World Affairs

Intrigue in Yemen and Syria


Yemen

People danced in the streets as news spread of President Saleh’s departure from Yemen. He was wounded in a bomb attack at the Presidential compound. The severity of his injuries ensure that he is out of play, prompting a power struggle. The protestors have been demanding his ouster for months. The Saudis and the Americans want him replaced by his vice president and put in place a unity government with the reigning party and the throughly discredited loyal opposition, the so called Joint Meetings Party. The protestors have rejected any such efforts at cosmetic change. According to the Economist, they risk exclusion from formal politics and marginalization. Meanwhile, civil strife continues to plague this godforsaken place. 

The New York Times has an article on the protestors in Yemen, misleadingly titled Opposition is Split on How to Reshape Yemen.  They accurately describe the widespread opposition to the US-Saudi proposal:

“Most of those who form the original core of the protest movement say they want to preserve the transforming vision of civility and tolerance they have glimpsed in public squares since the uprising began, much like their peers in Egypt. They deeply oppose the political solution advocated by Saudi Arabia and the United States, which grants Mr. Saleh and his family immunity from prosecution and is likely to preserve more of the status quo.”

The editors then use a classic narrative device to create a sense that there is widespread disagreement in the opposition. Since there is virtually unanimous opposition to the GCC solution, they highlight a triviality on which there is disagreement: immunity for Saleh’s family. It does not matter. The chief demand echoed by jubilant crowds across Sana and other Yemeni cities on Friday was: “The people want a transitional council!”, i.e., a civilian council of technocrats to run the state while the stage is set for free and fair elections. 

We need to watch how this goes:

“Mr. Anisi and his allies say they will name a transitional council in days, after first giving some of the country’s mainstream politicians a chance to join them. They then plan to call for huge demonstrations to press their cause, invoking “revolutionary legitimacy” as the grounds for abandoning precedent and the Yemeni Constitution.”

Things are just about to get extremely exciting.

Syria

The Assad regime has really started tottering. The balance of power is shifting. Angry crowds are thronging all over Syria. The big question is what is going on in Damascus and Aleppo, the second largest city. There is plenty of evidence that unrest is spreading there as well. Although the protests and crackdown have been not as intense as the hinterland. More promisingly, there have been reports of a mutiny in the security forces at Jisr al-Shughour which the regime is painting as an ambush by an armed gang. Most of the rank of file of the security forces are Sunni while the officer corps is dominated by the Alawite minority.

The regime is of course an Alawite dominated one. This has never come into play because they are regarded as Arab, and there is a strong constituency in Syrian society that has this view including parts of the business elites in Damascus. But I am confident that the protestors in the rest of Syria are not targeting the Alawites as a sect, there is virtually no evidence of sectarian conflict although it may yet arise. [It has already begun.] One has to worry about the advent of sectarian conflict every time a rigid power structure is broken. Each regime that falls unleashes hitherto buried rivalries and groups that compete for power. Ethno-religious and sectarian mobilization are routinely used by many actors bidding for power. Their ability to persuade communities however depends on the level of indoctrination.

The regime has also stepped up the crackdown, sending tanks and artillary to the north and east. The BBC estimates that more than 1300 people have been killed by the regime so far.

For the Arab spring to succeed, the protestors need to come together to form a political party, and compete in the up coming elections. Otherwise they are going to replace Mubarak with Suleiman and presidents for vice presidents. Nothing will change without a change of guard.

Things are very fluid and the Arab Spring may yet turn into summer. Remember the observers who said there are no more dominoes to fall? They were wrong. 

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