Middle East Update

You may find yourself wondering, “What’s going on in the Middle East?” With everything happening so far away from Southern California, it’s easy to lose track. But what’s happening in Libya is important, along with events in Yemen, Tunisia and of course, Egypt.

So, let’s start with Libya. In 1969, Muammar Gaddafi staged an epic coup and turned Libya into a neo-socialist state. For the next two decades, the West decided to completely blackball him, all over a little bit of internal terrorism, assassination, nuclear armament and of course, using his newfound powers as dictator to amass a fortune for himself. In 1986, the United States bombed Libya, and suddenly, Gaddafi was all eager to please. He got rid of his nukes, collaborated with the UN and got all of the sanctions against him lifted. Sure, he was a cruel, selfish dictator; but it was his country, and we let him run it.

So what changed in February 2011 that would cause President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, to bomb his country? Well, I hate to confuse you some more, but it all started with Tunisia. You might not be aware of the Tunisian Revolution – it wasn’t very big news over here – but it was the catalyst for all of the current hullabaloo in the Middle East. Beginning last year, people in Tunisia had had enough. The country was facing extreme unemployment, lack of personal freedoms and incredible government corruption on all levels. The people began staging peaceful protests, and over time this grew to such an intense level of civil disobedience that riots broke out. Hundreds were left dead or injured, but in January of this past year, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia, and since then, Tunisia has been reforming itself as a fully democratic nation. General elections are currently being prepared.

Next came Egypt, and that was on the news, though the stories weren’t very clear regarding the who, why or how. Egypt’s complaints were very similar to Tunisia’s –  low employment, lack of freedoms, poor living conditions – and all blame went to Egypt’s then President, Hosni Mubarak. It wasn’t long before the peaceful protests surpassed that of Tunisia’s, and Egyptians of all religions and social backgrounds came together to fight against the Mubarak regime, leading to over 6,000 dead and innumerable wounded. In February, Mubarak officially resigned, and the military took over to establish a caretaker government until a new order could be established.

So now, Libya. Just after Egypt’s Mubarak was removed from power, protests began to break out in Libya. It wasn’t long before the protests made Egypt look like small change, and Gaddafi’s underlings began to defect to save face. Peaceful protests turned outright violent, and thousands of civilians were killed without mercy. Gaddafi began to appeal to important foreign mercenary armies to “defend himself,” as well as turning the militia against his own civilians. The current state of affairs has been labeled a civil war, with civilians rising to fight the militia forces outright. Gaddafi’s former supporters have leaked secrets that implicate him for past atrocities, and one by one, all of the countries that once supported his regime have abandoned him; some have even declared fatwas for his assassination.

Those three revolutions would be more than enough for one region, but the Middle East is flowing red at the moment. Revolutions and protests have sprouted up all over the Middle East and North Africa, including Yemen, Bahrain and even Algeria. Leaders are flustered, trying to avoid becoming another Gaddafi, even as they fumble to hold onto what power they have. This revolution could spread to all of the Middle East, and with ease, change the shape and power structure of the entire world. After all, most of the world’s crude oil lies dangerously close, or even within, these revolutionary territories. When all of the protesting and fighting is said and done, the world might look very, very different.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.