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It was a busy day around the region.

  • Israeli settlers vandalized and burned a mosque, an action that Netanyahu has condemned
  • US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reaffirmed the US commitment to maintaining a militarily superior Israel, although he questioned Israel’s diplomatic isolation
  • Israel has signaled that it is willing to return to negotiations sponsored by the US, UN, EU, and Russia, although Palestinians are skeptical that any progress can be made
  • In Egypt, the country’s military leadership has agreed to amendments to the election laws, changes called for and endorsed by the country’s anti-Mubarak political elements
  •  Libyan transnational government forces (we’re calling them that instead of rebels now I guess) are pressing in on pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte, one of a few strongholds of Gaddafi remaining
  • In ongoing upheavals, Bahrain has sentenced participants in protests to lengthy jail terms, Syria has been rounding up thousands of citizens to quell protests, and Yemeni youth don’t just want Saleh out as president, but want criminal charges pressed against him as well
  • There was a terrifying attack in Iraq, in which Sunni insurgents took hostages at a police station.  Several hostages and a police chief were killed before Iraqi forces recaptured the building, killing the militants.  This bit of ties to the piece from Dean Hill from yesterday, as he brought up the matter of Sunni insurgents, whose funding, objectives, and strategy are harder to pin down than their Sunni counterparts
So, there is a lot happening, although I don’t know if any of it can be considered as a major development.  I guess that for me the most interesting thing is Panetta’s statements, and the context of the attack in Iraq.

Bahrain and colonialism

It is a slow news day; in the UN Security Council a resolution on Syria isn’t taking the shape America would prefer, according to Al Jazeera.  In Bahrain, the appeals of sentenced protesters were rejected.

So today I want to post an Al Jazeera piece from early September.  The author argues that the portrayal of Bahrain as split between Shi’a and Sunni is an over-simplification, and that rather Bahrain should be understood as struggling with colonialism, where the colonial British have set up a proxy authority (now controlled by the US and the Saudis) that happens to be Sunni in a place that happens to be populated by Shi’a.

The so-called sectarian divide of Bahrain is a manipulative simplification of a far greater divide: that of the colonially-installed government that has no connection with or compassion for the people of Bahrain. The Saudis are there to preserve Anglo-American power as they do in Saudi Arabia. They are Sunni. The people they rule over are primarily Shia.

These are the kinds of tensions the British specialized in and the Americans are taking advantage of in so many parts of the world. It’s an insidious approach to world affairs. Coupled with nonstop mainstream media portrayals of sectarian divides amongst the population, it has been a successful model for damaging the locals, their reputation, and their chances of getting the help they actually need.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from Bahrain.  If the US and Saudi Arabia really are determined to support the Al Khalifa family out of fear of growing Iranian influence, among other factors, then international pressure wont mount.  If the army really has been carefully maintained to be all Sunni, then I can’t see the army switching its support from the government to the opposition, which I view as the critical step in any revolution.  So what is the best to hope for?  That the Khalifa family voluntarily relaxes its policies regarding the Shi’a population?  The other challenge activists face is that Bahrain is not a poor country.  It is not Qatar-rich, but it is not Yemen-poor either, so the desperation that plays a part in motivating other protest movements around the region may not exist in Bahrain.  Do we root for Iran to succeed in stirring up dissent?


Several Bahraini protesters sentenced to death

Four protesters in Bahrain were sentenced to death, and three more to life in prison, for their alleged involvement in the killing of two police officers during the protest movement, according to Al Jazeera.  The men’s lawyers are challenging the method of the conviction, which occurred behind closed doors.  Meanwhile, the US is speaking out against cases of detainees dying while in custody.

Quick bits and pieces of news

A lot of things that deserve mention, but nothing that strikes me as deserving its own post,  so we will go through them quickly.

In Libya, a NATO leader is asking for more planes.  The New York Times is writing that interrelationships in NATO are strained.

In Yemen, the protesters who were mulling over the GCC deal have decided instead to simply demand Saleh step down within two weeks, according to Al Jazeera.

In Tunisia and Egypt, efforts are underway to hold Ben Ali and Mubarak legally accountable for their despotic rule in some regard.

In Syria, protests have spread to Aleppo (the second largest city).  Now Assad has formed a new government.

The UN this week announced that the Palestinians appear ready to govern themselves, which will hopefully add momentum to an eventual settlement to the conflict with Israel.

Finally, in Bahrain, the government is working to disband the Shi’a opposition parties, according to BBC News.  This is probably the key step to ending the unrest in that state, a negative in the eyes of many as no substantial change has yet occurred.

Friday protests

There were protests through out the Middle East today, it being Friday.  In Egypt, protesters gathered to express a desire that Mubarak be put on trial.  In Jordan, authorities are working to keep competing groups of protesters seperate.  In Syria, despite the President’s speech on Wednesday, protests occured, with several dying (one estimate was four people) as the protesters were disperesed.  The largest protests occured in Yemen, where to rallies supporting opposite views occured a mile and half away from each other, as explained in this BBC News article.  Bahrain’s protesters continue to face a growing crackdown.  Meanwhile, in Kuwait, the whole cabinet resigned, as reported in this Al Jazeera article.  While Kuwait has not yet had any major popular protests, it is certainly a state to keep an eye on.  Another state to keep an eye on is Algeria, and Professor Rob Prince has an article up on his blog pertaining to that state.

State of Emergency Declared in Bahrain

The king of Bahrain has declared a state of emergency in Bahrain for three months, putting the tiny Arab kingdom under the rule of martial law. The move comes on the heels of  the arrival of foreign troops from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states – a development designed to stamp out the anti-regime, Shia-dominated reform protests that have enveloped the nation in the past weeks. The opposition has responded to the monarchy’s actions by blockading roads leading into the financial district of the capital, Manama. This link will take you to a BBC video describing events from the ground.

Foreign Troops Head For Bahrain

The beseiged Bahrani monarchy has requested help from neighboring countries in the wake of fierce clashes between the police and the anti-regime opposition which occurred yesterday. Troop from Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have arrived in Bahrain to protect key pieces of infrastructure such as oil and gas facilities and financial institutions. Their arrival has already upset the opposition, leading it to consider the troops’ presence tantamount to an “occupation.” There is speculation that the predominantly Shia opposition will react violently to the arrival of troops from Sunni-led countries, such as Saudi Arabia, inflaming an already charged atmosphere.