The Arab Revolt which burst on the Middle East on Dec. 18, 2010 has just passed its first six-month mark with successes in two places, Tunisia and Egypt. In three other countries, Libya, Syria and Bahrain, it has failed to dislodge targeted autocrats and in one, Yemen, popular protest has flared into a civil conflagration which also looms on the horizons of Libya and Syria.
Three Arab rulers – Saudi King Abdullah, Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi and Syrian President Bashar Assad – have each in their own way raised high barricades to contain and stall the spread of unrest. Only Abdullah is likely to endure the next stage.
Is the rebellion about to peter out? Not if US President Barack Obama has his way. He is grimly determined to upgrade the low score of two down, four to go as a matter of mission – not just policy – with the Libyan, Syrian and also the Yemeni rulers in his sights.
(See separate articles about his strategy in this interim summary)
Interestingly, in Egypt and Tunisia, the only countries where the pro-democracy uprisings succeeded, the anti-democratic institutions of government and polity survived their rulers' ousters and efforts continue to uphold them. Paradoxically, the ruling institutions in countries where the rulers still cling to power are falling apart. They have survived by falling back on tribal and clan allegiances to ride the storm.
Therefore, the Arab Spring – as some call it – far from ushering in an era of freedom, democracy and liberal values has in fact dragged the most embattled countries into its antithesis, a retreat to ancestral modes of rule predating the enlightenments of the modern era.
Indeed, post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia face the very real prospect of winding up with Muslim Brotherhood-led governments and Muslim Sharia law in place of Western democratical reforms.
Libya splits in two; Yemen in three
Another interim conclusion is that dictators willing to unleash soldiers for brutal assaults on civilian protesters and ignore the risk of civil war have so far kept their seats. In Tunisia and Egypt, they held the army back – and crashed.
Two countries torn asunder by the revolt are on the brink of partition.
Libya has fallen into two segments: the eastern province of Cyrenaica, whose tribal population is ruled from the rebel base of Benghazi, and Tripolitania to the west, Muammar Qaddafi's tribal hinterland.
A third pocket is to be found in the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya, where separatist Berber tribes have successfully fought their way to a canton free of Qaddafi's forces, a cause separate from that of the Benghazi rebel movement.
In Yemen, the fault lines are clear. The still-unresolved conflict between President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his sons against opposing factions has thrown up the lineaments of three Yemeni states:
One is the Republic of Yemen in the central region, which Saleh still heads from his capital Sanaa. Recovering in Riyadh from an assassination attempt, he is preparing to return home to continue battling the opposition which he may or may not overcome.
Whoever comes out on top in Sanaa will be wedged between two breakaway republics to the north and the south.
The Libyan conflict's toxic effect on NATO
Saudi Arabia is backing the nascent secessionist state in the South with financial, logistical and military aid to attain control of Aden port which sits on the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Straits, the nexus of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea. This asset will complement the key presence the Saudis have already gained on the Persian Gulf and its main oil routes by sending soldiers to Bahrain to prop up the Khalifa throne against another Arab uprising.
It is also designed to cut across the corridor Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula is fighting to carve across Yemen for linking Yemen's Red Sea ports with southern Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Holy Cities. The Saudis are therefore gearing up for a tug o' war with AQAP over strategic assets in Yemen, notably control of southern Yemeni provinces abutting the port of Aden and their own southern border with northern Yemen.
It is on that border that the Houthis, after years of insurgency against the Saleh regime, look like riding in to power on the back of the current unrest and establishing the third Yemeni republic in Saada.
In Libya, the only Arab arena of Western military intervention – led by the US, France, Italy and Britain – the Arab Revolt has assumed a critical role in determining the nature and future of NATO and its European component in particular.
British and French military commanders of the coalition campaign in support of the revolt against Muammar Qaddafi have stated clearly that the alliance lacks the assets and capabilities to carry on for more than two and- a-half months without coming a cropper.
War sustainability impaired by falling euro
Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant, the British Royal Air Force's second in command, said Tuesday, June 21, that future RAF missions will reach their limit at summer's end. This means NATO is heading for stalemate if not defeat in its Libya operation, whereas Qaddafi may hope to triumph if he can hang on for another 10 weeks.
By a quirk of history, Europe is embattled on two fronts which increasingly overlap. Intertwined are NATO's failure to bomb Qaddafi out of power in Libya and the drowning euro zone economies. Greece's plunging economy, which is making the euro crisis the most acute to befall the continent since the Cold War against the Soviet Union ended 20 years ago, and the NATO European powers' victory or defeat in Libya, will both shape the political organizations and norms the economic crisis produces at the end of the day.
In that sense, the Arab Revolt bears strongly on the future shape of such global bureaucracies as the European Union and on the North Atlantic Treat Alliance's future. It will affect the destinies not only of the beleaguered Arab autocracies but also those of President Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Prime Minister David Cameron in Britain, who gambled heavily on the Libyan ruler's downfall.
How the uprising sweeping the Middle East has already affected such world players as the US, Turkey and Iran will be discussed in separate articles in this issue.