Oman too

I’m wondering if the civil war in Libya would mean the Arab 1848 wouldn’t spread to any countries where it hadn’t already built up a good deal of momentum, since people would be afraid protests would lead to chaos. Apart from maybe Yemen, I think the actual risks would be small, partly because the militaries of the other countries are much more stronger and cohesive.

Given that, the protests in Oman are heartening. They became (somwhat) widespread in just the last few days. This should make the Saudis nervous. I haven’t expected protests to become major in any more countries other than maybe Algeria or possibly Morocco. The protests are hardly at Tunisian levels yet, and we don’t know if they will go anywhere, but if Oman, which is wealthy and as far as I know relatively well-governed and not that repressive, can have a revolution, no regime is safe.

Shape of next Irish government still unclear

While it doesn’t compare to the turmoil in the Arab world, Ireland is having its own abrupt political turnover this weekend.  Although the broad outline of the results is clear, confirming a collapse in the vote of the hitherto natural party of government Fianna Fail, there is still significant uncertainty about the seat counts, which in turn will affect the calculations about forming the next government.

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A Rose in the Desert

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Queen Rania’s got competition! Syria hasn’t been declared good guys, though they might still, and aren’t altermondialiste chic either. She really is astonishingly beautiful, which I guess trumped everything else.

Is the reporter in on the joke here?

Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.” [...]
“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”

Via Foreign Policy. I was a little surprised by the reaction in FP’s comments – do the kind of people who fall for this read FP? – til it struck me they’re likely on the Syrian government’s payroll.

war of position

Useful map by Iyad el-Baghdadi of the current state of play in Libya. And here’s Steve Negus’ more detailed Google maps mash up. From the look of things, Gaddafi still controls Tripoli and a strip of territory in the middle of the country from Sirt to Sabha. As reported, Eastern Libya has completely liberated itself, while rebel strongholds now surround the capital. The current key battlegrounds seem to be around Sabha, a point of ingress for Gaddafi’s mercenaries and for control of the road to Tunisia to the west of Tripoli. Via.

for my next trick, i will pull an imaginary army out of someone else’s arse

p>Oh, jeebus. Someone on CIF has just ordered the Egyptian army into Tripoli. It’s like some kind of pathological agony of distance. Running the scenarios is one thing; issuing imaginary orders to the Egyptian high command is another entirely. Gaddafi’s in his bunker but the further out in the fresh air you get the more people seem to be running around with cardboard boxes on their heads paging general Steiner.

Given the obvious proviso that these things are not tea parties, it seems to me that the Libyans are running their revolution quite nicely. They have most of the country, are putting provisional forms of governance in place, and large sections of the armed forces seem to have come over along with tribal irregulars. Gaddafi will be out of aviation fuel long before you can put a no-fly zone in place, and without the means to get more. The locals may be in need of certain goods which could be supplied from outside – I think a planeload of rpgs would be a handy way to stop Gaddafis loyalists/mercenaries hosing down the crowds with mobile anti-aircraft artillery, for instance – but aside from that, why not let the Libyans finish their own revolution?

not a fidgety person

As we wait for the final denouement in Libya, let’s revisit, courtesy of Chris Brooke and Fistful’s Charlie, this fantastic essay on Gaddafi the modernizer by New Labour intellectual godfather Anthony Giddens, who back in 2006 was ready to believe that Libya could be the new Norway and that it’s leader was a thoughtful chap with a strong affinity for “third way” thinking. Also:

He is not a fidgety person but has a calm, articulate manner

He looked pretty fucking twitchy to me last night.

straight to Qaddafi

Now that everyone is probably scrambling for deniability if not cover, let's revisit David Rose's piece on New Labour, New Libya. It's something worth a second reading into the record.

Libyan sources insist, however, that Blair has visited Libya half a dozen times since stepping down as P.M. (Doyle declines to comment on this assertion, but does say that Blair visited Libya once in the 18-month period ending November 2010.) But Blair’s employer, J.P. Morgan, does have commercial relationships with Libya. Three senior British officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say that Blair has made numerous trips to Libya since leaving Downing Street, at least partly on behalf of the bank. “The Blair magic still works with Qaddafi,” one of these officials observes. “Qaddafi will drop everything to see Blair.” Saif al-Islam, Qaddafi’s probable heir, said last summer that Blair was “a personal family friend” and added that Blair had visited Libya “many, many times” since leaving office.

One such visit took place in June 2010. “His plane landed at Mitiga airport”—a few miles east of Tripoli and used by V.I.P.’s—“and a car took him straight to a minister with whom he had private business,” according to a well-placed source. “Then he went straight to Qaddafi.” There he briefed the dictator about what to expect from the new British coalition government led by David Cameron. Afterward, he spent the night at the British ambassador’s residence.

Neither Blair nor the bank will say anything about what he does to justify his salary, either in Libya or elsewhere. Executives at other banks with Libyan interests say that J.P. Morgan now handles much of the Libyan Investment Authority’s cash, and some of the Libyan central bank’s reserves.

guns are business is democracy or something

Mr Cameron said Britain had "a range of strong defence relationships" with countries in the region and British lives had been lost defending Kuwait "so the idea that Britain should not have defence relationships with some of these countries I don't understand".

Uh, Dave. Shouldn’t the justification here that we’re arming Kuwait so that we don’t have to “lose British lives”?

But it’s nonsense anyway. The actual military weapons we sell to the the Middle East aren’t meant to be used, unlike the paramilitary ones. They’re there partly to provide manufacturers with opportunities for selling training and spares, partly as a kind of military Harrods – prestige goods for regimes that depend on such things – but mainly as a form of political insurance for the governments concerned, which are buying lobbying power. You buy the fancy goods so that you get a pass on using the pepper spray and water cannon…which of course we’ll also be very happy to provide you with at reasonable rates.

And if the Iraqis ever have another stab at reuniting the Ottoman Basra governorate, making judicious arms purchases is also a pretty good guarantee that British lives will be lost in getting it back for the Sheikhs. The money goes to BAE. The British public provides the squaddies.

In fairness I should add something about Douglas Alexander’s weaselly contribution, but that’s the point where words fail me. I will say that the idea that “Labour made us do it” is generally the founding big lie of the current government, but in foreign policy – Middle eastern policy especially – Cameron and co were dropped right in it

a couple of cheers for pocket Bismark

When I said the other day that I wondered how Britain would respond to the situation in Libya, I was referring to the fact that the last government committed the UK to a one way bet on Ghaddafi as the means of securing oil and arms concessions – also, of course, support in the “war on terror”. Should the revolution succeed it’s hard to see those contracts being fulfilled, at least on anything like the same terms as present. So some credit to pocket Bismarck here.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on global leaders on Sunday to speak out against Libya's crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

"The world should not hesitate to condemn those actions," Hague told Sky News. "What Colonel Gaddafi should be doing is respecting basic human rights and there is no sign of that in the dreadful response, the horrifying response, of the Libyan authorities to these protests."

See also. You obviously can’t be too naïve about this. He may be in the process of walking back New Labour’s commitments in the hope of preserving British commercial interests should the rebels win, though in the process he’s just radically reduced the chances of preserving them if Ghaddaffi hangs on.

But can you imagine the festival of squirming equivocation we'd be getting if Blair was still in office?

Anyway, if Hague has made a spread bet, it may be a good one. Latest reports have the rebels in control of Benghazi and the Eastern half of the country. Good luck to them, though it does make me think of the 518.