For the Night of 23 January 2011
South Korea-North Korea: For the record. Yonhap reported on 24 January that the government in Seoul will propose mid-February as the time period for holding working-level military talks to prepare for high-level talks.
Yemen: Ripple Effects from Tunisia. On Saturday, thousands of Yemenis demonstrated to demand an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year tenure as President. The demonstration was confined to the University of Sanaa grounds, but nearly 2,500 students, activists and opposition groups gathered and chanted slogans against the president, comparing him to Tunisia's ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Protests were also held in Aden. Police fired on demonstrators, injuring four, and detained 22 others in heavy clashes.
An Islamist lawmaker and head of the teachers' union stated, "there will be an escalation."
Also on Saturday, President Saleh replaced Trade and Industrial Minister Yahya al-Mutawakil with Deputy Minister of Planning and International Ministry Hisham Sharaf Abdullah after protesters demanded the government curb increasing commodity and fuel prices. Demonstrations continued for seven days prior to the cabinet shift, which will not satisfy the demonstrators.
On 23 January, President Saleh announced that Yemeni security forces will receive a pay raise of 5,000 rials ($25) per month and will receive health insurance. During a speech at an annual armed forces conference, Saleh said that the qualitative construction process has been on an advanced level during the past few years and that security forces are targeted by terrorist elements, especially al Qaida. Saleh told the security forces that they should be protected and that personnel should be provided with modern equipment. The military institution is not aspiring for illegal ambitions through chaos, Saleh said, adding that Yemen should deliberate power peacefully and not by chaos like Tunisia.
Comment: Unlike Tunisia, Yemen has a vicious, active Islamic opposition force that has the capability to take power from Saleh and his security forces in the form of al Qaida. A pro-Islamist government in largely illiterate and backward Yemen would be a major setback for US policy. The US might have to fight in Yemen to protect Afghanistan and friendly entities in eastern Africa.
As in Tunisia, the main threat to the government is a fracture in the ruling elite that leads to another palace coup by a faction that is pro-al Qaida. That threat explains the pay raise for the security forces, to prevent their defection as occurred in Tunisia.
Lebanon: Lebanese Army commander General Jean Kahwaji said on 23 January that the armed forces will deal severely with anyone working to agitate the internal political situation. The army would not hesitate to strike at anyone being aggressive towards citizens, he stated during an inspection tour of the special forces training facility in Roumieh. Transgressing people's security and property shall not be tolerated, he said.
Comment: Last week the army began to deploy to key points in the country to deter and prepare for internal political violence after the prosecutor delivered indictments to the investigating magistrate of the Special Tribunal.
The Lebanese army is supposed to be politically neutral but its leadership is pro-western, pro-Hariri primarily and most of the officer corps is pro-Christian. As the national military force it has the duty to deploy so as to maintain internal order, but deployment also is a political act on behalf of the government and its backers and a necessity to keep up with the dispersal of fighting groups from Hezbollah and other factions that began weeks ago.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah made his second key speech in less than a week today, 23 January. Nasrallah said Hezbollah would lead a national unity government. President Michel Suleiman has called parliamentarians for consultations Monday. Hezbollah announced it will be ready.
Comment: Nasrallah's statement indicates Hezbollah expects to dominate the next government. This is based on a switch in allegiance by the Druze, last week. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose faction formerly backed prime minister Sa'ad Hariri, said Friday he will back Hezbollah. News sources reported Jumblatt made the switch reluctantly and under significant pressure.
The Druze switch in allegiance should give Hezbollah and its allies a majority in parliament and the ability to more or less dictate the next prime minister. In Lebanon's power-sharing political arrangement, the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Christian Maronite and the speaker of parliament a Shi'ite.
A strong Hezbollah-led coalition pretty much negates the attempt to legislate factional balance in the leadership position. There are many Sunni politicians who are hostile to the US and Hariri and whom Hezbollah will find acceptable.
Warning: Hezbollah will likely control the next government in Lebanon. The durability of its coalition is questionable, but it will receive strong backing from Iran and from Syria. It also is not clear whether Hezbollah will be more Lebanese nationalist than pan-Shiite in its policies.
What is clear is that a Hezbollah-controlled government will repudiate the Special Tribunal and halt Lebanese funding and hospitality. It also will be much more hostile to Israel because it will legitimate Hezbollah fighters are defenders of Lebanon. It will be able to restrain the Lebanese Army probably by increasing the proportion of Shiites at all ranks. It might even try to divert US-supplied equipment to Hezbollah.
A Hezbollah government will represent a significant setback to US foreign policy which has steadfastly backed the Special Tribunal, a six year policy that has now backfired, it appears. US access will decline. Western investment is likely to decline until the new government proves itself credit-worthy.
Hezbollah might move slowly in taking control in Beirut to try to reduce the immediately polarizing effects of a new government. Nevertheless, it is likely to look to Syria and Iran for guidance and support. A Hezbollah-controlled government must be treated as an Iranian breakout.
Israel must prepare defenses for a potential condition of encirclement, not just as in a generalized strategic sense, but in the sense of a much more immediate operational and tactical threat.
Political alliances are temporary in Lebanon, so the alignments might change. Barring that change, the environment around Israel will be much tenser and probably more violent.
Lebanon-US: For the record. The US announced it will consider suspending US aid to Lebanon in the event Hezbollah controls the government.
Sudan: For the record. Preliminary results from Sudan's referendum for southern independence indicate a landslide vote for secession, but turnout exceeded 100 percent in several areas. Voter turnout exceeded 100 percent in 10 of the south's 79 counties, thus an investigation has been ordered. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission reported on its website that 98.8 percent of voters who cast ballots in the 9-15 January referendum voted for secession.
Tunisia: Thousands of Tunisian police, national guards, firemen and street cleaners protested in one of the largest demonstrations to date in central Tunis on 22 January. The protesters want national reconciliation, a policeman said, adding that many people in the security forces were wrong and "sullied" the security force reputation. Protesters demanded a union to campaign for rights. Many complained of poor pay and being "victims" of Ben Ali's regime. Some protesters tried to pull soldiers into the crowds of demonstrators.
Comment: The participation of security force personnel in demonstrations represents a significant stage in the evolution of discontent in the direction of a genuine revolution, meaning change in the system of government. This demonstration portends more internal strife.
Secretary General of the Tunisian Islamic Front and Director General of the satellite television station "Islam Channel" Mohamed Ali Harrath confirmed that his group is considering forming a political party. Harrath said dozens of Islamists escaped from Tunisian prisons a few days ago, either as result of the widespread confusion following Ben Ali's ouster or of special agreements with prison officials. Harrath also said members of the Tunisian Islamic Front were alive and well, and were currently dispersed across cities throughout the country.
Comment: The high education and literacy levels of Tunisians plus their familiarity with modernity might serve them in resisting attempts by Islamists and religion teachers to commandeer the Tunisian political situation. What is worrisome is that the political situation lacks leadership and direction, both of which the Islamists always are ready to supply. This development is the second that portends the internal strife will be prolonged.
Algeria: Algerian opposition supporters attempted to stage a demonstration in Algiers on Saturday, despite a government ban. The inevitable clash with police resulted in several injuries.
End of NightWatch for 23 January.
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