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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Rulers of the Waves

Mythology records the constraints on power of mortal kings:

…[King Cnut of Denmark, England and Norway] set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes; but the tide failed to stop. According to Henry [of Huntingdon], Cnut leapt backwards and said “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again.

Cnut the Great Wikipedia

In the wake of the revolution in Tunisia and the amazing scenes in Egypt in recent weeks the tide of popular sentiment against autocratic rule has risen to unprecedented levels among the persistent regimes of Africa and the Middle East and threatens to expose the illegitimacy of their rule if not inundate them altogether.

That these movements are concentrated in, though not limited to, the Islamic world seems no coincidence and their scope transcends the geopolitical or religious alignment and ethnicity of their respective ruling classes.  This is not strictly speaking a democracy movement in the narrowly understood Western sense though it is clearly a movement of social justice as framed within the context of the culture of the respective states.

This phenomenon is the antithesis of the jihadist movement where a minority imposes its theological demands by threat of violence against the state and intimidation of the people, this is instead a populist non-violent movement which harnesses the participation of what seems the majority to restore or establish their personal freedoms as individuals in relation to the state.

As such it is a stinging refutation of the tactics and ideology of jihad and presents as much of a challenge to the egalitarian United States as it does to theocratic Iran.  The tide is rising and the regimes which react with violence and repression against their own people are inevitably doomed.  If not today then someday soon.


The protests in Iran a few days ago seem to have reignited the protest which was brutally repressed in recent years, a worst case scenario for the leaders of Iran’s repressive regime:

It appears that up to 350,000 people turned out on the streets of Tehran for the 25 Bahman protests. The reason so many people came out was the relative restraint shown by the security forces and the fact that mobile phones worked till 4 p.m. — once the first few thousand people showed up, they were able to inform many others that the anti-riot cops and Basijis were not, in general, acting as viciously as was widely feared.

The Basij mostly refrained from violently engaging with the protesters. I did see two people beaten to a pulp — one by Intel Ministry officers, the second by Sepah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Overall, people worked hard to stop beatings by the regime forces. Once in a while, the anti-riot police would try to disperse the crowd by firing tear gas.

Traversing the city both by foot and on the rapid transit buses, crowds could be seen everywhere. Several thousand people walked from Imam Hossein Square toward Enghelab Square. This is the first time ever such a large crowd came from that direction — Imam Hossein Square is in the middle of a working-class area. After being dispersed, the crowd walked peacefully on the sidewalks of Enghelab Avenue and some of the parallel roads

Following a lull for the Green Movement that lasted over a year, Monday’s march has reinvigorated things tremendously. People were smiling in joy for the first time in a long while. Likewise, many Basijis and NAJA (state police) officers looked positively confused and crestfallen.

Hamid Farokhina – 25 Bahman and the Green Revival Tehran Bureau 15 Feb 11

More recently the counter-revolution has exposed serious schisms among the ruling elite:

Two days after the Bahman 25 (February 14) protests, supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, shown on national TV chanting slogans in Qom calling for the death of Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. The moderate cleric is the chairman of Iran’s two major governing bodies, the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council.

The crowd in Qom called for the dismissal of Ayatollah Rafsanjani from his government posts and the prosecution and execution of the two opposition leaders, MirHosein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi who issued the rally call for Monday.

The attacks against Hashemi Rafsanjani have come despite firm condemnation of the February 14 protests by the Assembly of Experts.

Tehran Updates: Mousavi’s Site Calls for Demonstrations Sunday Radio Zamaneh via Tehran Bureau 15 Feb 11

This follows on from an initial unconfirmed report that the Revolutionary Guard had concerns about their participation in suppressing the 14 February protests:

Emruz News also reported that in the meeting of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guard commander, has expressed concern that the Guard’s rank and file may disobey the orders of their superiors, if directed to employ violence against marchers. Given that the Egyptian army did not open fire on the demonstrators in Cairo, a violent crackdown on Monday’s marches may completely destroy the credibility of the force with the people. Thus, he proposed that the police, rather than Basij and Guard forces, be made responsible for imposing order on Monday’s marches.

Muhhamad Sahimi – The Call to Rally / Latest Updates: Guard Chief Reported Unsure of Troops Tehran Bureau 15 Feb 11

There is another protest announced for Sunday and there are reports that opposition leaders have been arrested or have disappeared.


Small protests have continued for almost a week in Yemen as the government tries to meet protest with pro-government rallies that threaten the stability of this small, poor state:

SANA, Yemen – Yemeni police fired shots into the air on Thursday as thousands of demonstrators, some supporting President Ali Abdullah Saleh and some seeking his downfall, clashed for hours in central Sana, bombarding one another with a hailstorm of rocks on the seventh straight day of violent unrest here.

“There is no state, there is no state,” the president’s adversaries chanted as they set fire to two tires in the center of downtown Rabat Street, sending plumes of black smoke into the air in what seemed an escalation of the confrontation that drew in a broader cross-section of Yemeni society among the president’s foes.

Laura Kasinof – Protesters Face Off for 7th Day in Yemen NYT 17 Feb 11

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The US is in a tricky position here as it is engaged in a $250M secret campaign against a local al Qaeda affiliate.


Bahrain, once considered among the more stable and prosperous Gulf states, has seen ruthless violence used against peaceful protesters, including women and children.  Doctors attending the wounded have been threatened and beaten seriously.  The Interior Ministry has forbidden ambulances to be dispatched without their sanction:

MANAMA, Bahrain – The army took control of this city on Thursday, except at the main hospital, where thousands of people gathered screaming, crying, collapsing in grief, just hours after the police opened fired with birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas on pro-democracy demonstrators camped in Pearl Square.

As the army asserted control of the streets with tanks and heavily armed soldiers, the once peaceful protesters were transformed into a mob of angry mourners chanting slogans like “death to the king,” while the opposition withdrew from the Parliament and demanded that the government step down.

But for those who were in Pearl Square in the early morning hours, when the police opened fired without warning on thousands who were sleeping there, it was a day of shock and disbelief. Many of the hundreds taken to the hospital were wounded by shotgun blasts, doctors said, their bodies speckled with pellets or bruised by rubber bullets or police clubs.

In the morning, there were three bodies already stretched out on metal tables in the morgue at Salmaniya Medical Complex: Ali Mansour Ahmed Khudair, 53, dead, with 91 pellets pulled from his chest and side; Isa Abd Hassan, 55, dead, his head split in half; Mahmoud Makki Abutaki, 22, dead, 200 pellets of birdshot pulled from his chest and arms.

Doctors said that at least two others had died and that several patients were in critical condition with serious wounds.

Michael Slackman – Bahrain Army in Charge After Police Shoot Protesters NYT 17 Feb 11

Bahrain is the base for the US Fifth Fleet and is a vital component in American Gulf strategy.  It appears that the military has stepped in after the failures of the police who still claim, in the face of universal reporting otherwise, that they did not turn their weapons on the protesters.


The forty-one year rule of Muammar el-Qaddafi is under threat from recent events:

There was little verifiable information about the protests, which began late on Tuesday in Benghazi, Libya’s restive second city, and spread to other areas. The scale of the protests was unclear, but in a land where any display of dissent or opposition is rapidly quashed the violence seemed to present a highly unusual open challenge to Colonel Qaddafi’s rule.

“Today the Libyans broke the barrier of fear, it is a new dawn,” Faiz Jibril, an opposition leader in exile told The Associated Press. But that assessment had yet to be tested against Colonel Qaddafi’s repressive internal security apparatus. Several opposition Web sites and exiled leaders said the authorities had deployed military snipers and commandos to suppress the unrest.

In the initial protests at least 14 people were injured and one killed, the Human Rights Watch advocacy group said on Thursday. But as the confrontation spread to the city of Al Beyda east of Benghazi, a Web site opposing Colonel Qaddafi said four protesters had been killed by government forces. Other accounts put the death toll higher.

Alan Cowell – Libyan Unrest Spreads to More Cities, Reports Say NYT 17 Feb 11

This in spite of Qaddafi’s recent moves to increase wages and release militants.


Even our democratic ‘experiment’ in Iraq is experiencing a wave of discontent:

Three people have been killed and dozens wounded in clashes between security forces and protesters in a southern Iraqi province, after around 2,000 people attacked government offices in protest over poor services.

Protesters took threw rocks and took over a provincial council building in Kut in Wasit province, about 160km southeast of Baghdad, on Wednesday. Three government buildings were set on fire, including the governor’s official residence.

A police source in Kut said three protesters were killed in clashes and about 30 wounded, including 15 policemen. A hospital source said one of the dead was a 16-year-old boy who suffered a bullet to the chest.

Officials said policemen and soldiers fired their weapons into the air in a bid to dissuade protesters, while private security guards employed by Wasit council opened fire directly into the crowd.

“Those were private guards, only they fired at the protesters. They were outside the law,” police Brigadier General Hussein Jassim told AFP. “Our forces only fired into the air.”

Iraqis attack government offices AJE 17 Feb 11

The upshot?  A region approaching chaos and a challenge to all participants.  For a brief moment in history allies and adversaries have overlapping concerns and agendas.  For as much internal dissent is reflected in the current administration’s messages and emerging strategies in response to these these crises it is clear that the Republican Wurlitzer is out of tune and in even greater disarray.


  1. Pretty much that is exactly what this is. Years of policy predicated on preserving stability, and this is what we get. Coupled with information technologies, coupled with news services that have increased their scope over the last ten years in response to our own efforts and our own captive media that haven’t given a fair picture, and this is what happens.

    What is interesting is that these are all movements that are more predicated on economic issues, than ideological ones. Freedom is coupled with a need to throw off the folks who have jiggered their economies to keep folks controlled, and with consequences. Folks see the educated, they see the opportunities, and they want theirs. Not to work in Dubai as guest workers, not to head to Europe to be villified for their religion and langugage, but want a fair shake in their own country.

    In a way, we are seeing a domino theory in casting off authoritarian regimes that are more the norm, and who we’ve backed either implicitly or tacitly because they brought stability, and access to resources–all the while mouthing platitudes for freedom, but rarely delivering on them.

    The question is, once these folks get into power, how are they going to handle their own business?  We need to step carefully, not just for our own economic interests, but for the opportunity to help folks who keep hearing us say “Freedom” and haven’t known a lot of it–or rather, a brand that is very much foreign to our own concepts. It is an exciting time, and here are folks who are going to be seen as pioneers for their nations.

    Sadly though, while there are accolades galore for pioneers, they are also sometimes the folks with arrows in their backs…

  2. HappyinVT

    Tuesday and his house is surrounded by security forces.

    Al Jazeera is live blogging the Bahrain protests; Nicholas Kristof has a good piece up as well.  Juan Cole had a good take on … well, lots of stuff.  🙂

    Lastly, I just hope US forces keep well clear of either side of any protests in Iraq; that the local governments handle it.

  3. Shaun Appleby

    Increasingly ugly.  In spite of strict limitations on Western media, which explains the conflicting reports today:

    The Libyan security forces killed at least 24 protesters and wounded many others in a crackdown on peaceful demonstrations across the country, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should cease the use of lethal force unless absolutely necessary to protect lives and open an independent investigation into the lethal shootings, Human Rights Watch said.

    Hundreds of peaceful protesters took to the streets on February 17, 2011, in Baida, Benghazy, Zenten, Derna, and Ajdabiya. According to multiple witnesses, Libyan security forces shot and killed the demonstrators in efforts to disperse the protests.

    Libya: Security Forces Fire on ‘Day of Anger’ Demonstrations Human Rights Watch 17 Feb 11

    Human Rights Watch only reports deaths it can independently confirm, the actual toll may be higher.  With each round of deaths the funerals become a focus for another day of protests and more casualties, as apparently has happened today.

  4. Stipes

    the success of an uprising, and the regime’s willingness to use violence against those protesters.

    Both Tunisia and Egypt restrained themselves for the most part, while Libya, Bahrain and Iran have not.  In order of likelihood of success, I rank them this way, (which also correlates to how much violence a regime will ultimately use).

    1. Bahrain – They have used violence already, but the US 5th Fleet is homeported there, so expect the Obama Admin to apply pressure.  We have leverage in this case.

    2. Yemen – Again, violence has been used, but we do have leverage with Ali Abdullah Saleh since he is nominally an ally.

    3. Libya – Violence will continue.  Low chance of success in my opinion.

    4. Iran – Extremely violent regime.  Low chance of success.

    I haven’t ranked Jordan, (High likelihood of reform/success), Lebanon, (Moderate chance of success), of Syria, (Low chance due to past history of extreme violence), in this list since they really haven’t started to protest yet.

    I’m curious if anyone has a different take.

  5. Shaun Appleby

    Reliable reports that the police are now at the main hospital after the army opened fire:

    @NickKristof Police attacking protesters here at hospital in #Bahrain. Tear gas inside. Panic.

    Hard to asses casualties but seems dreadful, apparently APC’s and even helicopter using live ammunition on protesters.

  6. Shaun Appleby

    Many tweets of casualties in Benghazi appear confirmed by video on AJE.  Also:

    7:11 pm More reports of potentially very deadly fighting in Bayda. Aamir Saad, a political activist, claims that anti-government demonstrators in Bayda have “executed 50 African mercenaries” – presumably a reference to the government militias – and “two Libyan conspirators”. Remember: Bayda is where protesters managed to regain hold of the city with the support of local police, according to Reuters.

    Live Blog – Libya AJE 18 Feb 11

    There are lots of tweets coming in from Libya indicating that protesters are gaining control of key government buildings in Benghazi.

  7. HappyinVT

    Iraqis have been demonstrating against the al-Maliki government and lack of services for two weeks now. But on Thursday, a wave of rallies swept the country from north to south, leaving two dead in Sulaimaniya and government buildings torched elsewhere.

    Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that in the city of Kut in Shiite south Iraq (the capital of Wasit province), crowds threatened the provincial headquarters. This action came a day after they had burned down the provincial council building and saw 3 protesters killed by security forces.

  8. Shaun Appleby

    Lots of tweets reporting Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, already in the hands of the revolution:

    @Gheblawi: Reports from #Benghazi say city is nearly under the control of the popular protests and security and military joining the people #Libya

    There is a cultural division between east and west in Libya which may complicate matters.  While one understands the reluctance of media to report these events without reporters on the scene the Twitter feed seems way, way ahead of the cable networks.  AJE is still reporting yesterday’s Human Rights Watch casualty figures as news and tweets from earlier today.

  9. sricki

    because it’s better and far more comprehensive than what I posted this morning.

    (I just thought it was gonna be about surfers!) 😉

    So I’m FP’ing this — the rest of you folks should comment in here rather than the FP diary below.

  10. Shaun Appleby

    I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries and wherever else it may occur. We express our condolences to the family and friends of those who have been killed during the demonstrations. Wherever they are, people have certain universal rights including the right to peaceful assembly. The United States urges the governments of Bahrain, Libya and Yemen to show restraint in responding to peaceful protests, and to respect the rights of their people.

    Libya – Live Blog White House via AJE 17 Feb 11

    I’ll bet the situation room is getting a bit stale from constant use.  When do they get a chance to sleep these days?

  11. Shaun Appleby

    And more indications that Qaddafi is in serious trouble:

    @Cyrenaican: General Suleiman al’Abaidi protesting with the people in Benghazi #Libya #Feb17

    @iyad_elbaghdadi: Aljazeera just confirmed over 100,000 demonstrators in #Benghazi, a city of 600,000 #Libya #Feb17

    @ZahratTrablis: People burning pictures in Tripoli and police are just watching! Is this all happening in one say?!! Allah is the BEST of Planners #Libya

    The bigger they are the harder they fall.  Wondering if all the King of King’s horses and all of his men can put him back together again…

  12. fogiv

    Libyans have taken to the streets and buried their dead, accusing government forces of perpetrating massacres in Benghazi and other towns said to have been taken over by anti-regime protesters.

    Opposition sources claimed that at least 61 protesters had been killed in three days of unprecedented unrest largely in Libya’s impoverished eastern region, though it was not possible to confirm that figure.


    Diplomats reported the use of heavy weapons in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, and “a rapidly deteriorating situation” in the latest Arab country to be hit by serious unrest.

    Amid a near-total official news blackout, fragmentary information and a ban on journalists entering Libya, there was a blizzard of rumours and claims about killings by mercenaries and defections by members of the security forces.

    In one highly significant development, prisoners were reported to have escaped en masse from al-Jadida jail in the capital, Tripoli, which has so far been calm.


    Umm Muhammad, a political activist in Benghazi, told the Guardian that 38 people had died there. “They were using live fire here, not just teargas. This is a bloody massacre – in Benghazi, in al-Bayda, all over Libya. They are releasing prisoners from the jails to attack the demonstrators. The whole Libyan people wants to bring down this regime.” Benghazi’s al-Jala hospital was appealing for emergency blood supplies to help treat the injured.


    Ramadan Briki, the Benghazi-based editor of Quryna newspaper, said 24 people had died. Ashour Shamis, a London-based Libyan journalist, said protesters had stormed the city’s Kuwafiyah prison and freed dozens of political prisoners. Escapees set fire to the prosecutor’s office, a bank and a police station.

    Amateur footage showed buildings burning and protesters who had been shot dead. The pictures, given to al-Jazeera TV, recorded streets empty of police or army units. Much of the violence was blamed on “mercenaries” reportedly brought in from neighbouring Chad.

  13. Shaun Appleby

    Eight injured in pro and anti-government demonstrations in Amman, Jordan.  Rumours that the governor of Aden has resigned in the face of continuing protests in Yemen with more injuries reported.  Unconfirmed suggestions that the harsh and violent response to protests in Bahrain represents the hard-line uncle and Prime Minister overriding his nephew the king.

  14. Shaun Appleby

    As if they didn’t have enough to worry about already:

    @RickTVnet: Stay tuned to @wikileaks since there will be a #Bahrain document dump tonight.

    That’s got to make ’em nervous.  We just might get our fingers jammed too, I’m guessing we’ve been doing just about anything to guarantee the anti-terrorism cooperation of Bahrain.

  15. Shaun Appleby


    @salamboo: #libya #feb Gaddafi’s Son, Al Saadi, is reported captured by protestors in Benghazi

  16. Shaun Appleby

    Reports the elite Khamis Brigade has retaken control in Benghazi:

    At 5:00 am on Saturday, special forces attacked hundreds of protesters, including lawyers and judges, camped out in front of the courthouse in the eastern city of Benghazi, which has been a focus for the anti-government unrest.

    “They fired tear gas on protesters in tents and cleared the areas after many fled carrying the dead and the injured,” one protester said over the phone from Benghazi. “This is a ghost city; we are all afraid that something big is going to happen in Benghazi today.”

    Libyan forces storm protest camp in Benghazi AP via Times and Democrat 19 Feb 11

    Very little information coming out, reports that Internet still blocked in East Libya.  Hard to say what the situation is at the moment.

  17. Stipes

    MANAMA, Bahrain – Thousands of singing and dancing protesters streamed back into Manama’s central Pearl Square Saturday after Bahrain’s leaders withdrew tanks and riot police following two straight days of a bloody crackdown by security forces in the tiny monarchy.

    The royal family, which was quick to use force earlier this week against demonstrators in the landmark square that has been the heart of the anti-government demonstrations, appeared to back away from further confrontation following international pressure from the West.

    President Barack Obama discussed the situation with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, asking him to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. He said in a statement that Bahrain must respect the “universal rights” of its people and embrace “meaningful reform.”

  18. HappyinVT

    8:47pm Bahrain’s main labour union called an indefinite strike from Sunday to protest at police violence and demand the right to demonstrate peacefully.

    from AJE

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