Monday, February 7, 2011

Mideast Protest Scorecard: Friday, February 4

For the week ending Friday, February 4, popular achievements have enabled Arabs to stand tall, and Mubarak seems on the way out. However, dictatorial regimes are holding firm and even on the offensive. Popular fatigue may be as much an enemy of Arab liberation as the security forces. Nevertheless, the revolt continues to spread.

Egypt. The situation in Egypt has severely declined over the short-run, with clear regime warfare against the population under way. The Mubarak regime has now become clearly criminal and bears complete responsibility for whatever force ends up being used to destroy it. But with the army appearing now to be aiding police terror, the regime may well survive.

Mubarak’s appointment of Intel Chief Suleiman as vice president sends a very clear message: no change, no compromise. The criminal attack on the protesters only underscored Mubarak’s complete rejection of popular concerns. That appointment may have been made for personal reasons but also serves to reassure Washington and Tel Aviv, with which he reportedly has close ties. Again, the message is: no change. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that Mubarak’s attack on the demonstrators today was made behind Suleiman’s back: he is implicated. The point has been reached where, without evidence to the contrary, one seems justified in assuming that the removal of Mubarak without the removal of Suleiman essentially means nothing.

Raising the possibility of splits within Mubarak’s regime, the prime minister apologized for the violence in Tahrir Square, announced that it would be investigated, and agreed to talks with “all” opposition parties. The army finally began intervening to mitigate the violence but without

Hypocritical calls from Washington for both the victimized population and the criminal regime to remain peaceful are worse than silence. Clinton’s call to Suleiman to urge investigation of the apparent police attack [my words, not hers!] on protesters is hard to interpret—did she “wink” or chuckle? If he did not plan and authorize the attack, then he is a much less well informed intel guy than he is reputed to be. Of course, proof of who did it may not be in any foreigner’s hands, but what does seem clear is that the army avoided intervening to halt the attack and that Egyptian emergency rescue services delayed for several hours providing medical help for the injured.

Tunisia. Negotiations, fairly sophisticated for an oppressed and thus apolitical population, between such representative organs of the people as have managed to organize themselves and the army are proceeding. This stage, albeit less exciting than the demonstration phase, is far more significant.

Israel. The regime in Israel is trying to marshal support for its client, Mubarak. According to Israeli media reports, Netanyahu has been coordinating with Mubarak on ways to defend his regime and suppress the democracy advocates. Israel is also continuing to violate Lebanon’s sovereignty with illegal overflights – no grace period for Miqati, whether the rest of the world (with the exception of Israeli fellow traveler John Bolton) has refocused away from Lebanon onto Egypt or not.

More ominously, Netanyahu has been quoted in the Israeli media making the following observation about Egypt: “A peace agreement does not guarantee the existence of peace, so in order to protect it and ourselves, in cases in which the agreement disappears or is violated due to a regime change on the other side, we protect it with security arrangements on the ground.” Since there is no Israeli “ground separating Gaza from Egypt, this statement presumably either implies an Israeli incursion into Gaza or into Egypt. Perhaps Hamas has good reason for not cheering Egyptian events too loudly.

Palestine. The West Bank Palestinian client regime is toeing Israel’s line, but perhaps as much out of fear of losing power as because of their client status. Leadership of Palestinian liberation will have to come from others. Even the obvious candidate group, Hamas—2006 democratic hero of Palestine, is doing Israel’s work, guarding the Rafah border crossing into Egypt on behalf of the oppressors! Even more recently, Hamas police goons, taking a page from both the Israeli and Mubarak books, mistreated journalists at a Palestinian protest in support of Egyptian protesters. Are they too selling out to preserve their rule over Gaza or are they playing a cautious game of waiting to avoid getting out in front of the Egyptians? While everyone likes to cite the plight of Palestinians, no one, it seems, is willing to help them achieve freedom.

On Thursday, Hamas finally allowed the first demonstration in Gaza in support of Egyptian democracy.  Will Egyptian democracy lead to Palestinian democracy?

Lebanon. Although Miqati is having trouble forming a cabinet, Hariri’s allies, inclcuding former warlord Geagea, are calling for early elections rather than rioting. That is a step forward. Miqati is striking a conciliatory pose but avoiding any promises on the issues separating him from the Hariri camp.

Yemen. Protests against Saddam-wanna-be Saleh have induced him to declare that he will give up his rule at the end of his term, which is even further away than the end of Mubarak’s term. This game is transparent.

The street politics are heating up, with large protests now being met by counter-demonstrations, so far quite peaceful, which is surprising, given the civil war, Saudi military intervention, and U.S. bombing of alleged al Qua’ida operatives that has raged in Yemen in recent years.

Assuming Saleh survives, the impact the demonstrations may have on his ability to exploit a “threat” of al Qua’ida to milk Washington for arms is unclear.

Algeria.  The defiant regime is threatening the people, with popular calls for a major demonstration. The calm seems skin-deep.

Bouteflika has promised to lift the state of emergency imposed when the army seized power, destroying Algerian democracy to overturn the electoral victory of Islamic parties following the civil war in 1990…with the huge exception that demonstrations will continue to be banned in Algers (imagine the fate of Egyptian protesters in the provinces if the regime had been able to prevent protests in Cairo).

Turkey. One might have expected loud cheering from Ankara, given its efforts to create and lead a moderate middle, but Erdogan has been so silent that he is calling the sincerity of his overall foreign policy into question. Ankara seems to be avoiding the Egyptian crisis and has apparently given up its initial attempts to promote conciliation in Lebanon. Is he blowing his chance at regional leadership? Might the reason have anything to do with his hesitant steps toward equality for Turkey’s Kurds?

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