War in the Middle East: Libya yes, Syria no, Yemen forget it!

Violence!Violence Image by Rickydavid via Flickr
Western intervention in the Arab Spring is a study in ambiguity.

War in Libya? Yes. Qaddafi is an obvious bloodthirsty villain, worse than Saddam Hussein, opening fire on his own people, using them as human shields, murdering the sick and wounded, women and children. Besides, Libya is just across Italy and Southern Europe - too close for comfort to allow it to go to the dogs. Libya has to be controlled for everyone's happiness across Europe. And Germany's no at the UN Security Council vote on Libya - which led to the establishment of the no-fly zone for humanitarian reasons (to defend the rebels) and NATO intervention - did not help Ms. Merkel and her Foreign Affairs Minister Westerwelle: they have both lost consensus in Germany and their political future is, to say the least (especially in Westerwelle's case) uncertain.

War on Syria? No, Assad is too powerful, his army too well-equipped, his country too central to stability and balance in the region. So the talk at the UN and elsewhere (and measures taken) is all about sanctions and investigations in the killings (that's UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon's suggestion).

War on Yemen? Forget it! Too peripheral, too mountainous, too tribal and while its president Saleh (in office since 1978) is a good ally for the West, the country is basically Saudi Arabia's problem: it's sitting in its courtyard.

Is the Western policy in all this clever? No, as I said, it reflects ambiguities (many of these tyrants used to be allies against muslim/terrorist extremism) and more than that: it reflects deep uncertainties.

Nobody knows how the Arab Spring will play out. Everybody hopes democracy together with a healthy respect for human rights will settle in.

But there are some early signs of trouble in Egypt that are extremely worrying. With the collapse of Mubarak's police and his forcefully imposed "stability" on the country, sectarianism is rearing its ugly head. Last Sunday sectarian violence left at least 11 people dead (6 Christians and 5 Muslims), 220 people wounded (including 65 struck by bullets) and two churches in flame in Cairo after a night of violence. Egypt's Coptic Christian minority of some 10 million people (10 percent of the population) is at bay, apparently increasingly threatened by bearded Salafis. These are people who adhere to an ascetic form of Muslim fundamentalism and tend to be highly militant. Whether such people will end up controlling the situation is anybody's guess.

I hope not, but then I'm a born optimist. What's your view?


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