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NightWatch 20110222


For the Night of 22 February 2011

Pakistan: The Gilani government has requested an extension of the 24 February deadline for meeting opposition political demands, according to the Daily Times. The government has complied with about half of the demands posed by Nawaz Sharif, as head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Comment: Readers will recall that in the first week of January the Gilani government was in danger of falling owing to opposition defections. To avert a call for early elections by Nawaz Sharif, Gilani agreed to his ten point agenda for economic reforms, such as cleaning up corruption and lowering energy and commodity prices, in the 45 day deadline contained in the PML-N ultimatum.

The threat of elections persists because the government has not complied. News services in Pakistan have not speculated about the PML-N's response, but no sense of political crisis is apparent. On the other hand, the survival of the Gilani government is tenuous because of its poor performance. Pakistanis do not need social media to gather for large and violent riots, but will not want to be upstaged by Arabs.

Bahrain: More than a hundred thousand demonstrators marched into Manama's Pearl Square in Bahrain on 22 February, joining thousands camped out in the square, The New York Times reported. The protesters marched 2 miles from central Bahrain Mall along eastbound Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway. The march was organized by Shiite opposition parties, according to the newspaper account. No security forces were in sight along the route.

Comment: The number of demonstrators was large, but 100,000 people would represent a sixth of the total Arab and Iranian population of Bahrain and more than half of the total population of Manama. More importantly, other more accurate reports attest to traffic flowing normally around the square at least through the day. An imagery report indicated that the encampment does not contain thousands of protestors.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa ordered the release of political prisoners on 22 February, in compliance with the only substantive demand the protestors have made. According to leading member of Bahrain's Shiite opposition Abdul Jalil Khalil, the prisoner release is a good and positive step but it will only lead to dialogue if 25 Shiite activists on trial since 2010 for plotting against the state are among those freed.

The King flew to Riyadh to greet and meet King Abdallah on his return to Saudi Arabia.

Many observers speculated that Iran or Iranian agents continue to stoke the unrest by the Shiites, but as yet no news outlet has obtained proof of direct Iranian meddling. Nevertheless, Iran would be the largest beneficiary of a Shiite-dominated constitutional monarchy or democratic republic in Bahrain.

Yemen: Protests continued on 22 February, featuring more clashes between pro-government demonstrators bearing daggers and batons and students wielding sticks.

Two students were killed during a rally of more than 1,000 anti-government protesters in Sanaa, Yemen, Al Jazeera reported. According to witnesses, 20 other protesters were injured when supporters of President Saleh fired shots and threw rocks at the rallying protesters. About 1,000 students spent the night camped in a large tent in Al-Huriya (Liberty) Square, near Sanaa University.

Comment: The anti-government protests appeared smaller, but may be expected to surge after Friday prayers. Saleh has substituted proxy forces for uniformed security forces to handle what appears to be a reduced threat of civil disorders, at least on 22 February.

Pirates murdered all four Americans on the yacht The Quest which was seized on 18 February off Oman. US Navy personnel from a ship that was shadowing the yacht boarded after hearing gunshots and captured 13 teenage pirates.

Last week a Norwegian recommended that pirate ships be sunk and the pirates be killed, as in the old days.

Ashore, al Shabaab militants have made a multi-million dollar pact to receive a 20% cut in all future ransoms paid to pirates freed by the rebels, Reuters reported, citing a pirate source. A marine office at Haradhere, Somalia, has been opened to liaise with the pirates. The pirates reportedly are pleased with the agreement because that is the only way al Shabaab would allow them to maintain Haradhere as the pirates' base.

Comment: al Shabaab's fundamentalist Islamic beliefs do not prevent it from engaging in extortion. It is definitely less moral than the Islamic Courts Union that briefly ruled Somalia. The Courts executed pirates as un-Islamic and piracy all but stopped for a time.

Egypt: Still waiting for a revolution. The defense, interior, foreign, finance and justice ministers remained unchanged in the latest cabinet shuffle, Egyptian state TV confirmed. The oil minister was replaced and opposition politicians were introduced.

Libya: "I am not going to leave this land, I will die here as a martyr," Qadhafi said on state television on 22 February. "I shall remain here defiant."

He called the people to cleanse Libya house-by-house unless protesters surrendered. "All of you who love Qadhafi, go out to the streets, secure the streets, don't be afraid of them... Chase them, arrest them, hand them over to security forces."

Qadhafi said he is the leader of Libya's revolution, not its president. All African states and all world rulers look up to Libya, he said. Protesters serve the devil and want to humiliate the country, while the leadership wants to recover.

Former Libyan Interior Minister General Abdel Fattah Younis, who defected from Qadhafi's regime, has urged the Libyan army to join the people and respond to their demands.

Comment: The box score of who holds what town is difficult to calculate because the dominant reporting today was about evacuations and departures. China, for example, is arranging the evacuation of 15,000 Chinese workers, matching the number of Egyptian workers in Libya. Who would have thought there were that many Chinese in Libya.

Nearly all oil companies and most embassies are evacuating foreign staff. In the last 24 hours oil production has nearly halted.

The country appears to have fragmented de facto, with Qadhafi holding Tripoli and nearby areas, but apparently not much more. Tripoli will be his bastion, as he tries to find a perimeter he and his cohorts can hold sand from which they can try to take back other areas. If they can stabilize the Tripoli area, they will try to link up with other groups loyal to Qadhafi who remain active outside the capital perimeter.

If the anti-government movement does not take Tripoli, it will not win. It can only do that if it gets more guns on its side and maintains its momentum.

One option is to form a government in Benghazi; declare a democratic republic and proclaim a state of belligerency which is a condition that enables outside nations to recognize and arm it. That would be tantamount to secession, in one interpretation, but it might be the only way for the international community to try to protect the substantial populations living in the uprising areas from massacre. It would be a long shot and would have to be done swiftly because Qadhafi's vengeance is a certainty under all circumstances, if the protestors fail to take Tripoli soon.

If Qadhafi and sons recover their balance and have enough loyal forces to shift the momentum, the bloodbath in the towns "controlled" by the protestors will be much worse than anything reported to date. They are essentially defenseless. This situation quickly can lead to mass murder … in eastern Libya and a major challenge to the US administration.

Once the foreigners are gone, reliable information about the next phase of this struggle will be harder to obtain. That's because the governments also have shared lessons learned, such as how to shut down most of the cell phones and the internet.

Algeria: The cabinet adopted an order to lift its 19-year-old state of emergency, Reuters reported. Instructions to lift the state of emergency will come into effect from the government's "imminent" publication in the official gazette, the APS news agency reported. Protests continued in Algiers but there were no reports of clashes.

Comment: This was one of the demands of the protestors.

End of NightWatch for 22 February.

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