Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mideast Counterrevolution Takes the Initiative

Saudi intervention in Bahrain is sparking a broad counterrevolutionary wave of violence across the Mideast, radicalizing both sides in a dismal process that only a couple weeks ago appeared easily avoidable.

 Encouraged by Saudi intransigence and American inaction, a wave of counterrevolutionary violence is sweeping the Arab world, in stark contrast to the concerted efforts of democracy protesters in January and February to keep protests peaceful. With a massacre in a Bahraini village and a revenge attack on a Yemeni police station setting the dismal tone, the Yemeni and Bahraini regimes cracked down violently against protesters more broadly.

The U.S., still trying to play both sides, appears anemic and has marginalized itself, leaving the Arab world increasingly split into two steadily radicalizing camps. As the Arab people risk their lives in a desperate struggle for civil rights and one regime after another alienates itself from its repressed population, a prediction of intensifying violence is easy to predict. With Ankara strangely silent and Cairo still focused on building--or resisting--democracy, Tehran stands alone--the tarnished but very self-righteous city on the hill proclaiming its belief in democracy and the integrity of international borders.

As is typical, the conservatives are the first to turn to violence, being unsure of their ability to defend their positions with logic. But with the fall of Mubarak and Ali, the ground has already shifted beneath their feet. Abdullah is going to have a hard time playing Metternich.

Illustrating the rise in tensions, Haaretz reported Abdel Jalil Khalil, leader of Wefaq's 18-member parliamentry bloc in Bahrain saying:

This is war of annihilation. This does not happen even in wars and this is not acceptable. I saw them fire live rounds, in front of my own eyes.
Reactions from Iraq, where the Shi'a now rule, to Bahraini events was pointed and suggestive of the aftershocks Saudi Arabia's military earthquake is likely to provoke. Mashriq al-Naji, a parliamentary supporter of Moqtada al Sadr, warned:

We stand firmly with the Bahraini people, and condemn the foreign intervention in the affairs of Bahrain and the sending of military forces to counter the will of the people of Bahrain.[Bloomberg, 3/16/11.]
Underscoring that message, al Sadr's supporters marched to voice support for Bahraini protesters. Whether a move planned in Tehran or a self-organized expression of pan-Shi'ite feeling, the Saudi move into Bahrain has already begun undermining Saudi influence in Iraq. Two Shi'i clerics in Najaf also condemned Bahraini violence.

As the counterrevolutionary wave intensifies, symptoms and causes of radicalization to look for include:

  • Israeli military involvement on the side of Arab dictators;
  • Saudi military intervention in Yemen sparking broad violence;
  • Reluctant Turkish and Egyptian efforts to mediate Arab civil wars proving to be too little, too late;
  • Rising pressure on Cairo to "support your Arab brothers" leading to Egyptian military intervention in Libya or Yemen;
  • Egyptian initiatives on Gaza, either from Cairo or civil society;
  • A rise in the popularity and influence of Iran, the one country not afraid to take a clear public stance.
Liberty was a goal all Arabs could potentially have united behind and compromised about: liberty must always be balanced against responsibility and is thus amenable to endless compromise leading, with sincerity, to positive-sum outcomes. Violence, in contrast, tends to bring out sectarian distinctions that make compromise, not to mention the perception of a positive-sum solution, difficult. Only a couple weeks ago, all this appeared so unnecessary.

1 comment:

William deB. Mills said...

Upon re-reading my post, I note that I said in the first sentence "American inaction" regarding Riyadh's military intervention. Since I have no access to classified or behind-the-scenes activity--which is extremely murky in this case, I of course meant "public American inaction." But this phrase still needs to be considered carefully: if Washington neutrally calls for restraint on all sides, this really is not inaction at all because Washington has been solidly behind the old order, and US arms are in fact in the hands of the repressive regimes, not the democracy advocates (lots of whom are now being murdered). So U.S. inaction in fact amounts to supporting the old order, and this will not come as news to anyone in the Mideast.

This raises the question of what action by Washington might constitute a clear signal that Washington was in fact trying to be neutral. How about a stern warning that any officials using U.S.-supplied arms to suppress peaceful demonstrators would be held accountable at the World Court? How about an announcement that all U.S. military aid is immediately terminated for any country that attacks demonstrators?

Such moves would establish neutrality...without marginalizing the U.S. or leaving it firmly on the side of oppressive regimes.