A few quick Middle East notes

Libya: This post by Barkley Rosser is, I think, bang on. The most likely outcome at this point is partition; Qaddafi will maintain control of the western (Berber) half of the country, based out of Tripoli, while the (Arab) East will separate out into its own country. This may slightly increase the highlighting of the line between the Arabs and the Berbers as you move westward through North Africa, and Qaddafi will continue to be bugfuck insane and bloodthirsty, but that’s not really so far out of the ordinary for the Middle East.

Egypt: The news from Egypt is, I think, positive. True to its word, the Army helped organize a nationwide election about revising the constitution, and the proposal passed what appears to be a fair election with 77% of the vote. However, the support was largely from the countryside, and the measure was backed by a coalition of the old ruling party and the Muslim Brotherhood, and opposed largely by the cities (esp. Cairo and Alexandria) and by the activists who had led the revolution, including Mohammed el-Baradei. Their main contention is that rushing elections will be counterproductive to democracy. I’ll refer back to my previous notes that, if the Mubarak regime were to go away, power would likely flow into the hands of those best-prepared to take advantage of a relative vacuum – and lo and behold, the biggest supporters of prompt elections etc. are the most organized forces. So I’ll count this overall as neutral-positive; on the one hand, I would rather that the election had gone the other way, but on the other hand, I’m pretty happy that there was an election, period. Let’s hope that the resulting government which forms will be committed to maintaining democracy going forward.

Bahrain: This is where I think the most dangerous action is right now. The Saudis sent a thousand troops in to help quell the uprising, but it’s just highlighting all of the problems I mentioned before. 20% of the world’s oil going through Manama, and the 5th Fleet and CENTCOM are based out of there, so it’s very important to the US that it still be run by a friendly regime. That, in turn, makes it very important to Iran that it instead be run by a regime friendly to them. The large Shi’ite population gives Iran a natural means of infiltration and a natural excuse to try to take power, but also gives the Saudis a really good incentive not to let them – the last thing they want is a hostile regime land-adjacent to them from yet another side. Within the country, the conflict seems to be hardening along sectarian lines, much to nobody’s surprise. My guess is that the Arab League (by which I principally mean “the Saudis and whatever other forces they buy”) will come down pretty hard in favor of the regime, and the US and Iran will both play somewhat more subtle games, but that ultimately the old regime will win. And it will be violent.

Elsewhere: Protests have actually started to happen in Syria, and are being met with predictable violence. It’s not yet clear to me if these will gain any traction. Yemen’s president apparently sacked his cabinet, after troops opened fire on protesters and killed 45. This one is going straight to hell in a handbasket, but I don’t think it should come as a tremendous surprise that Yemen is falling apart; its government always struck me as having only nominal control over much of the country. (But, of course, it’s got some critical locations too – Aden is a major port, and Yemen sits on one side of the pinch-point at the end of the Red Sea, opposite Djibouti and Somalia.) (I almost wrote “the Pirate Kingdoms of Djibouti and Somalia” there, those being the first descriptives which came to mind – and although those countries do have nominal governments, this does raise a rather important point about the state of that sea right now)

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 09:00  Comments (2)  


  1. Is there really such a term as “bugfuck insane”? If there is, I might start using it.

    • A quick search is reporting 92,600 hits for (“bug fuck” OR bugfuck); about 9,000 modify “insane,” and about 37,000 “crazy.” It’s useful to know these detailed statistics when discussing the middle east. I would further recommend to your attention the phrases “nuttier than a squirrel’s dinner” and “mad as a bag of clams,” both of which also seem to capture the essence of most of our local leaders in this part of the world. (“Weird as tits on a bishop” has been deprecated, thanks to the reforms of the Anglican communion)

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