If you’ve just booked a holiday in the middle east, you’re a bit fucked. That’s one way of interpreting the news coverage from across the Arab world. Another, slightly more upbeat way to interpret it is that we are witnessing the resurgence of workers rights all across the middle east in revolts which aren’t about imposing medieval Islamic fundametalism OR installing CIA puppets with the help of teenagers in colourful shirts. The origins of these uprisings – and the demands being made – all seem to have similar origins, against corruption, autocratic rule, poverty and regime thuggery.
The overthrow of Mubarak has meant potential squeaky bum time for every Arab despot from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. If Mubarak can be overthrown it can happen to literally anyone of them – the Egyptian regime after all had a massive secret police force of 1.4 million officers and informants, a repressive army that many of the Arab regimes under threat today can only dream of.
Mad President with Mad Shagger
In Libya for example, the regime of Colonel Gaddaffi has had to call in mercenaries to fight the uprising that’s spread across the country. In Bahrain, the regime has chosen to attack the protesters with deadly force right from the start of their protests, firing on peaceful demonstrators who have been trying to copy the tactics used in Egypt and transform Bahrain’s Pearl Square into their own version of Liberation Square.
Doctors have told the media about indiscriminate firing upon the demonstrators in Pearl Square by the Bahraini army. These scenes of cold blooded murder have shamed the UK government into revoking several arms licences for weapons it previously sold to Bahrain’s Government.
Tahrir Square, Pearl Square, Everysquare!
The United States is, just like it did in Egypt, still hedging it’s bets and refusing to come out and directly call for Bahrain’s king Al Khalifa to resign. Instead it’s calling for the rights of protesters to be “respected”. It wasn’t long ago that Hillary Clinton called Bahrain a “model partner” and said she was “impressed by the commitment that the government has to the democratic path that Bahrain is walking on.” The USA has one very large reason to keep it’s eye on the island state – a massive US military base that is due for a $580 million dollar upgrade over the next 5 years.
Bahrain is situated in the Persian Gulf, and would be a vital staging post for the USA if it ever had to go to war against Iran, or protect the oil routes and pro-Western Gulf States like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Any popular revolution which overthrows the corrupt Royal Family of Bahrain may also decide it doesn’t want to be involved in a US war with Iran over oil. The USA is shit scared of losing all it’s regional allies, or at the very least, having less compliant allies in their place.
While the Bahraini regime is cracking down violently it doesn’t appear to be as desperate and bloody as what’s going on in Libya right now. According to twitter reports from the country, there are major demonstrations across the country (particularly the eastern half). The response of the regime has to be fire on peaceful demonstrators, including those mourning the victims of the regime.
Libya is an interesting case, about 20 or 30 years ago any attempt to overthrow Gaddaffi by the people would have been welcomed with open arms by the west. Colonel Gaddaffi took power in a military coup in 1969, making him the Arab world’s longest serving (and most batshit insane) leader. When he took power he was an Arab nationalist, who earned the hatred of the west for expelling multinationals from Libya, nationalising companies and funding a variety of armed revolutionary organisations.
Gaddaffi provided the Provisional IRA with a whole ship of kalashnikovs, missiles, mortars and semtex in the 1980′s. This ship – the Eksund – was intercepted by the French Navy, denying the provos this bonanza. But had they received the weaponry they would have had enough materials to launch a “Tet Offensive” of their own which may have actually forced the British into unconditional withdrawal.
Since then Gaddaffi’s ditched all the support for terrorism, WMD etc and become the West’s best mate, which is probably why they aren’t so keen on calling for him to resign just now. Gaddafi’s Libya also hasn’t done too badly – it’s the most developed country in Africa, thanks in no small part to the oil wealth of the country. But whatever subsidies Gaddafi has introduced, they’ve not been enough to buy off his populace.
Gaddafi’s extreme response to the protests is probably influenced by the fact he has nowhere to go if toppled, he’s insulted too many of the rich Gulf states to go looking for asylum. He may actually end up being put up against the wall, instead of going into retirement in Sharm El Sheik like Mubarak, or fleeing to Europe like his good pal Ben Ali.
Protesters smash a model Green Book - Gaddafi's novel of mad things.
Which is on one level a shame, given all the years of comedy he’s provided SSY. I’d encourage you to enjoy the hilarious aspects of the Gaddaffi regime while it lasts, such as his plan to abolish Switzerland or “FIFA. reform or abolition”. Unfortunately SSY sources tell us that the Colonel is too busy just now to formulate an opinion on a ten team SPL but he’ll get round to it as soon as he is free.
Alongside Bahrain and Libya are two other Arab and another non-Arab regime in the middle east facing protests, Yemen, Algeria and Iran respectively. In Yemen, pro-democracy supporters and Government loyalists have both taken to the streets, with running gun battles between the two. The strategy of the Yemeni regime appears to be similar to that of Mubarak in his dying days – unleash your political allies to murder your opponents without having to rely on conscript soldiers to do your dirty work.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy will serve Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh any better than it did Mubarak, but at the very least the protesters have forced him to announce he won’t stand in 2013 for President again (after 32 years in office). In Algeria, protests have been repressed by riot police. Thankfully, so far there does not appear to be a coordinated campaign of lethal repression by the military/regime loyalists in Algeria as in other Arab countries. The Algerian opposition says it will demonstrate every Saturday until the regime falls, lets hope they keep up the momentum.
Iranian demonstrators have some experience of police repression from after the country’s disputed Presidential elections in 2009. Iranian regime loyalists didn’t look on it kindly then, and don’t appear to like it much now – saying organisers of the protests should be executed. The Iranian regime is a growing regional power and could barely contain it’s glee when the Egyptian President was toppled. Although the revolutions underway across the Arab world are not Islamic (or at least not Islamic enough for the Iranian regime) they are undermining western allies, which is good enough for Tehran. It would be particularly ironic if this process the Iranian Mullahs are cheering on consumes them as well.
Whatever happens next, if the regimes stay or fall nothing will be the same in the Middle East. Dictatorships previously viewed as benign are now shown to be willing to open fire on their own citizens, just out of the mere fear that they might be toppled by people power. Mubarak down, Boutfelika, Ahmadinejahd, Saleh, Gaddafi and Al Khalifi to go.