Algeria As Prologue

In the book of America’s conflict with politically active Islam, Algeria is the prologue.

In the aftermath of an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq whose outcome remains barely comprehended in the land of the aggressor, which is already moving toward yet another and almost certainly far more catastrophic war of aggression against Iran, paying heed to the horrifying story of the Algerian battle for independence from France, on this anniversary of that event, may be one of the wisest courses of action for Americans.

Those who speak French should listen to this video about the pain still being suffered by those left behind [France 24.].

In the words of the Algerian-French writer and reporter Albert Camus:

Les represailles contre les populations civiles et le pratique de torture sont des crimes dont nous sommes tous solidaires….nous devons du moins refuser toute justification, fut-ce par l’efficacite, a ces methods. Des l’instant, en effet, ou meme indirectement, on les justifie, il n’y a plus de regle ni de valeur, toutes les causes se valent et la guerre sans buts ni lois consacre le triomphe du nihilisme.  

Algeria is the prologue of the tragedy of America’s confrontation with politically active Islam.
Additional Readings:

Guy de Maupassant, Lettres d’Algerie–on the French war against Algeria in the mid-1800’s;
Albert Camus, Chroniques algeriennes 1939-1958–on the French war against Algeria in the mid-1900’s.


How a Superpower Earns Respect

Once again Israeli rightwingers manipulated Washington into doing something that harms U.S. national security. Eventually, this bill will come due.
How does a superpower earn friends and influence people? Its just like at home Mom and Dad really do not get much respect or love from the kids by owning the biggest house. They get it by earning it, through the little things, like attention and consideration and fairness. (If this sounds like preaching, all you dear readers on Main Street, well, it is, but dont be offended: Im not talking to you; Im talking to Washington, where the above homilies are unappreciated.)
Washington earned little respect with its fearsome display of arms over the last decade. It did get a little bit of momentary, grudging obedience, but mostly from folks who really did not wish to pick a fight in the first place, and even that is all short-term. We do not yet have any idea how many people around the world are just waiting to pay the U.S. back for its string of recent invasions and occupations and embargoes. When we find out, everyone in Washington will be astonished, outraged, and innocent.

Respect is something altogether different: harder to earn than obedience but much more lasting because it generates voluntary cooperation and, more, persuades people to think of one as a model to be followed.

Alright! Enough with the endless carping! Complaining is easy, so for superpower leaders who want to earn the worlds respect, who want to be a model the world will willingly follow (if you were good parents, youd know), it is all about the little things.
On August 27, a little thing was reported: Washington threatened to cut Palestinian aid if the Palestinians asked the U.N. for statehood. Note that Washington did not threaten to cut aid to the colonized, abused, and ethnically cleansed Palestinians for terrorism or fighting for national liberation or joining the Communist Bloc, or supporting al Quaida. No, the sole global superpower is threatening economic coercion of Palestinians, whose right to a homeland has been ignored by the world for 60 years, for adhering to international standards and going to the U.N. for help to resolve a conflict that the impoverished and semi-starved population of the Israeli colony cannot possibly obtain on their own (in the face of relentless U.S. hostility). The superpower is punishing a population that has been isolated and prevented from participating in the closest institution we have to world government for wanting to talk.
The lessons here are pretty clear (though perhaps not on the banks of the Potomac):
  • Do not follow international law;
  • Do not demand the right to talk;
  • Do not assume that the democratic process is a public right (it is, rather, by invitation only).
In short, if Palestinians want to be treated with respect, they are going to have to behave disrespectfully. They are going to have to throw stones.
Now, where do you think this leaves all the rest of the worlds one billion Muslims (not to mention, say, one billion Chinese)? Do they respect the U.S. more today as a result of this lesson in democracy?


Situations Where the Superpower Could Use a Little Respect for Democracy

Nigeria – rising Muslim terrorist campaign 

if you thought Iraq was bad, imagine the U.S. intervening in Nigeria – on the equator, oil exporter, 155,000,000 people with a median age of 19; 389 ethnic groups; twice the size of Iraq

Freeing Palestinians…to Save Israeli Democracy

A Palestinian state would not only offer justice to Palestinians but restore Israel’s weakening democracy and consolidate Israel’s security by strengthening the emerging Arab center.

Those Israelis concerned about threats not just to Israeli security but also to Israeli democracy, which finds itself increasingly undermined by rising domestic racist sentiment and apartheid-like behavior, should be begging Cairo and Ankara to get together and make a face-saving compromise proposal for a just two-state solution.

Israel would be able to strengthen its democracy and minimize Arab hostility. Israel would also strengthen its ties to an American public that is becoming increasingly aware of the great strategic cost to the U.S. of maintaining an alliance with an Israel ruled by an uncompromisingly expansionist right-wing faction in an era of Arab democratization. Israel would suddenly look very decent if it accepted a moderate compromise proposed by the new leaders of Mideast good neighborliness. Palestinians would get their state. Egypt and Turkey would get a regional diplomatic victory that would greatly enhance their respective positions as leaders of regional moderation. As for Obama, he would get rid of the most irritating foreign policy problem on his plate, freeing him politically to create a rational policy toward the Mideast without paying an unbearable political price at home.
For the moment, a moderate Arab center is emerging that offers an historic opportunity to Israelis seeking safety in the Mideast. This moderate center could collapse as fast as the Weimar Republic, opening the door to Arab chauvinist militarism, Muslim jihadi victory, or economic collapse. Any of the three would constitute a disaster for Israel.
But support for the emerging moderate Arab center–something hardly seen since, perhaps, 13th century Andalusia can facilitate a victory for Arabs that would also be a victory for peace-loving Israelis. The potent combination of Turkey and Egypt simultaneously moving toward moderation, economic development, and democracy offers a real chance of changing the Mideast:
  • How better might Palestinians be guided toward democracy than by following the rich experience of Turkish and Egyptian societies, with their rapidly growing civil society sectors?
  • How better might Palestinians develop their economy than by integrating it with Egyptian infrastructure and the rapidly progressing Turkish economic powerhouse?
  • What political, religious, and cultural centers are both more acceptable to Palestinians and acceptable to Israelis than the modernizing and Westernizing and democratizing societies of Turkey and Egypt?
Israeli politicians who exploit “existential threats” to maintain their hold on power would of course scream in righteous indignation. In the words of a former Israeli foreign minister:
Binyamin Netanyahu’s furious rejection of US President Barack Obama’s proposal to use the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute – frontiers that he called “utterly indefensible” – reflects not only the Israeli prime minister’s poor statesmanship, but also his antiquated military philosophy.
But Cairo and Ankara have an answer: these two large states together have the ability now both to sponsor the development of a stable Palestinian economy and to offer a peacekeeping force more than large enough to guard Israel’s legal 1967 borders (not to mention the illegal Israeli settlers temporarily residing in Palestine), if right-wing Israeli politicians truly want to stand up in public and claim that the Israeli armed forces no longer have the capability to defend Israel’s security.

Empowering Iran’s New World Order

Now that Riyadh seems to be trapping Washington into supporting its counterrevolution, the fate of Iranian crusaders for a new, anti-American world order seems to be in good hands with…Washington. Tehran is on a strategic roll playing the good guy, cheering Arab democracy against the Saudi-Israeli-U.S. axis of dictatorship. In a word, Washington is empowering the Iranian World Order, and all Tehran needs to do is be patient.

The American World Order has always been schizophrenic, the imperial face biting the democratic face. Aspiring to lead a new world order, Iranian rejectionists—be they nationalists or militant Shi’a—have a simple theoretical answer to what liberals see in the American World Order as a fundamental dilemma: the Iranian rejectionists dismiss both faces. Whether Washington aspires to lead a global crusade to establish empire or to spread democracy makes little difference to Iranians dedicated to domestic supremacy of the state over the people and international overthrow of a U.S.-centric international order.

Theory is one thing, practice another, however, and the relative emphasis Washington gives to its imperial tendencies vis-à-vis its democratizing tendencies has enormous impact on the practical difficulties facing Iranians on a crusade to upset the global political system. As long as Iran remains the only serious challenger to the corporate-friendly American World Order, Iran’s real goals are less the issue than Iran’s symbolic position of exceptionalism as the only defender of liberty (though, to be sure, Iran is only defending the liberty of the state vis-à-vis the international system, not the liberty of individuals, but that is a distinction that will be lost on young Arabs being murdered in the street by their own governments). To the degree that people worldwide begin to see Iran as the sole champion of liberty, its dissident crusade becomes immeasurably empowered.
Such a perception would be worth far more than a primitive collection of nuclear bombs to Iranian crusaders, but there is probably little Iran, by itself, can do to spread such perceptions. Ironically, there is much that Washington can do: all it will take is a few simple foreign policy miscalculations in Washington, the type of miscalculations Washington decision-makers are quite prone to make, to hand Iranian crusaders this present on a silver platter. It is ironic that confident, forward-leaning Tehran must rely on its main adversary to open the door for it to make progress. It is even more ironic that it is precisely the Zionists’ fears of a nuclear Iran that induce them to engage in the most short-sighted oppression of civil liberties in the Mideast, “short-sighted” because it plays so neatly into the hands of precisely those Iranians most interested in acquiring nuclear arms.
Again, the issue is not the real goals of Iranian crusaders but the degree to which people, for the moment specifically the people of the Mideast and Central Asia, perceive Iran as their only ally in their struggle for liberty and justice. The virulence of repression in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Palestine will not allow those repressed populations the luxury of examining the motives of a potential supporter.
Tehran could of course always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by making its own mistakes. Tehran could terrify the Mideast with nuclear threats, drive its own people into revolt, or alienate democratizing Arabs with images of fundamentalist Shi’i velayat-e faqih (Khomenei’s theory of rule by religious dictators responsible only to Allah). One of the difficulties in predicting political events is the ever-present possibility that politicians will manage to defeat themselves by overreach regardless of how certain their victory appears. But as long as Iranians avoid such blunders, with the U.S. dog on the leash of the Saudi billionaires,  time is on Tehran’s side.
Ironically, in view of the panic they provoke, Iranian crusaders actually have yet to demonstrate that they have much to offer the Mideast or any other part of the world that many would find attractive. Aside from talking a good talk (and even then frequently lapsing into clumsy, self-defeating rhetoric), Iranian crusaders have little military power, little money, little attractive ideology. They have not succeeded in accomplishing much that is very impressive in Iraq, despite the strong position the neo-con adventure granted them. What improvements in living standards do Iraqis credit Iran with having given them over the last decade? Similarly, what improvements in the lives of the average poor Shi’a in Lebanon would the average person there thank Iran for. The truth is that Iranian crusaders, their noise notwithstanding, have yet to demonstrate that their opponents need fear them very much.
But if Washington succeeds in alienating the rising generation of Arab youth–just as it begins to assert itself–by allowing the American imperial face unambiguously to take precedence over the American democratizing face, then where else will Arabs have to turn? Communism is gone. Salafi jihadis have slaughtered so many Sunnis that they have managed thoroughly to discredit their vision of a new Caliphate in the eyes of the Sunnis masses. Only one symbol of an alternative to the American World Order exists: Iran. (Mr. Davutoglu, if you disagree, please step forward and make your case.) But it is, for obvious reasons, a tarnished symbol, and can only be made attractive by comparison with the degree to which Arabs perceive that the American World Order will or will not permit them to have a decent future within its constraints. If Washington defines the masses of the whole Arab world as rebels to be crushed by the American World Order, it will give Tehran a victory it could never achieve for itself.
Riyadh has clearly thrown down the gauntlet, its savage repression of Bahraini hopes for a new dawn spelling out exactly what the old guard is willing to offer the Arab people. Iranian crusaders presumably have no interest in a genuine flowering of democracy in the Muslim world; that would put them in a highly unstable and marginalized position. But to be the only country unconditionally cheering for Arab democracy against the unholy trio of Zionist Israel, salafi Saudi Arabia, and an imperial U.S. would be a dream come true for Iranian crusaders in which they could finally dominate the Arab street…and do so at no cost.
Whether or not the Iranian crusaders are smart and patient enough to play this game remains to be seen, but initial indications are that they are doing so far more skillfully than Obama, who, after a good start in response to Tahrir Square, now  appears to be falling solidly under the spell of the Saudi sheikhs. The game, admittedly, is hard for the U.S.: it must figure out how to balance the removal of bad allies so that new and independent regimes arise in a context that leads them to chart their own course in a way compatible with U.S. interests: that will be a tricky thing to pull off. For Iran, things are easier. Iran’s strategic position is so much improved with Iraq in its orbit, Afghanistan imploding, Turkey friendly, and Egypt warming up that it (i.e., the ruling elite) can afford to be patient (whether particular individual Iranian leaders will calculate that they personally can afford to be patient is another thing). In essence, Washington must work assiduously to balance contradictions, while all Iran need do is…nothing. Given the daily slaughter by murderous security forces in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, Iran’s call for a new world order can hardly help but shine brighter and brighter over the desert sands. Terrified at the thought of its old alliance system crumbling, Washington is busily empowering Iran’s crusaders for a new world order.

Dictatorship and Religious Extremism: Two Sides of the Same Coin

A popular false dichotomy in the West–promoted partly by those who can see only black and white, partly by those with a private agenda to profit from chaos–holds that the choice in the Mideast lies between dictatorships and religious extremism. Don’t fall into this trap: dictatorships and religious extremism are two sides of the same coin.
As the pace of reform slows in the Mideast, the viciousness of criminal regimes rises, and the counterrevolution gains momentum, the prospects for moderate, peaceful modernization coupled with political reform, civil liberties, and the installation of regimes interested in popular welfare rather kleptocracy dimishes. In direct response to the fading prospects of responsible democracy, the prospects for extremism rise. Dictators and those who hope to benefit from dictatorships will stress the danger of religious fundamentalist extremism as though two opposite choices existed – either dictatorship by a kleptocracy or al Qua’ida. In truth, it is precisely the existence of one type of extremism that provokes the other.
Saudi Arabia is starting already in these initial post-Bahrain intervention days, to provide one example: the political elite, having evidently learned nothing from the wave of global terror, is once again kissing up to religious ultra-conservatives. From ultra-conservative dogma enforcing radical religious strictures to the use of violence against those who do not submit is a very short step: if “god” says you must and you don’t, it is very easy for the credulous to conclude that those who don’t are evil (short step) and (another short step) should be murdered. The Saudi mistake (from the perspective of those who aspire to live in a tolerant society) is to use religious fundamentalists to buttress the kleptocracy against the population.
Algeria is providing a second example of the tight relationship between the religious extremism the West fears and the Arab dictatorships Western elites find so convenient. Where Riyadh coddles fundamentalism to repress the people, Algers uses military oppression against both, leaving the people with no hope and thus making the revolutionary socio-political message of fundamentalists attractive. The Algerian mistake is to turn its back on a population that wants peace and offer it no alternative but resistance.
Extremist regimes that either repress their populations, as in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Algeria, or repress conquered ethnic minorities, as in the case of Israel, provoke an extremist response. Abuse of power by a criminal state provokes the empowerment of radical dissent and its own concomitant abuse of power. The longer the Mideast popular protests continue without substantive improvements socio-economic conditions for the population, the more radicalized politics is likely to become. It is not in the interests of the American people for Washington to pick elite favorites as clients but for Washington to support the emergence of independent, moderate, reformist political systems that focus on improving domestic socio-economic conditions. U.S. politicians may not be ready to turn any of their aircraft carriers into small-business loans for unemployed Arabs, but we might all be more secure if they did.

A superb list of 10 things Western governments should avoid in the Mideast;
Needed for Arab democracy – jobs

Riyadh Tries a Neat Trick to Promote Its Counterrevolution

Behind the superficial news reports lie layers of maneuver and counter-maneuver, with innocent-sounding initiatives sometimes hiding ominous implications.
Democracy requires that officials take responsibility for their actions. For a leader to murder peaceful demonstrators day after day and finally accept a golden parachute to Saudi Arabia is not what I mean by “taking responsibility.” But of course the last thing politicians want is to establish a precedent for forcing them to take responsibility for their actions. Thus, we see the Gulf Cooperation Council offering Saleh a deal in which he will resign to, no doubt, a life of luxury, while his own deputy (!), presumably as only Number 2, a man completely innocent of any improper behavior or intent, a man who presumably never killed or ordered or permitted the death of any peaceful citizen expressing an opinion, smoothly slips into control. Such a deal would stab Yemenis directly in the back by dismissing calls for democracy while serving Riyadh’s counter-revolutionary interests perfectly by maintaining the old system in control.
My earlier question about the possibility that Riyadh would follow up its military move into hapless Bahrain with an invasion of Yemen has thus been given an initial response: recognizing that Yemen is a bit harder of a nut to crack than Bahrain, Riyadh has chosen a sneakier tactic for achieving the same counter-revolutionary result. Maybe their ability to do math is better than that of some other regional players and better now as a result of their blatant military move into Bahrain.
Why anyone in Yemen would be mollified by seeing the dictator’s deputy replace the dictator is an open question. Whether or not Riyadh is holding its tanks in readiness for deployment is another. How the “new” Cairo, not to mention Tehran, might react to Saudi consolidation of influence in Yemen is a third. The shimmering mirage of a Mideast in which Riyadh finds itself essentially alone defending the old order, while Tehran, Ankara, and Cairo move forward into a new world of moderation and flexibility together, hovers faintly over the hot desert horizon.
Options for Washington:
  1. Stick with the devil you know and support Saudi efforts to preserve the Yemeni dictatorship at the risk of finding itself isolated with Israel and an unstable Saudi Arabia.
  2. Embrace the change that is already well under way, get on the right side of history, reject the out-dated zero-sum attitude that empowers so many extremists, and make a serious call for the Yemeni leadership group to be held responsible for violating fundamental principles of good governance.

Arab Leaders Can’t Do the Math

Politicians–all self-appointed, one may note–in the Arab world have recently been teaching us all lessons in how to win the love and support of the people. You achieve this by establishing clear rules that create an ordered society.
For example:

  1. You may not criticize leaders, all of whom are better than you;
  2. You may not demonstrate;
  3. You may not seek hospital care if injured, especially if by gunshot; 
  4. You may not apply for a job in your local police force (all positions are reserved for foreigners);
  5. You may not attend a funeral.

Clear rules applied to all citizens lead to a happy society. The penalty for those who disobey is to be shot.

Now let us consider the mathematics of such a system of governance. Let us say that one social deviant who wishes to break the core rule exists (there’s always a loser in every crowd). This loser makes a sarcastic remark and is shot. Problem solved? Well, not quite. He turns out to have a couple brothers, who are also such losers that they now get angry, so they demonstrate. Both are shot but not killed so their relatives take them to the local hospital, which is promptly bombed. This eliminates the two losers, not to mention a whole bunch of other potential losers. Think of this as a small-scale version of preventive war.

Brilliant as the theory of preventive war is, the practice varies, and so with bombing hospitals. All those losers and potential losers in the hospitals turn out to have relatives and friends. I don’t know how many people are willing to attend a funeral after a loser is shot by the government, but let’s guess (the point is, the politicians don’t know either!!) it is “three.” Now, for every loser properly shot for disobeying the rules the government established to maintain a peaceful society, we have three people illegally attending a funeral.

Do the math (you have an advantage here because politicians can’t). A hospital may have 200 patients. So what started as one loser shooting off his mouth has now become 600 losers at a funeral, and when the government is forced to shoot at them, not only do they (if still alive) get angry, but so do all of their loser friends and relatives. This is called a side effect. You should not blame the government: government leaders, after all, are just politicians, not mathematicians. Politicians do politics so they understand the idea of enforcing rules, but they are not mathematicians so they do not understand the side effects of shooting people.

Saleh’s Ultimate Weapon: Apres Moi, C’est al Qua’ida!

With exquisite timing, “Yemen’s army repelled an attack…by al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula,” according to Saleh’s regime, as Saleh ran out of all options for maintaining his dictatorship except waving the bloody flag of “terror” in Washington’s face. Why not? It has worked for him so far, and, indeed, might, with a grain of salt, even just possibly be true, but could al Qua’ida be so shortsighted as to pick this moment to make its move, giving Saleh precisely what he wants?

True or not, the “attack” came in the nick of time to bolster the fortunes of a leader who has few friends left outside of Riyadh and some corners of Washington. Needless to say, some in the U.S. mainstream media bought his claim hook, line, and sinker (e.g., CNN).
Meanwhile, as clashes erupt between pro- and anti-Saleh military units, tanks in Yemen’s capital are taking the nearly unprecedented step for an Arab country of protecting (!) the people. The West should note this precedent: government military forces being used not to protect politicians but to protect the people. What is this world coming to…
What it may be coming to is a struggle between military dictators and democrats. After all, the military is still running things in Egypt, the military is increasingly running things in Iran, Israel is transforming itself from a pioneering democracy into a garrison state, Bahrain has turned to its and its neighbors’ militaries to stifle popular aspirations, and Gaddafi is relying on military power to defeat his adversaries. As for Yemen,
What Ali Muhsin is doing is setting himself up for a post-Salih future and further limiting who will have to go.  His statement today – and it is important to note that he didn’t say he was joining the protesters, only supporting and protecting them – puts him in position to head the military or military council under the next government. [Gregory Johnsen.]
As with Egypt, the rise of the military to overt political control is the same old gang playing musical chairs. The attack on El Baradei appears to be one example, and the pro-regime bias in the media (something that will shock Americans, I’m sure) may be another. It remains to be seen how much influence the changing socio-political context will have on governmental structures or the behavior of rulers.

Arab Politics Increasingly Unstable, Confrontational

As momentum shifts back and forth between the democracy protesters and the traditional dictators, instability and confrontation are rising throughout the Arab world.
The momentum of the Arab Revolt of 2011, which strongly favored the democracy advocates by the beginning of March, had shifted dramatically thereafter. Gaddafi came roaring back against his opponents, Riyadh saw the merits of adopting Israel’s policy of force against adversaries, and both the Bahraini and Yemeni regimes proved the protesters’ point: they are vicious regimes that deserve to be overthrown.
But Saleh, lacking Saudi tanks, seems to have overplayed his hand, and regime officials fled his terrorist regime over the weekend while tribal leaders called for his resignation. Despite the comfortable arrangements between Gaddafi and various Western states in recent years, he too overplayed his hand and seems to be learning a lesson as I write. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime made exactly the same obvious error that all the rest of the Arab dictators have been making by reacting harshly to pinprick expressions of dissent and thus blowing them out of proportion, in this case arresting children! The stupidity of politicians knows no bounds. Algeria’s Bouteflika continues to demonstrate his sincerity by repressing demonstrations even as he claims the state of emergency that justified their banning has been lifted. A wave of demonstrations has also hit Morocco, albeit so far without regime violence, and the series of Lebanese protests against “sectarianism” (in the country where it is the constitutional basis of government, has occurred. Suddenly, it is the counter-revolution whose momentum seems to be slowing. Bahrainis have been locked down, for the moment, but otherwise, Turkey is now about the only calm place in the whole region.

Riyadh’s life-or-death challenge to Mideast liberty has complicated and destabilized the modernization process. Various actors are having trouble following a logical course, violence is increasing, and multiple cleavages are making it hard to tell adversaries from friends. All this raises some questions global decision-makers need to consider carefully:

1.      Will Riyadh send an army (again) to keep Yemen’s vicious dictator Saleh in power?
2.      Will that enable al Qua’ida to re-emerge on the Arabian peninsula in response to popular frustration?
3.      How likely is a Saudi-Egyptian proxy war in Yemen for regional influence?
4.      As Arab dictators reject compromise with their own people, will Iran’s influence rise, and, if so, how will Tehran use its new power?
5.      Or will the Arab democracy movement attain sufficient progress to make Iran less relevant to Arab politcs?
6.      When and how will right-wing Israelis make their move to exploit Arab civil war?
7.      Will Riyadh’s intervention reignite the sectarian conflict seen in Iraq after the U.S. invasion?
8.      How will Islamic activists maneuver between traditional dictators and secular modernizers?
9.      Will those opposed to Arab political modernization and democratization be able to exploit the Iranian bogeyman to reestablish control?

A Return to Sectarian Conflict?

The Saudi military intervention in Bahrain risks re-igniting the sectarian warfare provoked in Iraq by the U.S. invasion.

The Saudi decision to play Metternich will have ominous consequences. First is the possibility that Washington, Tel Aviv, and Riyadh have decided to push for war against Iran. That is a bit of a leap from the evidence. Let’s hope it is not the case, but even if it is not, the momentum is now moving in that direction. The temperature of the Persian Gulf has just risen, and in Bahrain a first small explosion has occurred; today more effort will be required to prevent a Persian Gulf meltdown than would have been required last week.

Aside from the danger of war with Iran, Riyadh has now split the Arab world. Note, for example, how events clearly show coordination between the crackdown in Bahrain and the crackdown in Yemen. Perhaps the old guard will win, as Metternich did after 1848, and succeed in repressing all Arabs again, but that will not turn the clock back. The Arab world has changed; millions have voted with their feet and faced down police goon squads. That is empowering.

The Meaning of Empowerment
On my daily afternoon walks, I overhear Saudis of all ages and walks of life analyzing the events that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian regime. Everywhere I go, people are hypothesizing on whether the same could happen to “them,” referring to the possibility of a Saudi Arabia not headed by the Al Sauds. Although most concur that it is highly unlikely, they are nonetheless more convinced than ever of the power of the people to bring about change.–Khuloud on Jadaliyya

If repressed, the next time the people will have learned that peaceful demonstrations do not work. For an analogy, 1848 will turn into 1917. That is of course just an analogy; it should not be read as implying that communism is in the Mideast’s future but simply that political radicalization is becoming more likely by the minute. Iran, al Qua’ida, and militant Arab nationalism will all be invigorated. A new Saudi-Egyptian proxy war in Yemen should come as no surprise, and Saudi-Iranian competition in Iraq will intensify.

The Logic of Saudi-Egyptian proxy war in Yemen
Egypt is now standing tall; no Egyptian ruler will aspire to crouching behind Saudi Arabia. Expect competition for leadership of the Arab world regardless of whether the Egyptian army succeeds in establishing a new military dictatorship or democracy is established. Egypt, however haltingly, is moving toward modernization, Saudi Arabia is looking backwards. Their interests will clash. Meanwhile, the Yemeni regime has been radicalized by the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, and many of those supporting the protesters in Yemen must surely have very bad memories of the Saudi military attack on the Houthis. Civil war now appears far more likely than it did a month ago, and it is hard to see how Riyadh will watch Saleh go down to military defeat without trying to help him. At that point, Cairo will face a fateful double decision: stand aside and give regional preeminence to Riyadh or take action; support democracy advocates who copied those in Egypt or turn its back. No matter who is in charge in Cairo, governments like legitimacy, and legitimacy for an Egyptian regime will not be found in a policy of bowing down before the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

The other change is truly tragic. The Arab democracy revolt was unifying and secularizing: more liberty for everyone. Saudi Arabia’s military intervention, in contrast, not only splits the Arabs but risks sparking sectarian conflict. Bahraini democracy protesters are going to have a very hard time remaining united in the face of what looks very much like repression of the Shi’a. Admittedly, it also looks like repression of civil liberties, which it surely is. The key to the story may well lie in the struggle between these two conflicting dynamics: patriotic and democratic resistance to Saudi troops enforcing repression vs. the natural tendency to interpret events as Sunni vs. Shi’a. Moqtada al Sadr’s initial sectarian reaction (justice for Shi’a rather than justice for Bahrainis) exemplifies this tendency, and al Qua’ida will surely be examining the situation in a search for opportunities.

Provoking Sectarianism
Bahrain TV has been giving a voice to extremists among government loyalists, with one caller reportedly offering demonstrators a “return to the days of Saddam, how he [Saddam] dealt with his Shia population.” —Jadaliyya

Nuclear war with Iran might be down the road, but a more likely result of the Saudi intervention in Bahrain is a repeat of the horrifying sectarian conflict provoked in Iraq by the U.S. invasion.