Monday, February 21, 2011

An exciting night! Qaddafi on the edge!

I cannot go to bed without sharing with readers that the Libya events are quite exciting.

At first when this whole business started in Tunisia I was a little bit nonplussed observing dryly, and too fast, that Tunisians were a rather educated country (they all speak reasonable to excellent French and thus have access to more info than, say, Egyptians).  Not that I meant to diminish the Tunisia exploit, a truly admirable saga, but I thought it was a fluke in the most likely country of the Arab world for such a fluke to happen.

Then was Egypt.  I confess that I was a little bit more unsettled for that one.  After all, as the lone country with "normal" relations with Israel, and the host of an Islamic group of certain substance, though without the militancy seen elsewhere, I did not know what to expect and feared the worse.  And yet Mubarak felt, with a minimum of blood price and the Muslim Brotherhood seems far from having won the game, though it has a good starting block.

If for Tunis my surprise was not major, for Egypt it was.  After all if we must rank Middle Eastern dictatorship the Mubarak one was the "best" by far....  but dictatorship it was, and corrupt, and nepotistic and what not.

As Mubarak was shaking I thought that indeed maybe we were living something comparable to the fall of Communist Eastern Europe in 1989, that it was more than journalistic wishful thinking.  And I started looking at who could be next.  My list was short.  In order of priority I thought that Syria could be next, or maybe Algeria though the ruthless civil war of a few yeas ago might not have left much taste for protests.  Yemen I doubted because of the Al Qaeda fear there.  Morocco is way milder than most, and has been taking for a while baby steps towards a more democratic approach, as does Jordan up to a point and some of the Persian Gulf states.  And Iran, besides not been an Arabic country, had apparently repressed its opposition successfully, at least until the end of Ahmadinejerk second term.

Libya appeared as a possibility but not before the second half of the year, and after the fall of at least another countries.  After all we know from experience what a ruthless tyrant Qaddafi has been, and as not too populous country one could expect that enough oil money had been spread around to ensure significant support for the ruling family.

And yet tonight we need to review the whole flow chart as Libya could fall as soon as tomorrow.  Or not.  But what happened in Benghazi will leave permanent marks on the Qaddafi regime that cannot survive long in a country where he has perpetrated what is perhaps the worst bloodshed since WW2.  No matter what happens the Green Revolution is dead and revealed to have been all along a mere ploy to ensure the fortunes of the Qaddafi family.  The people hate Qaddafi enough to receive bullets and after 40+ years of dictatorship this cannot be changed anymore.

So, what next if Qaddafi falls this week?  The influence on other North African nations will be hard to overestimate.  If the king of Morocco moves his butt he may survive but constitutional monarchy, and fast, is his only hope.  Algeria probably will fall though this might take a while as a significant amount of Algerians are too afraid of an Islamist return.  The compromise would be for a speedy "voluntary" departure of Bouteflika on any health excuse and new open elections.

If Libya falls then there is no reason to expect Syria not to fall, by sheer isolation as it will be surrounded by democracies, no matter how imperfect those are.  After all the Jordan King is all but certain to go fast on the constitutional monarchy path, supported by Israel.

I am not talking here of Mauritania or Sudan who are already battling other serious problems.  Iran is not Arabic but it has now been under a theocratic dictatorship since the fall of the Shah and the time of the Ayatollahs is counted.  Iran is not protected from a sudden insurrection Libyan style, the more so that there is probably more misery than in Libya and a real opposition which did not exist in Libya, a unique example of genuine popular uprising.

And thus we are left with the Arabic Peninsula.  I think Saudi Arabia will hold for many reasons: it is the nation of Mecca and the National Pride could be enough to play into the Saud family hands.  Also I think the Saudis have been clever enough to spread around the gravy while keeping more tribal forms that hide better the true nature of the regime.  And no one in the Middle East wants the Saudi transition to be a mess because of its hold on Mecca (except maybe for the crazy Shiites).

The Gulf states are another matter.  They have a significant if not a majority Shia content and that is more to the root of the problem than in North Africa.  The Saudis will not allow for the establishment of Shiite regimes at their very doorstep.  Trouble is ahead.  Kuwait has wisely decided on progressive democracy and it just needs to speed up voting rights and civil rights to doge the bullet.  Oman is a mystery: a little bit too eccentric from the trouble areas with a ruling family that has been modernizing a lot lately, it could dodge the bullet by acting soon.  As for Yemen, the only country where Al Qaeda could make an effective bid, trouble is also ahead as I doubt that Saudi Arabia would allow an Al Qaeda controlled state at its door step.

All in all I feel tonight a strange optimism even though dangerous days are ahead.  After all it is more than comforting that in spite of all the tall tales we have been given about Islam, it turns out that people there also want to be in control of their lives, to have decent jobs so they can afford HD TV and cable once they fill up their refrigerator.  The West might win after all and Al Qaeda could well be on the losing end of this exercise though there I might be going quite ahead of myself as the Palestinian problem does not seem to be helped at all by these events.  Let's see if Israel understands what is going on beyond the knee jerk attitude.  If there was a time to offer to stop Jewish settlements in the West Bank it is now. 

This is for the West and Israel its one and unique opportunity to bring durable positive change to the Middle East before we go to a religious Armageddon (is this the Apocalypse coming?).  The odds are still stacked against us but for the first time odds for improvement do actually exist!  Let's not mess it, the victory of fundamentalism is a possibility but not a certainty.

PS: As for myself if there was one dictator that I want to be hung high and dry it is Qaddafi.  Let's see if this week that dream comes true.


  1. i can't go to sleep too! its fucking awesome!

  2. Boludo Tejano6:36 AM

    It may depend on how willing the armies are to kill. Iran in 1979: not willing to kill. Egypt so far: not willing to kill. Syria 1982: Hama rules, w ~25,000 obliterated.
    IMHO, the Syrian army will still be willing to kill,as the minority Alawites in power cannot hope to be treated kindly by the Sunni majority,

    IMHO, Qaddafi is willing to kill, but as he is nearly 70, it will be over eventually unless a son is capable, which is not probable. One of his sons is a nutcase, IIRC. Did some damage in Switzerland.

    Dictatorships do not handle succession well. What happened to the offspring of Gomez? Did any of them accomplish anything?

    Michael Totten’s In the Land of the Brother Leader is a good read about his visit to Libya.

    I worked on a oil rig in Guatemala where the company man [oil company’s rig site representative] had worked in Libya. He said that getting to a rig site in Libya was a matter of driving several hundred miles in the desert without any roads- quite a navigational feat.

    Time will tell. Maybe we will see the equivalent of 1989 in the Arab world. Maybe we will see a replay of what occurred in 1979 in Iran. OTOH, what has occurred in Iran and other countries since 1979 means that fewer people will get fooled this time around.

    When experts like Bernard Lewis admit they aren’t sure what is happening, anything that I will write would be mere speculation of dubious value.

  3. Boludo

    true about the army, but it is also true that times change and that armies may soften.... we are in the XXI century and a general with hundred of civilian blood on his hand cannot expect to ever leave his country again on a peaceful vacation.

    in other words, who knows what can really happen. but whatever it is it will always because of the army final decision.

  4. 1979 Boat People9:08 AM

    I am still reading Middle East news at 3:00am. :)

  5. Bridge1:23 PM

    ARD Germany and Al Jazeera are saying that Gadafi left Lybia ... for Venezuela !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Charly1:55 PM

    Daniel, I am not so sure about Saudi Arabia. The oil fields area is Shia and those are considered non muslim by that particular Islam Whahhabi brand that rules in the country. In addition Shia Iran is doing its best to destabilize the country.

  7. According to Iranian Press TV, Gaddafi was reported to be heading either to Venezuela or Brazil. The headline said, "Libya's Muammar Gaddafi has left his country for Venezuela or Brazil, as protests calling on him to step down have turned violent, a report says." Aside from the headline noting the unattributed report, there is nothing about that in the article and I have seen nothing further. My guess is that it's untrue. Any sign of him in Venezuela? He could fit in there pretty well. Does Chavez still have the tent donated for him by Gaddafi?

  8. Anonymous4:56 PM

    Don't get too excited over Libya.

    This is Arab tribal warfare for control of resources. The two million Wergila (Cyrenaica) have never been happy with the three million Gaddafa/Mergraha alliance. (Tripolitania). The Gaddafa cannot abandon their tribal advantage.

    Forget the democracy. The army is splitting.

    Same in Yemen.

    Berber tribesmen have also got active....bad news for Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

    New countries are forming.

  9. Anonymous5:46 PM

    Any truth to the rumour that Ghadaffi has fled to Venezuela. It is circulating very fast in this part of the world (Time 4.45 pm GMT)

  10. Now

    "British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday he had seen some information to suggest Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi had fled the country and was on his way to Venezuela.

    "You asked me earlier about whether Colonel Gaddafi is in Venezuela," he told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.

    "I have no information that says he is, but I have seen some information that suggests he is on his way there at the moment."

    Diplomats said Hague was not referring to rumors circulating in the media about Gaddafi's whereabouts, but to separate sources for the information."

    The last paragraph is perhaps the most interesting.


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