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NightWatch 20110313


For the Night of 13 March 2011

Mideast Protests

Bahrain: A clash occurred between thousands of protesters and police in Manama, on the morning of 13 March. Police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters,  the government said in a statement. One police officer was stabbed. A clash also was reported near the University of Bahrain, south of Manama.

The Interior Ministry said that roads leading to Manama were blocked 13 March because of barricades put up by protesters in front of the Financial Harbor and on the Gulf Cooperation Council's bridge. A spokesman said that the local public security director deployed security forces to remove the barricades put up by protesters to ensure the roads could be used.

The protesters refused to cooperate, throwing Molotov cocktails at security officials and stabbing them with sharp objects, causing many injuries, al-Hassan said. Riot police were summoned and removed the barricades, using tear gas to push back the protesters, al-Hassan said, adding that many police also were injured.

Saudi Arabia: More than 200 Saudis were allowed to protest outside the Interior Ministry on 13 March to demand the release of those detained in anti-government demonstrations. In particular, the protesters demanded information on the fate of the detainees, most of whom are Sunni, held on security and terrorism charges. The protesters were not allowed to meet with Interior Minister Naif bin Abdul-Aziz, however.

Friday's Day of Rage protests were significant only in Eastern Province, where the Shiites came out in numbers, but remained under control. Elsewhere the turnout was small. One news service reported the youth stayed away because fundamentalist imams attempted to take over the demonstration, but no other sources made that allegation.

Oman: Sultan Qaboos bin Said granted legislative powers to officials outside the royal family in reforms aimed at quelling demonstrations calling for more jobs and a greater public role in politics, Al Jazeera reported. Qaboos already reshuffled his cabinet and promised thousands of civil service jobs since the demonstrations began. This latest decree allows those outside the family to make laws and regulations to two councils, one elected and one appointed by the sultan, however, it is likely the sultan would retain veto power.

Yemen: At least five people died in clashes between police and anti-government protesters on 13 March in areas of Sanaa and in two other Yemeni cities. Several thousand people gathered outside Sanaa University in the capital of Sanaa, setting up barricades between themselves and riot police armed with water cannons.

Police on rooftops fired live bullets and tear gas at protesters Sunday, wounding at least 100 people camping out near Sanaa University. Among the 100 wounded Sunday in Sanaa, more than 20 suffered gas inhalation, and one was in critical condition after being struck with a bullet, the doctor said.

In the main square and in surrounding streets, witnesses spoke of people being beaten up, threatened and missing.

In the cities of Dar Saad and Sheikh Othman in the southern province of Aden, medical officials said two protesters were shot dead and three others wounded as police tried to disperse demonstrations. Earlier in the day, protesters torched three police cars in Dar Saad and blocked roads to try to stop security troops from bringing in reinforcements.

On Saturday, security forces killed seven demonstrators around the country.

Libya: Witnesses reported the rebels retreated from the town of Brega, heading east towards Ajdabiya, 80 kilometers away on the road to Benghazi and Tobruk, under heavy shelling from government forces.

Pro-Qadhafi forces are advancing from the west after seizing the town of Uqayla and the village of Bisher, 20 kilometers from Brega, rebel sources said. All mobile telephone communications in Benghazi were suddenly cut and it is unclear if other rebel-held areas were also affected.

Comment: As noted last week, a well-equipped, reliably supplied armor force with air support can slice through the children fighters with little trouble and should be expected to continue to Benghazi, provided the supply lines remain secure. These forces are moving at a pace that should enable them to reach Benghazi by the weekend, if they choose to.

The Arab League said on 12 March it had decided to open contacts and cooperate with the Libyan rebel council based in Benghazi. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said talks with the Libyan National Council would include contacts on humanitarian assistance.

Algeria:  More than 400 security personnel blocked 40 protestors in a single demonstration.

Morocco: Security forces prevented around 100 activists from the Islamist Justice and Charity movement from holding a pro-reform demonstration in Casablanca on March 13, leaving several people wounded, AFP reported. Security forces sealed off the Mohammed V Square, frequently the site of demonstrations in the city, and forcefully restrained protesters and pedestrians, witnesses said. The Islamist Justice and Charity movement is banned in Morocco.

General comment: The general theme in the weekend protests is the youth movement appears to be fading. It claims credit for forcing two heads of state to resign, but that was actually intra-palace politics involving the armed forces. Libya's counter-revolution has encouraged all the tough-gut, hardline regimes to stand firm. Thus far, there are no revolutions.

In instability theory, the side with the most guns, including bullets, always wins. Libya is proving that point once again.

Some governments have made promises of modest political reforms, but even Egypt appears to be making only cosmetic changes by amending the constitution. All governments have regrouped and recovered. All promises are reversible. The movement appears to have peaked and does not look sustainable.

Some implications. First, the Arab youth lacks leadership, insight and planning. It poses no threat to anyone except itself. Western education and exposure made young Arabs feel uncomfortable without providing any practical sense about how to carry off a revolution or move for  more acceptable changes. Modern technology seems to have tempted young Arabs with illusions of invincibility that provide no protection against real bullets.

The western democracies are out of energy and idealism for now. Having spent vast resources for modest results in the past decade in Iraq and especially Afghanistan, they are not inclined to get involved with the Arab youth. Western pressure is no threat to authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries, aside from insipid statements about unacceptable behavior and feckless sanctions. Qadhafi's vengeance on the rebels will be limited only by his own and his western-educated children's imaginations, provided they win.

The message thus far is a strong preference for regimes that are, regardless of their illegitimate antecedents and disreputable histories. Even governments that are the products of revolution have proven suspicious of and hesitant to deal with revolutionary movements.

The youth exposed vulnerabilities that wiser, more sophisticated enemies will exploit in the future. The Islamists, for example, will have obtained a better sense of the vulnerabilities of the authoritarian regimes and their strengths. When they make their move against the kingdoms, they will have benefited from the pending failure of the youth movement.

US: The confluence of crises always creates a threat to the US financial system. The oil crisis appears to be easing and should  continue to ease if Libyan forces end the rebellion and restore production.

The crisis in Japan will put enormous pressure on currency and derivative markets as investors flee to quality. The effects of the earthquake and Tsunami are mid- to long term. Day-to-day market readings are meaningless for most purposes.

End of NightWatch for 13 March.

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