Every major news organization has some coverage of the protests and crackdown happening today in Syria. The Guardian has a page devoted to Syria. Qatar based al Jazeera is fast becoming the best place for news on the upheaval. Neither the New York Times nor the BBC has a Syria page, weird. Reuters has a good report.
The protests have spread out from Deraa to almost every major city in the country. More than 38 people have been shot and killed by the security forces. Although the protests have so far been secular, its almost certain to turn into a sectarian conflict. The al-Asssad regime, which is from the minority Alawite sect of Shi’ite Islam, is supposed to be allied with the Islamic regime in Iran. They certainly support Hezbollah in Beirut and Hamas in the occupied territories. But the claim that Syria is allied with Iran is not tenable. Just because they both support Hezbollah and oppose Israeli aggression (Israel annexed Golan Heights from Syria and counters Syrian influence in Lebanon), does not make them allies. Syria is fully integrated into the global economy, shares in the spoils of Western dominance of the region and is nowhere close to being as isolated as Iran. But as seen from the lens of the US foreign policy establishment, Syria is certainly an enemy. Just watch how Washington reacts to events here, and contrast it with their pronouncements on Yemen or Bahrain.
[Update: the New York Times reports
“Human rights groups said that since protests began seven days ago in the south, 38 people had been killed by government forces — and it appeared that many more were killed on Friday.”
“Syria has a liability not found in the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt—it is a majority Sunni nation ruled by a religious minority.”
Recall that at least three quarters of the Syrian population of about 4 million is Sunni and 15-20% are Shi’ite.]
Today was the “Day of Rage” in Bahrain. Helicopters buzzing overhead and checkpoints at every major highway and intersection prevented major demonstrations in Manama. Hundreds of protestors in rural Bahrain were driven off the streets by the riot police using tear gas and batons. Tensions have been escalating since Saudi Arabia sent in troops to quell the protests with full US authorization. Bahrain is 70% Shi’ite but ruled by a tiny Sunni elite centred around the royal family. Events are pointing to a prolonged sectarian conflict.
At least 18 protestors and 2 policemen have been killed so far.
[Update: EU chief wimp defended the violent suppression of the protestors, says he is worried about Iranian influence. Where are the Germans when you need them? Really, you are so liberal and anti-war that you abstain from authorizing intervention in Libya but support this??]
Its endgame in Yemen as more generals join the protestors in demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Wall Street Journal has filed this report
“Yemen’s president and the country’s top general are hashing out a settlement in which both men would resign within days, people familiar with the situation said, raising crucial questions of who will end up leading a key, though embattled, U.S. counterterrorism ally.”
Yemen is the site of the largest shadow war as part of the larger war on terror. The United States has conducted hundreds of operations, mostly using predator drones to take out al-Qaeda insurgents. It has supported the Saleh regime and provided it with military support. If the regime is toppled, it will add a degree of uncertainty to US plans to fight terror in the peninsula. Yemen has a large Shi’ite minority, estimated to be between 35-45%. Add to this the tribal conflicts and Saudi meddling and you have a ready made disaster zone. Haaretz reports that at least 50 people have been killed and over 240 injured by government forces.
Yemen could very well end up in an Afghanistan like civil war.
Protests have flared in Jordan as well. CNN is on it:
“Protesters gathered near Jamal Abed Alnasser square for the second consecutive day, calling for the dissolution of the parliament, an elected government, and constitutional reforms, according to Petra, the official Jordanian press agency.”
Washington is ostensibly pressing its friend King Abdullah II to initiate reforms and move the country to a constitutional monarchy.