This blog can best be summarised at the outset with lines by the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth…….
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble”
I last wrote about developments regarding the Arab Spring on June 10 and much can change in that region in six weeks. So, time for Update II.
The tumult mentioned in June continues unabated with protests against perceived insults by artists to Islam by the Salafists. The Islamic led government are loath to suppress the Salafists for fear of radicalising them more. These protests and the deteriorating economy (18% unemployment) could portend a sharp move to more extreme Islamic rule. Indicative of this is that recent riots were centered at the university and prompted and supported by young students favouring more restrictive Islamic law. One tends to think of youth as being more liberal, but this is not the case in Tunisia.
The recent elections in Libya have served more to confuse than clarify the future of that benighted country. The National Forces Alliance, a secular faction, won 39 seats, almost half of the seats allocated to political parties, whilst the Brotherhood secured only 17 seats with the remaining 24 seats shared by several small political parties. However, that is not the whole story by any means. There are an additional 120 seats set aside for independents some of whom could well be affiliated with Islamist parties. So, there will be considerable dickering by the parties for support of the independents, a very large swing vote in parliament.
The country, as mentioned before, is both tribally and geographically divided, Benghazi versus Tripoli and the South where tribes prevail. Much like Yugoslavia splintered when Tito went, so Libya has fractured after Ghadaffi.
Only when the battle for a new constitution begins in parliament will we have a signal of the direction of this country.
The political weather here is hot and unsettled with scattered storms and no reliable forecast for the immediate future.
Still no resolution of the conflict between the military and the elected President, Morsi, still no way of seeing how an impasse and political gridlock can be resolved. I continue to believe that more blood will be shed by the military before we know who will run the nation. For now both parties are treading water with Morsi playing the role of President representing Egypt abroad. He has recently made contact with Israel, Hamas in Gaza, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.
What I find interesting regarding Israel and Gaza is that Morsi has relaxed border restrictions on Palestinians travelling to and from Gaza, restrictions imposed by Mubarak in concert with Israel. Restrictions on energy supply and other goods from Egypt formerly, under Mubarak, channeled to Gaza by way of Israel. Now that the supply is going directly to Gaza, Israel’s economic hold on Gaza will be loosened. One wonders how this will play out, in particular if the Palestinians are also able to move weaponry from Egypt into Gaza and how Israel will react to Egypt if that happens.
If Gaza can rely more on Egypt for basic supplies and be less dependent on Israel, it could follow that Gaza can also separate itself from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and its President, Abbas. That could open a real can of worms for any future negotiations for the US. Until now the US has refused to acknowledge Hamas’s legally elected rule in Gaza, but if Hamas is blessed by Morsi, they will be faced with some difficult choices.
Could Gaza be hived off as an independent state or semi-autonomous state of Egypt? If so, the Gazans would be better off than now.
Israel, Syria and the two-state solution (dead as a dodo)
Not much has changed here. Netanyahu continues his bellicose ways and continues to be given a blank cheque by both US political parties, both hostage financially to the powerful US Israeli lobbyists and Evangelicals.
As for the two-state solution it is dead as a dodo. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, the US and other faith based nations have not checked the corpse for signs of life. The reason is they simply do not want to contemplate the option, a one-state solution, and a complete rethinking of the Palestinian issue.
I have long contended that the two state solution is unrealistic and was delighted when I found agreement with my thesis from no less that the Haaretz newspaper, described by some as the New York Times of Israel and Robert Wright editor of the Atlantic
I commend you to the following articles:
Gideon Levy, editor of Haaretz, stated the same on 5 April
Now, however, Israel has another threat facing it, one much closer geographically than Iran, Syria. The pronouncement by Assad that he would employ chemical weapons in event of foreign military intervention received a lot of coverage. Israel, until now, has been singularly quiet on Syria but Assad’s statement got Netanyahu’s attention. He said that if the Assad regime collapsed, it could be necessary for Israel to intervene militarily to secure the chemical weapons and prevent them from falling into the hands of extreme Islamists, i.e. al-Qaeda and friends. Mind you, Israel would much prefer that Assad remain in power. For the Israelis, “ better the devil you know”, a warning the West should heed.
While the US news coverage focuses on the reported atrocities of the Syrian regime forces, little attention is given to the infiltration of the opposition by Al-Qaeda and extreme Islamists. The Israelis, on the other hand, are following these developments very closely and are, quite justifiably, very concerned. Arms flowing into Syria to the unknown opposition could eventually be used by those Syrian terrorist elements against Israel. A jihadist dominated country on Israel’s border would be a nightmare for Israel and one that most certainly would precipitate an all out war involving surrounding countries.
From Syria to Iraq and the recent news that Iraq is both refusing Syrian refugees entry into Iraq or forcing them to live in unpleasant conditions. These refugees are understandably unhappy about this saying that Syria welcomed Iraqi refugees during past violence in Iraq.
Iraq contends that because of the infiltration of Al-Qaeda in Syria, it fears that Al-Qaeda could also have infiltrated the Syrian refugee groups. Too, Iraq, with a Shia majority government, is sympathetic to Assad and the Syrian Alawites an offshoot of the Shia. In addition, Iraq abstained in the Arab League’s vote to suspend Syria. Rumour has it that Maliki wanted to vote against the proposal, not just abstain. That certainly did not make headlines in the USA.
In the meantime, Iraq, a failed state, descends into bloody chaos at an accelerating rate. People describe this as a civil war but, what is a civil war? One definition is: “A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation-state or republic or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly united nation state”. I think the latter applies, “a formerly united nation-state”
It will require a long, vicious and bloody war, but eventually two outcomes are likely: Iraq will partition itself, the Eastern Shia populated area forming a separate state; the Sunni in the West and Kurdistan in the North doing the same.
The other and worse scenario is that the civil war could draw in Iran to support the Shia on their border in Iraq and prompt the Saudis to supply and support the Iraqi Sunni on their border. If both Saudis and the Iranians militarily intervene it would be a catastrophe.
While the attention by the international media and governments is focused on Syria in the Middle East, there is scarcely a mention of the unrest in Saudi Arabia.
Recently, the oil rich Saudi eastern province, in the city of Qatir, was the site of clashes between the Saudi Security forces and the local Shia populace. The Shia represent about 15% of the population of 30 million in this Sunni country. The Shia claim discrimination and are becoming increasingly vocal and active.
This becomes all the more noteworthy when one looks at a map and notes that this eastern Saudi Shia province is just across the Persian Gulf from Iran, the putative spiritual home for Shia. In an eventual stand off between Saudi Arabia and Iran, 4-5 million Shia sympathisers could play a significant role. This is not to mention that that oil supply from that province could be disrupted by these same Shia.
Just as ominous is Yemen on Saudi Arabia’s southwest coast where the population is 45% Shia. Yemen, home to some of the most extreme terrorist groups and is in the midst of an ongoing virtual civil war, Shia against a Sunni regime. About the only thing keeping the Yemen government afloat is the military support and intervention on its behalf by Saudi forces.
Saudi Arabia is another of the West’s double standards. At the same time pundits warn of the Salafist purists in the Egyptian government, they ignore the fact that the Wahabi virtually control the Saudi government and the Wahabi are just Salafists by another name.
Did I hear someone say that Saudi Arabia will not fall prey to the changes sweeping the Middle east? This bears watching.