The Middle East heats up

Well, it looks like things are going to get much hotter. A roundup of what I think are the key developments:

  • Serious violence in Egypt: Cairo has devolved into major violence, as Mubarak’s supporters went on the offensive. The security services appear to be coordinating their operations, and have particularly targeted foreigners and journalists. The party line is that “foreign elements” are responsible for all of these protests, which is traditional but honestly, isn’t it a bit silly to be saying that at this point? Surely the Egyptians aren’t likely to take that even a little seriously? al-Jazeera has been a major target.
  • The opposition has declared Friday (i.e., tomorrow) to be Mubarak’s “day of departure,” saying that they’ll storm the presidential palace that day if he isn’t gone before.*
  • The US appears to be working on a deal to get rid of Mubarak, although some rumors suggest that the deal would put his newly-named VP Omar Suleiman in power over a “transitional regime” to last until September. I would guess that the odds of the Egyptian public accepting Mubarak’s hand-picked successor from the security forces to be less than great.

Beyond Egypt, even more news:

  • In Yemen, President Saleh has agreed not to run again for the presidency in 2013. (He’s been in power for 32 years) Protests continue, but they don’t seem nearly as angry as Egypt’s.
  • In Jordan, King Abdullah II sacked the government and replaced it with a new one, led by Marouf al-Bakhit as the new PM. al-Bakhit has a reputation for honesty, and this move was specifically aimed at public anger over corruption. He’s also agreed to meet with the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Protests are happening, but the King appears to be moving fast to head off popular anger by making at least some reforms.
  • In Algeria, President Bouteflika has ended the 19-year-long state of emergency following protests.
  • Major protests in Syria, which is likely to turn really nasty – President-for-life al-Assad is not a nice fellow. Opposition promises major protests on Friday.
  • No news of major action in Lebanon, but Hezbollah has just formally taken power.
  • No clear info yet out of Saudi, but I’m particularly interested in that.
  • In Pakistan, the case of Raymond Davis, an American accused of killing two Pakistanis, seems to be heating up, and it’s a strange one. He says that they threatened his life, he drew his pistol and shot both; an (American) SUV rushed to his aid, hitting and killing a third Pakistani. He then has claimed diplomatic immunity, which the US is backing.** The Pakistani courts have just remanded him over to keep him in jail; the procedure was apparently done without any trial, lawyers, or even translators. The main reason for that is that anti-US sentiment has been boiling up lately, and radical elements have been turning this case into a cause célèbre; there are angry mobs in the streets calling for Davis’ blood. The situation is mostly decoupled from Egypt but not really; the rate of terrorism in Pakistan seems to have just shot up over the past two years, and the whole country seems ready to blow. The schedule, however, is hard to estimate, and may depend on how the effects from Egypt radiate outwards.

So in summary, the situation across the entire Middle East has heated up considerably, and more and more countries are being forced to act fast. It looks like Mubarak is reaching the end of his regime, but has decided to go out in a blaze of violence. Expect the shit to really hit the fan all over the place on Friday mideast morning if it hasn’t before that. (Which means in just a few hours…)

To those of you with friends and family in Egypt, my thoughts are with you.

* Explanatory note: this means Friday after morning prayers. This is common across the Islamic world; after everyone goes to Friday prayers (and sermons!), the large crowds come out of the mosques, and this is traditionally the time most likely to turn into a mass protest. Marking Friday as the day is basically saying that people will come out of the mosques in unified force, which is pretty likely true. NB also that mosques are deeply immune in a conflict like this – were Mubarak’s forces to storm mosques directly on Friday in an attempt to head this off, they would very possibly be shot by their own men.

** Fascinating questions, answers unknown: What kind of diplomat is he? What does he do? Why is a US diplomat travelling armed through the streets of Lahore? Nobody is talking. My conclusion: probably someone from the intel or military community, very possibly US special forces or ex-special forces. Possibly one of the civilian “contractors,” which is what the mob seems to think – and if you think that Blackwater has a bad reputation in the US, that’s nothing compared to their reputation in the rest of the world.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 18:42  Comments (1)  

One Comment

  1. You’ve become my go-to source for Middle East news!

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