Anti-dictatorship protesters in the Middle East may soon have a third scalp for their belt. In the wake of January’s successful mob-backed ousting of longtime Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and last week’s popular revolt against Egyptian tyrant Honsi Mubarak, Libya has now become the latest hotspot of anti-authoritarian uprising. Protesters in that much put-upon country have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of Colonel Momar Quaddaffi, a man who has been in power since 1969, and governs what Freedom House describes as among “the worst of the worst” dictatorships on the planet.
Complacent, arrogant, and more than a little nuts after his forty-odd years of rule, Quaddaffi seems to have been caught completely off-guard by his own people turning against him, and has responded using the most grotesquely vindictive tactics imaginable. Evoking memories of Saddam Hussein, the Libyan army has ulitized snipers and machine-gun wielding helicopters to mow down the protesters in the streets, injuring thousands and killing — last I heard — over 300 citizens so far.
Most of the evidence at this point suggests the terror won’t last too long, however. Already many senior members of the Libyan government, including cabinet ministers and ambassadors, have defected, and the eastern part of the country, home to Libya’s second-largest city, is now said to be entirely under dissident control. The press is likewise reporting “mass” mutinies and insubordination within the armed forces, which offers hope that we’ll eventually see a rerun of the Egyptian situation, where some high-ranking general moves swiftly to unseat his thoroughly discredited commander-in-chief.
Libya’s hardly been February’s only Middle Eastern hotspot, of course. Many other countries in the surrounding region have seen revolts of their own in recent weeks, and although comparatively milder than anything coming out of Cairo or Tripoli, there has still been some significant fallout.
In Jordan, protests forced the hand of that country’s autocratic monarch, Abdullah II, who dismissed his equally autocratic prime minister on February 1. The King, who for all his faults is quite a savvy guy, has since appointed a more inclusive, multi-party cabinet in place of the previous hack-dominated one, and has agreed to begin the conversation on more lasting democratic reforms to the country’s constitution.
Anti-government protests in the Sudan have further weakened the regime of the mad General Omar Bashir, who is already reeling from last month’s decisive separation vote from Sudanese Christians in his country’s southern half. Bashir announced Monday he will not “run” in his government’s next sham election, which is basically a polite way of saying he plans to step down in a couple of years.
A 19-year-state of emergency was lifted in Algeria yesterday, as the ruling party agreed to surrender one of the key cornerstones of its authoritarian power structure in the face of unprecedented public mobilization. Protesters remain unsatisfied, however, and observers say unrest in the corrupt former French colony is likely to continue.
Massive protests in Bahrain have brought that country’s capital to a near standstill, as the nation’s disenfranchised Shiite majority revolt against their aloof Sunni monarch. In response, the King released 25 “high profile” political prisoners, and has promised, like the monarch of Jordan, to begin a formal dialogue on democratic reform with key opposition leaders.
Less good news has emerged from the protests in Yemen, where their president of over three decades has so far taken a fairly hard line against the dissidents, with security forces having killed about a dozen people since the protests began earlier this month. At best, President Saleh has said he is willing to delay the country’s scheduled April parliamentary elections until more meaningful dialogue can be had regarding the future of the country’s political system.
And finally, almost nothing good has come out of Syria, Saudi Arabia, or Iran lately. Though if there was ever a time to be optimistic, it’s now.