This is the thread for talking about ongoing political changes in the Middle East. So far Tunisia and Egypt have ousted their long-time dictators and are in the midst of a revolution. There are demonstrations throughout the arab world and beyond. This is, historically speaking, huge. These revolutions will totally change politics throughout the region and the world. Will revolutions spread to other nations? Will protests be suppressed? Will there be war? Foreign interventions? Terrorism? We'll be talking about all of that. Share your thoughts, experiences, and wild predictions about what will happen next.
What follows is a bit of a primer I whipped up.
The Middle East
What do we mean by this? Well I stole a map from wikipedia which I think does an excellent job:
The dark green is the "traditional" Middle east. The lighter green in the North of Africa indicates nations that are mostly Arabic and Muslim; this region is called the Maghreb. Somalia is on there for its proximity to the Arabian Peninsula, and it is also Muslim. The lighter greens in Asia are not Arabic, but are all Muslim. Calling Pakistan or Kazakhstan part of the Middle East is frankly absurd, but current conflicts mean that you hear the term come up. The Caucuses (light green, the small region north of Turkey and Iran, south of Russia) is the only region that has Christian nations, though plenty of Muslims are there as well.
A geographically small nation at the northern-most tip of Africa. Population of 10 million, virtually all Arabs. Its capital, Tunis is on the Mediterranean and is the site of Carthage of old. For the last 23 years it has been run by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. He ruled his country with an iron fist, violently stifling any dissent, and censoring communications. He was secular, with a pro-Western stance.
All this was changed by a man named Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruit from a small stall. He was very poor, and was routinely harassed by police. When they stole his fruit and insulted him in late december, he finally had enough. On December 17th he lit himself on fire in protest. He died a very painful death 18 days later.
The resulting protests were totally unprecedented. The masses of people took to the streets peacefully and demanded the president step down. The security response was botched, and Ben Ali fled the nation on January 14th. He's currently in Saudi Arabia, having taken millions in gold and loot with him.
Tunisia currently is in a state of flux. Former government ministers have made attempts to take power in interim governments, but the population has been wary of people who served the previous regime. Lacking any opposition political parties (since they were banned), Tunisia is a country without direction, with street protests ongoing.
Egypt is the heart of the Middle East. With 80 million people it is the most populous Arab nation. Its one of the very few nations that measures its history in thousands of years. Like in millennia past, almost the entire population of the country lives around the Nile Delta. The capital Cairo is a huge city of many millions. Egypt is the center geographically, culturally as well. Pop music, movies and literature spread from Egypt to the rest of the region. Politically and diplomatically it has often acted as a bigger brother to other Arab nations, especially under the rule of Nasser who promoted a pan-arabism.
Of late though, Egypt hasn't looked so bright. During the rule of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has been stagnant, weak, and poor. People have been tired of it for much of these 30 years he ruled. Mubarak insured he stayed in power though, through rigging elections, intimidating and jailing dissenters, and banning opposing political parties. Corruption was rampant, and a very young population had fewer and fewer jobs. With the uprising in Tunisia as inspiration, the young tech-savvy and the old alike took to the streets of Cairo and other cities on January 25th. Their rallying point was the now famous Tahrir (Liberation, Freedom) Square.
A strong police response followed. Using water cannons, thugs with steel bars, and even live ammunition they attacked the peaceful crowds without mercy. The headquarters of the ruling party were set alight. All of this was being broadcast live via al-Jazeera and other channels, Tahrir square being in view of TV stations and hotels frequented by journalists.
The police were routed by the crowds, and fled from the streets. The military was called in, and the internet was shut down in the entire country. It did not stop the demonstrations.
On February 11th, Mubarak finally resigned and fled Cairo. Egypt is currently under the control of a military council. They have promised to hold free and fair elections.
Libya is a pretty weird place. Located between Egypt and Algeria, Libya is very rich in oil, but is extremely isolated. It has a population of 6 million or so, almost all Arabs. While a traditional enemy of the West and known sponsor of terrorism (see the Lockerbie bombing) Libya has in the past few years softened it's rhetoric and has made arms deals with France and has been getting diplomatically close to Italy. It has virtually no foreign journalists in the country, making it very hard to get news out.
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi runs the show, as he has done for the past 40-odd years. Right now, his days look numbered. Mass protests started in the east of the country (ie the part that borders Egypt) and have since spread to the capital Tripoli. This round of protests has by all accounts been extremely violent, with Libyan troops or hired mercenaries firing into crowds with machine guns and mortars. Casualties are in their hundreds. Several Libyan officials and ambassadors have resigned and are openly joining the revolution. There is talk of army units defecting, and of Gadaffi fleeing the country. Almost none of this can be verified.
A small, mountainous and poor country at the southern tip of the Arabian Pininsula. Despite its small size is has a sizable population of 20 million, and rather little to show for it. Yemen has been a top contender for "faliled state" status for some time. Recently the central government has been fighting a civil war against Houthi tribes in the north of the country, with violence spilling over the Saudi border and the Saudi airforce conducting airstrikes on rebel positions. While a truce of some sort was signed a while back, all the grievances are still there; though despite what you may hear, it isn't really because the Houthis are Shia. More recently, and more widely known is that Yemen is the home of some attempted terrorist attacks and has al-quada operating in the country. This means the US has been conducting special forces missions and drone strikes on Yemenese soil for some time now. The central government denies this, but the central government is very weak and has a hard time exerting control over the country at large.
The capital Sanaa in the south has seen demonstrations calling for the president of 30 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down. Protesters have met a violent response at the hands of police.
The minuscule state of Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf, connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. It has slightly over a million people living in it, and while it technically has a capital, the entire country is small enough to be a city state. Despite its tiny size, Bahrain much like its neighbours is obscenely rich from oil money.
Bahrain is a bit of a unique case in the uprisings we've seen so far. This one has a very large sectarian element. Bahrain is a monarchy (it has a parliament occasionally, but it has virtually no power) which is Sunni. Most of the population though is Shia. There is a rather large disparity of wealth, with the Shia middle class having little compared to the highly affluent Sunnis.
Because of this sectarian element, other nations will be watching Bahrain with particular interest. Namely (Sunni) Saudi Arabia and (Shia) Iran. A change in power from Sunni to Shia would be a big deal; Iran would call it a victory and try to support the new government, while Saudi Arabia and other nations would look worryingly at their own (often oppressed) Shia minorities. Bahrain is also home the US 5th Fleet and so is of huge strategic importance.
Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Algeria and more have all been seeing protests as well. We'll be keeping an eye on them. Special attention should be kept on Algeria and Syria, in my opinion.
So far Saudi Arabia has been very quiet. Keep your ear to the ground for that one.
Some assorted notes of interest:
-So far all of these uprisings have been secular. No burning of US flags, no calling for the creation of a caliphate.
-So far none of these uprisings have had leaders, nor any political ideology aside from nationalism.
-All have started peacefully, and most have remained fairly peaceful despite various levels of state violence against protesters.
-The entire region has an extremely young population, with around two thirds of the population of the region being under 30 years old.
-The uprisings have been largely organized via the internet, with heavy use of facebook, twitter, youtube, Web 2.0 in general. Internet censorship has not been sufficient to quell protests.
-The protests are campaigning largely towards foreign media, printing signs in english, talking to reporters. They want their message heard throughout the world.