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NightWatch 20110117


For the Night of 17 January 2011

Taiwan: Seventeen missiles are to be tested during a military exercise on 18 January. They include the Tien Kung II missile with a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles), the MIM-23 HAWK missile, the ship-equipped RIM-7M Sea Sparrow missile, the FIM-92 Stinger man-portable missile and the Humvee-mounted Antelope air defense system, which consists of four Tien Chien I short-range missiles, a Taiwanese Defense Ministry statement said on the 17th. According to the statement, units from the army, navy and air force will participate in the exercise.

Comment: Preparations for such a show of force take a long time, but there is always some flexibility in the timing. Taiwan chose to show off its missiles during Chinese President Hu's visit to the US.

Lebanon: On 17 January, the prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri delivered his draft indictment to the investigating magistrate for the Tribunal. The draft indictment remains under tight security. The magistrate will take up to ten weeks to investigate the accusations and evidence before issuing arrest warrants, in the usual European criminal practice.

Over the weekend, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah delivered a lengthy statement about the process leading to the formation of the Special Tribunal, the three point plan for avoiding a crisis by putting distance between Lebanon and the Tribunal and Hezbollah's conviction that the Israelis murdered Rafiq Hariri.

A key point in the speech is his warning that Hezbollah will not tolerate being defamed by the indictment and that it will also not support Saad Hariri as the prime minister in a new government.

Regional action

Turkey-Syria-Qatar: Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, Syrian President Bashar al Asad and Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani met on 17 January in Damascus to discuss the political crisis in Lebanon. In a joint statement after the meeting, the leaders said that finding a solution to the Lebanese crisis is important and that the solution should be found within the scope of efforts by Saudi Arabia and Syria. The leaders also supported the decision by the Lebanese parliament to postpone discussions about the formation of a new government until political efforts to re-establish national stability become more concrete.

Comment: The political leaders of Lebanon were to have met on the 17th to discuss formation of a new government, but those conversations are now on hold because of the action by the Special Tribunal. The Arab leaders' meeting has some importance because it means that key players in the region are lining up in support of the Saudis and Syrians and that means the next government in Lebanon is likely to be friendlier to Arab interests.

Iran: The acting Foreign Minister also is traveling to Turkey for talks.

Tunisia: Politics. The Speaker of the Parliament is the new temporary President of Tunisia, in accord with the constitutional succession and as announced by Prime Minister Ghannouchi two days ago.

Local television broadcast on 17 January the formation of the new government -- the national unity government. The cabinet includes the defense, finance and foreign ministers when Ben Ali was president. Three leaders of opposition parties are included in the cabinet for the first time.

Prime Minister Ghannouchi created three high-level panels, for political reform, to investigate the recent violence and to investigate reform. He also ordered political prisoners released.


Some gun shots were fired on the 17th but the worst of the fighting occurred over the weekend when Army soldiers and armed citizen groups fought gun battles with Presidential guards from the Ben Ali regime.

The government announced that 78 people died in the past week of violence.

About 1,000 protesters who assembled near the Interior Ministry called for the ruling party to relinquish power. News services reported the protesters chanted: "Out with the RCD!" and "Out with the Party of the Dictatorship!"

Comment: The government appears to be in transition from a strong presidency to a government led by parliament. The Prime Minister, not the temporary president, is leading the political metamorphosis. The announcement of a unit government has quieted conditions in Tunis, by most accounts, but its adequacy and genuineness are questionable.

The uprising was not fundamentally political and not a challenge to authority, until the government made it such. The demonstrations primarily were about economic conditions - the price and availability of food, according to contacts in Tunis, and unemployment, according to the international press. As yet the new government has made no statements about its plan to tackle either.

In other words, the mismatch between public grievances and government remedies portends more unrest that may yet usher in a revolution - a change of government system not just a change in the head of government. At this point no revolution has occurred. The leaders of the pre-existing regime are maintaining themselves in office and that looks like political deception.

It certainly is premature to congratulate the people of Tunisia about their democratic revolution because one has not happened and might not happen for some time. For example, one of the promises Ghannouchi made is that his policy is to restore democracy by holding new elections. That is a remarkable statement because it seems to convey that Ben Ali's prime minister was a closet reformer all along.

As for elections, they would seem to have little to do with making food more available in the next two months. Moreover, they empower the same old cast of characters in the same political context.

This crisis has entered a quiet interlude, but is not over. The revolution has not begun.

Note for new analysts: When the president of a country is induced to depart office, but his appointees remain in office, no matter what else is happening in the country that is always the sign of a palace coup. Usually overthrows occur without a simultaneous popular uprising. Musharraf's ouster of Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in Pakistan and Bainimarama's coup in Fiji and Colonel Vale's coup in Mauritania are the more normal examples. That means there were disagreements in the government leadership that were destined to come to some kind of climax when an opportunity presented itself.

Occasionally a show of popular unrest, as in Tunisia, will provide the opportunity and the trigger for a disaffected leadership sub-group to act against the leader. That is where Tunisia is today. It is not clear that a revolution has begun, much less succeeded. There have been multiple such events in the Middle East and South Asia, some with US support in the past. (Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Libya) Popular uprisings that camouflage internal power plays are fairly common in Middle Eastern coups, possibly more so than in coups outside the Middle East.

Tunisia is not yet at a stage of revolution because there has been no change in government or in government system. The president has been ousted by his own cohorts.

The difference is important because it explains whey things have not settled and why they are not likely. Secondly, the implications for policy are quite different. At this point, the nations dealing with Tunisia will be dealing with essentially the same cast of characters and range of policies, some with new interpretations as they are applied.

In a revolutionary situation, the leadership and policies will be different, often unfamiliar. Then the wise policy is to wait and see before issuing any congratulations.

Ripple Effects

Kuwait: Emir Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah instructed Prime Minister Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to grant every Kuwaiti citizen $3,599 and offer food rations for free for 13 months to mark the occasion of the 50th year of independence, 20th liberation anniversary and 5th anniversary of the emir's assumption of office, due next month, KUNA reported Jan. 17. The Kuwaiti Cabinet assigned the Ministry of Finance to disperse the grant, which, according to Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Roudhan al-Roudhan, reflected the emir's keenness to help citizens overcome their living conditions.

Yemen: Protestors today assembled outside the Tunisian Embassy in Sana'a and shouted, "Revolution... revolution... against the lying ruler," and "Where is unity and revolution? We have become slaves to the president's family." The Yemenis were reported as expressing their solidarity with the Tunisians who overthrew their president last week after continuous demonstrations.

Syria: The government announced a $250 million aid plan to help 420,000 impoverished families, Syrian Social Affairs and Labor Minister Diala Haj-Aref said on 17 January. According to Haj-Aref, the aid will consist of cash loans to be disbursed in February.

Egypt: President Hosni Mubarak does not want Egypt's poor to bear additional burdens or taxes, according to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on the 17th. Mubarak gave all NDP officials instructions for the new year, the managing editor for the NDP's website wrote. Mubarak continually stresses his bias toward the poor and support for the fair distribution of the products of development, the article stated.

Estonia: For the record. Estonia is considering a proposal to offer its expertise in cyber defense to aid Belarusian opposition parties in managing and protecting their websites, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said on 17 January. Paet added that his government would also work to simplify travel by Belarusians to Estonia.

Comment: Readers will recall Estonia was the victim of severe cyber attacks in April 2007 from Russia over the Tallinn government's relocation of a Soviet monument and grave marker plus the graves of Soviet war dead. Since then, Estonia has built a large cyber defense force of volunteers and is a regional source of expertise in dealing with Russian cyber attacks.

End of NightWatch for 17 January.

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