The revolutions in the Arab world show no sign of dying down. The instability is most affecting allies of the U.S. with escalating tension in Yemen and Bahrain and the spread of instability throughout the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, there is growing dissent in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Syria and Sudan. It is unclear where the region is headed but it is certain that a decisive moment in its history has been reached.
The world’s attention right now is focused on the civil war in Libya, where Qaddafi’s forces have regained the momentum and recaptured Bin Jawad, Ras Lanuf, Brega and could soon threaten Benghazi, the capital of the opposition. Qaddafi has hired a large number of foreign mercenaries. When one of his military’s planes was shot down, the body of a Syrian pilot was found. The Arab League has endorsed a no fly zone but that may not be enough to stop the rebels from losing or reaching a shaky stalemate. The opposition is asking for targeted airstrikes and French President Sarkozy is suggesting limited bombing raids.
The uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain are becoming more intense. Over the weekend, Yemeni President Saleh’s security forces attacked protesters in the capital, killing between two and four people on Saturday and one to five people on Sunday. The police are using tear gas that is hospitalizing protesters who are now holding up banners comparing Saleh to Iraq’s Chemical Ali. Members of Saleh’s party continue to resign and he has promised to oversee the writing of a new constitution that will create an independent parliament and judiciary but the opposition will not renege on its demands for his resignation. The violence over the weekend will likely cause a backlash, prompting one expert on Yemen to say of Saleh, “This is his final dance.”
There was also violence in Bahrain on Sunday when demonstrators clashed with police for two hours when they tried to break through barricades on a main road in Manama. The protesters are becoming more aggressive, entering the financial district in disregard of the police’s orders and having a stand-off with the police when they tried to march on the royal palace. Some have written signs in English to express their dissatisfaction with America’s ties to the government outside the U.S. embassy.
The Bahraini opposition says it is not sectarian in nature but clashes between Sunnis and Shiites have started. The protesters are calling for the deportation of foreign Sunnis given citizenship by the government. The Shiite opposition also says it has no relationship with the Iranian government and is fighting for genuine democracy, but when there were reports of Saudi tanks arriving in Bahrain, one hardline opposition leader said foreign intervention would give them “the right to appeal for help from Iran.”
There was a lot of worry last week about a planned “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia on March 11. In the days leading up to the event, Saudi security forces fired rubber bullets to disperse 200 Shiite demonstrators in the Eastern Province and top clerics told the population not to participate. The “Day of Rage” was ultimately thwarted by a huge security presence and a ban on all demonstrations but two days later, dozens gathered in front of the Interior Ministry to demand the release of jailed relatives.
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