own civilians. However, with top officials and ordinary soldiers defecting, it looks like Colonel Qaddafi may soon join Ben Ali and Mubarak.
3. The Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has been ignited in a battle between anti-government protesters and security forces. The protesters are predominately Shiite, who are a marginalized and political disenfranchised majority in the island kingdom. Don’t be fooled by the sectarian nature of the protests, however, as the demonstrations seem to be more about political rights and economic opportunities than any religious debate. There is no beating around the bush: leaders of the protests are now calling for an end to the monarchy.
Regime changes in both Libya and Bahrain would be momentous, but I have to say that such a development in the latter would be more significant than most people think. Libya, like Tunisia and Egypt, claims to be a Republic, and therefore its government asserts itself to be representative of the people. The former dictators of Egypt and Tunisia at least pretended to have parliamentary democracies, whereas Libya didn’t even bother, but all three claimed that their governments were representative and populist in nature. Bahrain is a monarchy, and any revolution in this small country would open up a whole new can of worms in the region. If you thought the kings of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco were nervous over Egypt, you can bet your hat that they will be quaking if Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is given the boot.
Costa Rica was bliss, but I am excited to be back in the blogging saddle. It is only February, but 2011 is already a historic year for the region and the world. I have a feeling we are just getting started. For a good read on this week’s developments, check out the following: The Great Arab Revolt (Juan Cole)