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Mounting Pressure in Arab Uprisings

Author: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor
May 31, 2011


The G8 summit in Deauville, France, last week ended with pledges of aid to the Arab world's fledgling democracies of Egypt and Tunisia along with harsh words for the Mideast and North African autocracies where protest movements are being brutally squashed. Those crackdowns continued without pause in Yemen and Syria. In Yemen, more than fifty people were reportedly killed (BBC) by security forces in Taiz, and in Syria, five people were killed (BBC) and more wounded in government assaults on protestors in towns north of Damascus. In Libya, South African President Jacob Zuma met on May 30 with Muammar al-Qaddafi but failed to move the Libyan government (NYT) and rebels closer to a ceasefire.

Still, there were some signs that the protests and the G8's consensus statement might be adding to pressure on the region's oppressive regimes, and a number of experts are calling for an even tougher stand, particularly against Libya and Syria. The Qaddafi regime suffered a new blow with the defections of eight senior military officers. In Yemen, a brigade of the Republican Guard (AP) defected to the opposition in the south, although a ceasefire collapsed (AP) between the government and followers of the country's main tribal leader, Hamid al-Ahmar. However, in Syria, where a reportedly gruesome video (NYT) of the corpse of a thirteen-year-old boy who was tortured by government forces has galvanized rage, the government of Bashar al-Assad has continued to attack protestors.

The G8 leaders in Deauville promised to intensify the NATO campaign against Qaddafi, though so far the Libyan leader has thwarted NATO hopes that its airstrikes would prompt Qaddafi supporters to remove him from power. Barak Barfi of the New America Foundation argues that if the West wants to get rid of Qaddafi, it should "pay less attention to defectors and instead focus on the real power behind the throne: the tribes that prop up Qaddafi." James Dorsey, a researcher at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, raises a similar point, writing, "The international community as well as NATO would be better advised to focus on tribes still loyal to Qaddafi rather than on individuals eager to save their skin." Dorsey argues that the some of the tribes, which are generally loyal to Qaddafi, can be turned in their allegiance, spreading thin and weakening Qaddafi's troops. And in the Wall Street Journal, Ann Marlowe, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, questions why the United States doesn't supply Libyan rebels with assault rifles and heavy weapons that could inflict real damage to Qaddafi's troops.

A number of experts are raising similar hard-line calls against Syria's Assad. "It's time to make an example of Assad," write Foreign Policy Initiative's Jamie Fly and policy advisor Robert Zarate in the Weekly Standard. In, Yemen, however, some believe the U.S. options are limited. Cutting aid "would only reduce U.S. influence further in a country crucial to American counterterrorism efforts," says Reuters, and probably not change Saleh's decision about whether to go. In this article for NOW Lebanon, Hussein Ibish ponders if Yemen is about to disintegrate into an extended period of conflict and chaos.

Additional Analysis and Background

In Foreign Affairs, Michael Bröning, Tony Badran, Mara E. Karlin, and Andrew J. Tabler discuss the increasingly brutal crackdown in Syria, the durability of the Assad regime, and what, if anything, the United States can do to bring the crisis to a peaceful end.

G8 leaders in France last week launched the "Deauville Partnership" to support the democratic transition of Arab states engulfed in uprisings and foster governance reforms.

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