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NightWatch 20110220


For the Night of 18 February 2011

Administrative note:  This edition was delayed owing to systems maintenance. Regret the inconvenience.

Pakistan: The Lahore Province High Court gave the government three more weeks in which to make a case that the American Raymond Davis possesses full diplomatic immunity.

Dawn News reported on 17 February that investigation teams have discovered Raymond Davis's alleged connections in North Waziristan. Unidentified sources disclosed that a GPS chip recovered from Davis was used to identify targets for drone attacks in the tribal region. They say that during investigations the U.S. official was hesitant to share information about his visits to the tribal region, but the sources contend Davis made up to 12 visits to the tribal areas without first notifying Pakistani officials.

Comment: Looking beyond the legal aspects of the case, the Pakistan government is afraid to release Davis because of the storm of anti-American and anti-government sentiment it might stimulate. Pakistan is not immune to the organizing power of social media in reaction to an attractive cause. Favoritism to Americans qualifies as such a cause because the pro-American tilt of the Gilani/Zardari government is not popular.

Egypt: About 200,000 people celebrated the "Day of Victory" in front of Leader Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria following Friday prayers, a week after President Mubarak resigned, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

Comment: This is the "lemming" effect. Egypt was not under martial law three weeks ago, but it is now. Promises of reform have not yet been matched by action.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said it would not allow strikes to continue because they are damaging the economy, according to Egyptian state TV. MSNBC reported that the military council also banned strikes by workers.

Egypt-Iran: Egypt has agreed to allow two Iranian naval ships to transit the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, a military official said Friday, ending several days of confusion about their planned transit. Israel's foreign minister has labeled the transit a provocation. The ships, a frigate and a supply ship, received approval after routine procedures to check there was nothing illegal on board, according to an Egyptian military official.

Comment: The transit represents a strategic breakout. Iranian naval participation in the anti-piracy patrols off Somalia appears, in hindsight, to have been preparation for this operation. This is Iran's first use of the navy to show the flag outside the Indian Ocean.

Tunisia: Islamists in Tunis attempted to set fire to brothels in the city's red light district before being dispersed by police and military helicopters, according to Tunisian police. Residents of Abdallah Guech Street, near the city's historic Medina quarter, kept the Islamists out of the area until the police and military arrived. Police have cut off access to the street and helicopters have been seen overhead, according to witnesses and officials.

Comment: The Islamists have arrived before the revolution.

Libya: Security, administrative and judicial buildings, including those of the Revolutionary Committees, in Benghazi in eastern Libya, as well as two police stations in al-Baraka and al-Fuwayhat were torched, Libyan newspaper Quryna reported. The newspaper said more than 1,000 inmates escaped the Benghazi al-Kuwayfiayaa correctional facility. About 150 of the inmates were recaptured.

The Libyan Army's elite Khamis Brigade used snipers to harass protesters in Benghazi. Also, a pro-government militia was in close combat with protesters using knives and automatic weapons, according to news service accounts from eyewitnesses.

The Khamis Brigade, led by Qadhafi's son Khamis Qadhafi, plus militias of foreign soldiers moved into several cities, residents said. Witnesses reported what they believed to be sub-Saharan Africans or Tunisian soldiers who were speaking French and wearing blue uniforms.

Comment: The worst unrest appears to be occurring in Benghazi, in eastern Libya. Benghazi is far from Tripoli, across the Gulf of Sidra. The unrest looks serious, but as long as it stays in Benghazi, it poses no threat to the Qadhafi regime whose center of power is Tripoli.

Mali-Niger: Tonight's good news. Mali and Niger plan to enter into a formal defense alliance to improve military cooperation, Reuters reported 18 February. Initially signed in Mali in late 2010, the agreement had to be ratified by Niger's military rulers, which has now been accomplished. The agreement will improve cooperation and stability along their shared border, a statement read on state TV in Niger said. Niger and Mali will share air, land and river bases, and will exchange intelligence and carry out joint exercises and patrols.

Special comment. Readers are watching the crumbling of the US policy architecture in the Middle East during the past four decades which stressed regional stability over all other considerations. That policy did not restrain Israel but did help limit conflicts,  It also had many negative consequences for devout Muslims and supporters of the Palestinians.

The 2011 uprisings do not invalidate that policy relative to its effectiveness in earlier times, but show how legacy policies can atrophy, if not updated and refreshed skillfully. Three months ago, leaders who have been ousted or are now under stress were lauded by the US media as allies in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Suddenly in the US press, there is no threat of terrorism any longer, only of suppression of "universal human right"s by regimes that had US backing.

Readers, it is an astonishing coincidence that former allies are now labeled dictators and that the dictators are almost all US allies. The leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, as dictatorial as any, face no uprisings. Nor does Asad in Syria or Bashir in Sudan. All are military-backed regimes in one sense or another. What are the probabilities of Arab turbulence only in countries friendly to the US, from Senegal to Djibouti?

As for the rising tide of human rights , apparently in the Middle East that is a male phenomenon. Women protest in public at great personal risk. It also seems targeted only at leaders, not at government systems. It is shallow as well as misogynist.

A final point is that the uprisings are different country-by-country. Like diseases that mimic each others' symtoms, they look and sometimes sound alike but are not in underlying impulses or ultimate goals. That means that one policy will not fit all.

End of NightWatch for 18 February.

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