Like many this year, it’s been one hell of a weekend for the Arab World. While there are many worthwhile stories, including shocking protests in Syria, renewed violence between Israel and Palestinians, and a continuing tug-o-war between protesters and government forces in Bahrain, I want to focus on the three main stars of the weekend: Yemen, Libya, and Egypt.
On Friday, an exceptionally brutal attack by pro-government supporters (or thugs) on demonstrators sent shockwaves through a country already teetering on the brink of revolt. While the government denied any connection to the killings, public suspicions of government complicity are high, and there have been renewed calls for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In an effort to placate the crowd, Saleh fired his cabinet on Saturday, displaying a comical underestimation & misunderstanding of the public’s demands. With today’s defection of General Ali Mohsen, who threw his weight behind the opposition and demonstrators,it appears that Saleh has few choices but to step down or make a last stand. February protests in Yemen pressured President Saleh–who has been in power since 1978–to promise to step down in 2013. I think he will be lucky if he makes it through the weekend.
Following a UN vote in favor of the imposition of a no fly zone to protect Libyan civilians, France, Britain, and the United States launched a military offensive in Libya. This is a huge development, as the participation of international forces–especially these three–will undoubtedly change the dynamics of the conflict. The revolutions sweeping the region were viewed as populist and owned entirely by the people of those countries. The entrance of foreign actors–while it might prevent the deaths of civilians–changes the equation. For more on this debate, check out this slew of articles . Here are a few appetizers to whet your appetite…
“I’m conflicted about the intervention, torn between the anguished appeals from Libyans and Arabs desperate for support against Qaddafi and concerns about the many deep, unanswered and at this point largely unasked questions about what comes next — whether Qaddafi survives or falls.” – Mark Lynch, The U.N.’s High Stakes Gamble in Libya
“I don’t think Obama has been timid; I think he has been sly. It has been precisely the deep skepticism of intervention in Libya from some quarters of the administration that has forced the Arab League and the Europeans to pony up and relieve us of the political burden.” -Robert Kaplan, The U.S. Is Right Not To Own It
“The trouble is, although we are prepared to “do something” and pull out the most impressive kit in the U.S. toolbox — military power — we aren’t actually willing to get involved at the level required to win.” -Micah Zenko, Not Until We Know What We are Getting Into
On Saturday, Egypt held a national referendum on proposed amendments to the constitution. As this blogger points out, the referendum was less about the content of the amendments and more about a simple question: what is the path to a more democratic future? Proponents of the referendum argued that as long as the most offensive portions of the constitution were amended, then it was better for Egyptians to move forward with parliamentary elections under the current framework. Once a new parliament was elected, additional constitutional changes could be made. Oponents of the referendum argue that precipitous elections would threaten the ideals of the revolution, and that only organized groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP, would be able to compete effectively. Regardless of the debate over the referendum, the voter turnout (around 41 percent) was among the highest in recent history, and the polls were largely free of the violence and violation which has come to typify the Egyptian electoral process.
For some excellent analysis of what this referendum means, and on what to expect in the next few months, check out this interview with Steven Cook from the Council on Foreign Relations.