Arab Spring continues outside the headlines


Obviously that headline isn’t completely true, because if it’s not being reported, then how am I linking to reports? It’s more a case that our domestic concerns with the economy and the latest dumb things said during Republican presidential debates have pushed the Arab Spring off the front pages and maybe even to the hidden places where a bit of looking is necessary. Most of the links that follow are foreign media. Maybe a casual consumer of news has heard Syria is violent. There’s a big story there certainly, but it’s not the only story.

Some of the news is actually good, where democracy and rule of law made some advances. Just to make us aware there are other stories, let’s start with where the Arab Spring started, Tunisia. This is also a story unlikely to have made it into most news media.

Tunisia: Tunisia recently held its first democratic election, and they came off in such a way as to stay out of the news. Voters chose an assembly to write the next constitution. Demonstrators at the first session took no chances, bringing signs that said, “we’re watching you”.

Morocco: Today is the first parliamentary election under the new constitution. Reformers who led Morocco’s protest movement are boycotting on the grounds the reforms don’t go far enough, so there are concerns about a low voter turnout. The new constitution made Morocco officially a constitutional monarchy, the first in the Arab world if they make it work, and requires the king to select the leader of the largest party as prime minister. Whether enough power shifted from king to parliament to keep enough of the people happy is the ultimate question. Morocco has been overlooked, but they’ve done what they’ve done so far with little violence.

Jordan: Protests continue. They’re so under the media radar, that even actively looking, there’s not much to find. It appears protests are ongoing, and that reforms either didn’t get implemented or didn’t go far.

Saudi Arabia: Protests have started up again in the part of Saudi Arabia inhabited by the Shiite minority. Security forces have killed several demonstrators, and claim the deaths occurred during exchanges of gunfire.

Kuwait: Arab Spring has reached Kuwait. Protesters recently stormed the parliament building to denounce corruption and demand the resignation of the prime minister.

Bahrain: Now we’re getting into stories that might have looked through to those not actively following the region. Wednesday, an international human rights panel on Bahrain’s crackdown on opponents said the government systematically tortured detainees, as well as using excessive force during arrests and denying due process. If you didn’t hear about this, guess who you have that in common with: Bahrainis. Their media reported that the panel said the medical workers prosecuted by the government denied care to injured Sunnis, and blamed Iran for incitement. The panel said neither. Who knew Fox News had a Bahraini branch?

The awkward part for the US is we have long-standing good relations with the government. We have a navy base there, and a shared distrust of Iran. There is also a pending arms sale that was delayed due to the crackdown, and may or may not go through now that the rights panel has reported.

Yemen: Good news and bad news: The dictator finally agreed to step down, but he got himself a good deal after all he put his country through while trying to hang on, or at least that’s how many who have been protesting for 10 months see it. It appears the dictator has given up power. He keeps the title for 90 days, and then he’ll be immune from prosecution. Protests have continued, government supporters have continued to kill protesters, and loyal army units have fought with defectors.

Control of the country is geographically fractured. The area where Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a US drone is under control of Al Qaida, and other areas are controlled by other insurgencies or tribal militias. Our government has long cooperated with the outgoing dictator, even though it appears the Obama administration was active in convincing him to go.

Egypt: Now a story you probably have heard even without having to look for it, protests have resumed in Tahrir Square. Since this has received ample coverage, I’ll just post today’s update, that the military has appointed a new civilian prime minister, though this appears to little to satisfy the protesters. The Obama administration is urging the military government to step down quickly.

Syria: This is the one that’s been on the front pages, so no need to repeat everything. I just want to mention a couple aspects. First, here’s one to show anyone who tries to claim the Bush administration should get credit for the Arab Spring because of their invasion of Iraq: what happened to Iraq is deterring Syrian Christians from supporting the uprising. Rather supports my theory that far from encouraging Arabs to overthrow their dictators, what Iraq turned into under Bush’s invasion and occupation actually deterred Arabs from challenging their governments for fear their countries would become like Iraq.

The other aspect worth mentioning is what I see as the growing likelihood of Turkish intervention. Yes, Turkish intervention. The the Turkish government had good relations with the Assad regime, it’s now openly calling for it to give up power. Turkey called the Arab League’s ultimatum “Syria’s last chance”. Turkey has harbored Syrian refugees since towns near the border were attacked by the Syrian army, and is now harboring Syrian opponents including the Free Syrian Army that is carrying on an insurgency. Turkish buses carrying pilgrims home to Turkey from Mecca were attacked in Syria by men wearing army uniforms. Turkey has developed into a regional power, enough so that even if the US and EU nations don’t get militarily engaged in Syria, Turkey might not need them. With Syrian rebels to do much of the fighting, it could launch its own intervention. The other Arab nations might not send troops, but likely wouldn’t object. Even though they’re still mostly dictators themselves, the end of a regime friendly to Iran, and a regionally destabilizing situation in Syria, would be good things. Moreover, the US and NATO just got done with Libya which frees resources, but the EU has its own crisis right now, and the US is war-weary, not to mention that civil war in Yemen is still possible and might entail western intervention. If intervening is to be done, it will probably have to be Turkey that does it.