Sunday, April 17, 2011

Leaders across the Mideast are looking to escape Mubarak's fate

Mubarak's investigation, as well as that of two of his sons, is one of the most important measures undertaken by the new regime to calm an anxious Egyptian public.
Three leaders, Muammar Gadhafi, Bashar Assad, and Ali Abdullah Saleh, are certain they can still escape the fate of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Each of them decided to violently repress popular unrest; all of them are promising reforms without committing to a timetable; and each and every one of them has decided to ignore both international pressure and Arab attempts at compromise.
The most intense battle is being waged in Libya, where 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city of Misrata alone, with gunfights also reported in the rebel-controlled city of Ajdabiya. Despite the persistence of clashes, NATO forces have cut back on their attacks on ground targets, thus taking away much of the military backing they provided to the rebels, who have subsequently been forced to withdraw from their western advance.
Meanwhile, Mubarak continues to provide the top story coming out of Egypt, after collapsing on Tuesday during questioning and rushed to a Sharm El-Sheikh hospital.
The investigation of Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, centering on allegations of embezzlement and killing protesters, is one of the most important measures undertaken by the new regime to calm the public, some of which has begun to express frustration at what looks like foot-dragging en route to political and economical reform.
But, by the evening hours Egyptian television stations were already reporting developments in Mubarak's medical condition, citing estimates he had a heart attack, and adding that his investigation has been continuating even in the hospital. As such, the controversy surrounding political reform is replaced with the question of should or not shouldn't Mubarak be allowed out of the country for medical treatment.
Defecting Libya Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, who also ran the country's intelligence for a while, said in London that Libya could turn into a new Somalia if a decisive military victory was not achieved.
Koussa was travelling to Qatar on Tuesday, a fact that drew scathing criticism against the U.K. for allowing the man suspected of planning the 1988 Lockerbie bombing out of the country.
However, his warning did not seem to impress the United States. Washington, for now, has decided to object to continued ground strikes in Libya, saying it would stick to preventing attacks targeting civilians by the Libyan air force.
The U.S. decision has developed into a full-blown dispute between France and Britain, who support continued ground attacks and even in sending ground troops, and other NATO states, led by Turkey, who opposed such a move.
All the while, proposals for a diplomatic compromise, like those submitted by Turkey and the African Union, were rejected by both Gadhafi and the rebels, who are unwilling to accept any deal that does not explicitly mandate the ouster of Gadhafi and his family.
And so, as Western countries argue over the modes of military attack, Gadhafi can continue his violent struggle, one which could turn into a draw-out war of attrition.
Assad is better off than Gadhafi for several reasons. He isn't facing armed forces such as the Libya rebel groups, there are no reports of defecting military of Baath party officials, and mostly because the Western pressure on Assad isn't close to the kind of international involvement seen in Libya.
Washington may condemn the violent repression, but it has yet to demand Assad's ouster. And so, the Syrian president can surround the city of Banias with his tanks, shoot at the residents of Bayda, lay strict curfews against Daraa, cut power lines and internet service, and arrest hundreds of activists and protesters, creating the impression that the Syrian agenda will not be set in the street but in the presidential palace.
Unlike Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt, the Syrian army is inseparable from the country's regime, who also "owns" the country's economy. The possible fall of Assad's regime would mean, thus, much more than the loss financial benefits enjoyed by the regime and the president's family.
The military itself could become a target of public wrath, as would the Baath party. So theoretically, if Assad would be willing to enact far-reaching changes, he would encounter stiff resistance from the army and from the owners of the country's economical monopolies.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is willing to test the ability of his opposition to topple him, as he leans on some of the tribal leaders which continue to support his rule, or on those accepting the compromise according to which a gradual leadership change would take place through new elections.
These proposals and others are rejected by those who demand Saleh's immediate ouster as a condition for any compromise. Even here it seems that Yemen could fall into a war of attrition, perhaps not as violent that taking place in Libya, but still one that disrupts and poses a danger to everyday life.

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