Nations across the Middle East and North Africa began the year with peaceful protests in the hopes of bringing about democratic reforms. As each authoritarian government reacts with widespread human rights violations and warfare, the US and West have few tools in their arsenal to help the forces of democracy in the Middle East emerge victorious.
Image by George Cassutto
Used with permission
During the first half of 2011, a wave of democratic sentiment swept across the Arab world. A peaceful revolution in Tunisia brought down the long time dictator in that small North African nation. The most populous Arab nation, Egypt followed suit with the eventual removal of its long-serving president, Hosni Mubarak. From there, protests calling for the end of authoritarian rule bubbled up in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. In each case, a different outcome has transpired with varying levels of success. The unifying element across the Middle East and North Africa is that the people of the Arab would are willing to protest, and if need be, fight and die, to bring about wide-ranging reforms in the nature of government in the Arab world.
In Libya, the uprising against 40-year-dictator Muamar Kaddafi has escalated to a full-blown civil war which has essentially grinded to a stalemate between the rebel forces and those loyal to Kaddafi. The rebels, now known to the world as the Transitional National Council, have received military assistance from NATO in the form of air strikes and the implementation of a no-fly zone, but the assistance has been provided more to protect civilians rather than to tip the scales against the Kaddafi regime. Kaddafi still retains the capital of Tripoli while the rebels have established an alternative government in the eastern sector of the nation they control at Benghazi. Kaddafi has lost two of his sons in the fighting, but there is nothing to indicate that he is about to relinquish control of the mechanisms of power over the Libyan state. It is also unclear what steps NATO, the US, and the West can take to remove him from power. Kaddafi has an arrest warrant issued against him by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Unless he is captured by rebel forces, he will most likely refuse to give himself up.
The call of Middle Eastern nations for democratic reforms of their own governments, known across the world as the Arab Spring, has turned violent in Syria, where the government of Bashar Al-Assad has turned its weapons on peaceful protesters in the city of Hama as well as in other cities across Syria. To date, approximately 1700 protesters have been killed by government forces. The international community has resoundingly condemned the killings. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has declared that the Syrian president has “lost all legitimacy,” but the US has not called for Assad to step down outright the way it has regarding Libya’s Kaddafi. According to MSNBC, the United Nations Security Council issued “a presidential statement condemning President Bashar Assad’s crackdown.” Coming on the heels of the Hama massacre on August 3, the UN condemned the use of heavy artillery and tanks to kill unarmed protesters calling for reform in Syria.