Libya’s Intervention: A Message To Autocrats in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia And Syria

The international coalition implementing the UN resolution 1973 imposing a no-fly zone over Libya started 10 days ago. While the outcome of the military operation is still undetermined and “fluid”, what is perfectly clear is that without the bombing of Gaddafi’s forces the Libyan rebels would have already been crushed. Despite all the uncertainties for Libya’s future, what should be obvious to anyone tracking the story of the Arab revolution is that the coalition attack gives the autocrats and kings of the region in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Morocco and even Iran a stern warning: If you decide to go on a murdering spree against your own population the international community will intervene.

Fog Of War And Muddy Narratives

Even so the UN resolution, pushed by France, the UK and Lebanon, didn’t get a no or veto vote at the UN Security Council with Russia, China, Germany and Brazil abstaining, several countries are now backtracking and switching narratives. It is notably the case for Russia and the Arab League. In Russia, Prime Minister Putin called the intervention a “crusade”, while his statement was quickly criticized by Russian President Medvedev. The Arab League, at the exception of Algeria and Syria, recommended a no-fly zone before the UN resolution, but is now flip-flopping by drawing comparisons between the war in Iraq and the UN authorized intervention in Libya.

Some critics, within the military community, are saying that the operation has a tactic but no strategy. Others, notably the global left, are painting it with  broad brush strokes as an imperialist neo-colonialist operation hiding its true motives of another war-for-oil and meddling into Middle-East foreign affairs  behind the claim of  a humanitarian mission. This anti-imperialist discourse is simplistic for not taking into consideration the reality of the diplomatic battle which took place before the military operation, and also ignoring the paradigm change which is occurring in the region since the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.

The US media has also amplified this flawed analysis from the global left by its American centric coverage of the Libyan story which keeps portraying, inaccurately, the United States as the leader of the coalition. The drive to intervene in Libya was not under the impulse of the Obama administration but came about under intense international pressure from France and Britain. Two weeks ago, the US administration was deeply divided over the issue, with Defense Secretary Gates and NSA Clapper opposed to a military intervention and Secretary of State Clinton and UN ambassador Rice pushing for it.

Bottom line, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron won the diplomatic argument and are, politically, the ones in the driver seat. The opening salvo in the attack on Gaddafi’s forces was conducted by French jet fighters not American ones. President Sarkozy is still ahead of the game for having already recognized the Libyan National Council as Libya legitimate government. The United States is now saying that they want “someone else to assume the leadership”, but it is a leadership that the US never had as the Obama administration was playing a supporting role in the chain of events. But  back to the global left, with personalities such as Amy Goodman from Democracy Now in the lead in the US, they have cornered themselves into a huge contradiction siding de-facto with  a dictator such as Gaddafi against the Libyan revolution, and by extension the rest of the Arab revolutions still unfolding.

Meanwhile, the fog of war and muddy narratives are also at play in the Gulf. While the movement in Bahrain has similar goals (social justice, freedom of speech and democracy) than the ones in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, it is now described by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as a sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shia Muslims. It is a convenient way for Bahrain’s king to justify a brutal crackdown on protesters, and also a justification for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain with tanks. In this distorted narrative, the Shia majority of Bahrain population (75 percent) has become a “proxy of Iran”. This Saudi narrative is not only convenient for local consumption within Saudi Arabia, but it is also well received in Israel and in US neo-con circles which still think attacking Iran is a good idea. If this Saudi narrative finds a wider audience, it would have disastrous consequences for an Arab revolution which in order to succeed must unite Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

Editor’s Note: Photographs of protests in Yemen and Bahrain courtesy of Al Jazzeera English photo stream.



5 Responses to Libya’s Intervention: A Message To Autocrats in Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia And Syria

  1. osama March 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    very strange the most bruital killer is isreal and you did not include it in your list ?, just to improve your information demonstrator in bahrain is all shiia and they attack suni (42%) to prevent thim to go for work and they start to kill expatriat by fatwa from shiia leader in iraq (of course only poor asian) _2 bengali 2 pakistani , i wounder if violent anti american attack people in washington the national guard well do ? i dont think they will give them flowers ,,, wake up please

  2. Liam Fox March 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Excellent piece, as usual. You offer a perspective that is truly, and unfortunately, unique right now. Your deeper analysis, and consideration of the myriad of global events, is refreshing and enlightening. Thank you.

  3. HMMMF March 24, 2011 at 3:08 am

    We here in Bahrain are mystified by this bizarre equation between Libya and Bahrain. Bahrain is a micro country with a political problem. It needed to improve its democracy but it was not that bad, On Feb 14th, the peaceful protests began and the international media excitedly thought this was the next Egypt. The security forces then made a big mistake when they tried to evacuate Pearl Roundabout but then they allowed the protesters to return and tried to establish a political process. Unfortunately the opposition could not agree on anything and by the first week in March the peaceful protesters became anything but. They blocked the traffic and paralysed th financial harbour. Then they began the attacks on South Alain labourers who earn a pittance.They invaded their neighbourhoods and their homes and robbed them of their pitifully few possessions. They then physically attacked them and wounded them[4 so far have died as a result of these attacks and at least 4o are injured,some of them very seriously]. They were then told to leave their homes. When they went to the government hospital for treatment, the peaceful protesters, who had taken over along with some of the Shia doctors and nurse, abused and spat at them and attacked them again. This is based on eye witness accounts of people I know not based on government propaganda. So far the international media has covered up for the peaceful protesters and the human rights agencies have decided the human rights of poor South Asian labourers are not their business. There seems to be a general consensus among the international media outlets and the human rights organisations that because they do not like or approve of the Bahraini government, the violations of the rights of these powerless and helpless people by the peaceful protesters should be ignored. No-one films their funerals..
    So all of you out there who support the peaceful protesters and are keen to bomb Bahrain on their behalf, remember that you are doing this on behalf of a group of people who are a cross between Slobodan Milosevich and Charles Taylor. If you want to know more please email me on

  4. osama March 24, 2011 at 6:43 am

    latest statistcs is 5 bengali 4 pakistani dies and 54 injured by shiia extremist the list does not include soldiers and not bahraini suni who 3 days back a university student dies in hospital icu from injury from shiia attack on campus at least 2 of the attacker leadrs were identfied as sons of one of oppasition leader …..still western media not interested in sunni casulty and opposition violence?

  5. Sharon March 25, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    I agree with you completely that both religous sects need to be united. What is your opinion for the Gaddafi war? It appears to be too sudden and he is being hunted like an animal. He does not appear to have done anything that other leaders have done and are not hunted.

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