Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Essay on Convergence versus Divergence Violence
Bahrain: Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles Wednesday, 16 March, to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Manama. The assault was executed at daybreak. Press reports carried witness accounts that two protestors were killed during the attack in the square. Officials at Ibn Nafees Hospital reportedly said a third protestor later died from gunshot wounds in his back.
The General Command of the Bahrain Defense Force issued a statement about the attack. “The Bahraini national guard and Public Security Force initiated an operation to clear ‘outlaws’ from several public areas in Manama. The operation targeted protesters in the Bahrain Financial Harbour, the Salmaniya Medical Complex and surrounding areas, and the Gulf Cooperation Council Roundabout. The roundabout previously has been referred to as Pearl Square, or Martyr’s Square by the protestors.”
Comment: This action represents a significant escalation of force, enabled by the arrival of Arab reinforcements from the Peninsula Shield Force. The emergency declaration banning protests automatically makes the protestors “outlaws”. It deliberately increases the consequences of protests in order to separate the timid from the hard core. Most of the time it makes matters worse. What happens after Friday’s prayers will provide insight about whether the escalation of force is likely to stabilize the situation.
Multiple government officials resigned in protest because of the security operation.
Saudi Arabia: Update. A few hundred Saudi Shiite protesters took to the streets of Qatif, Eastern Province, on 15 March in solidarity with Bahraini Shia, Ahram Online reported. These gathers are banned, but they persist.
Yemen: Update. At least 120 people were wounded when Yemeni police and pro-government supporters attempted to break up an anti-government rally in the western city of al-Hudaida, according to a local doctor treating the protestors. The doctor said the protestors were attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and daggers.
Comment: Yemen is increasingly using force against the protestors, but the forces indicate the situation is still manageable without applying extraordinary resources.
Libya: Rebels. Three rebel jets bombed Libyan leader Gadhafi’s forces located east of Ajdabiya, Al Jazeera reported .
Comment: This is the second reported attack by combat aircraft supporting the rebels. No sources have reported their origin, their operating base or who is piloting them, but they offer a better prospect of delaying the attackers than the exuberant but disorganized rebel youth. The location of the attack, east of Ajdabiya, is the best evidence to date that Qadhafi’s forces have moved beyond that town, which is on the road to Benghazi. According to eyewitnesses, clashes occurred at Ajdabiya and Misrata, Al Arabiya reported.
Qadhafi’s Forces. Qadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, told the media that military operations are finished and everything will be over in 48 hours (18 March). He said loyal forces are close to Benghazi. When asked about world powers’ discussion of imposing a no-fly zone over Libya, he said whatever decision is taken, it will be too late. Libyan state television reported the Tarhuna and Warfalla, two major tribes in Benghazi, have confirmed their support for Libyan leader Qadhafi.
A message on Libyan state TV said that residents of Benghazi should leave rebel-held locations and weapon storage areas, saying that the army was coming to support the citizens and “cleanse your city from armed gangs.”. Libyan state TV also reported that Qadhafi supporters had rallied in Benghazi, but foreign news outlets could not confirm that report. The Libyan army set a deadline of 2200 GMT on 16 March for Benghazi inhabitants to leave rebel locations and weapon storage areas, Reuters reported, citing Libyan state TV.
Comment: Saif al-Islam has emerged as the chief propagandist for Qadhafi and is one of the hard-line children. He exaggerates almost childishly, as part of his amateurish propaganda campaign. While his statements have often proven to be inaccurate, the government’s tight control of information leaves limited alternative sources of information.
Abdul Basit, a rebel spokesman in Misrata, denied reports made by Libyan state television that two major tribes in Benghazi, the Warfala and Tarhuna, now back Qadhafi. Basit said that state television is lying and that it wants to create divisions among tribes. Note: Basit is much more reliable than Saif al-Islam.
Algeria: Police in Algiers used tear gas March 16 in an attempt to disperse a crowd of young men who were throwing petrol bombs and stones. The protesters said they had no political demands but wanted the authorities to give them better housing. The protest began when about 60 young men blocked a road and demanded a meeting with senior officials about their living conditions. Their numbers swelled to about 150. About 300 police responded with tear gas, but failed to disperse the rioting crowd.
Comment: The Algerians get it. They used two policemen for every protestor. That is the Chinese model.
Notes for new analysts: understanding violence in instability problems (Long essay alert)
Internal instability problems are not chaotic, despite the way many people describe them. They move through definable phases that have benchmarks indicating progress in the processes. Violence is a particularly important indicator because it occurs twice, but its significance depends on when it occurs.
Political authority flows back and forth between the government and the opposition, depending on their respective strengths. Usually the government will under-react to the first outbreak of protests. That will start the three phase under-reaction, over-reaction, concession cycle, which characterized government actions in all the Arab states under stress. In Tunisia and Egypt, the Army sided with the protestors for parochial reasons and brought an early end to those crises. Instability persists because no fundamental changes that address the causes of instability have occurred. The unrest is resetting and recycling.
The three-phase cycle enables analysts to track government management of the instability, but its context is the shift in authority between the government and the opposition, represented by the youthful protestors in the Arab world. As the government’s authority weakens, the opposition’s strengthens. They converge. Right before the division of authority equalizes, either or both sides will resort to violence.
The government will use the army to prevent sharing power with the opposition, which an equal division of authority makes inevitable. The opposition resorts to violence because it judges the government might topple from a violent surge. It is compelled to test the government because that is how the opposition gains authority.
The use of extraordinary armed force always signals that convergence has reached the point that the government fears it will have to share power… and make changes if it fails to fight. This is convergence violence.
If there has been no government sharing of authority with the opposition – no power sharing — before the use of extraordinary force, then the violence is always convergence violence and the government is in grave danger.
This is where Bahrain and Yemen are. Oman has not yet reached that point. In Bahrain, at the end of one three-phase cycle, the Crown Prince offered significant concessions for greater political participation by the Shiite opposition, but which preserved the monarchy By 8 March, when the opposition started to demand systemic change in the form of a republic, that demand set the condition for a violent crackdown or capitulation by the monarchy. The chronology indicates the monarchy’s unsuccessful use of violence in the earlier “over-reaction phase” caused the Shiites to escalate their demands.
In a convergence fight, government force must be overwhelming and must succeed or the government will change for a time, possibly permanently. As early as 21 February, Bahrain’s King apparently doubted he had the forces for the task, and asked the Arab monarchs for the Peninsula Shield Forces.
Most governments have no allies willing to add more guns to their side of the fight to prevent further convergence. Bahrain does. It is not clear whether Saudi or UAE forces participated in today’s crackdown in Manama. They at least freed up Bahraini forces to enable the government to try to break the protest movement.
The Bahrain monarchy with the backing of the Peninsula Shield Force contributors has raised the stakes substantially, and maybe existentially. If this escalation fails, which it could, the Bahrain government must change. If the monarchy survives a failure, it probably would be as a figurehead or ceremonial head of state.
The Peninsula Shield Forces also carry another dimension of risk because of the linkage to other governments — Saudi Arabia and UAE plus any other Gulf Cooperation Council contributors. The Peninsula Shield Force makes Bahrain a regional problem. It the Forces fail now, authority will decline in other Arab capitals. The downside of integration is that, if it fails, it threatens to bring down the whole architecture. That consequence suggests the Forces in Bahrain will fight to the last Shiite to prevent the collapse of the monarchy.
If the Forces succeed in routing or deterring protestors or in inducing them to accept the offers of the Crown Prince, then the authority of the monarchy will have been restored. The side with the most or the best guns wins, provided the forces remain loyal and respond to orders. The introduction of outside forces – the Saudi and UAE personnel -also has reduced the likelihood of mass desertions by the Bahraini forces. This is what China did in the Tiananmen massacre at an identical stage of its successful convergence struggle.
Yemen also is in a convergence fight, but it has not yet escalated as Bahrain’s has. President Saleh, however, is using violence in a way that is similar to Bahrain. The trend is towards escalating uses of force, but Saleh will be guided by what happens in Bahrain.
Leaders in Bahrain and Yemen might have been heartened by Qadhafi’s successful counterattacks in Libya. If so, that would be a misread of the Libyan fighting. Qadhafi lost his convergence fight, but is winning a divergence or breakout fight. Two weeks ago, when the rebels took towns just west of Tripoli, they achieved de facto power sharing. Qadhafi had Tripoli and parts of Tripolitania. The Benghazi Council had control of Cyrenaica and was moving into Tripolitania.
Power Sharing and Divergence Violence
The division of authority manifest by a geographical split is a rare form of power sharing, usually associated with secession – fragmentation of the state. But the Benghazi-based rebels went for Tripoli.
Libya has showcased several key points about instability problems. Most important is that the opposition will not win if it does not take the capital, Tripoli in Libya’s case. Instability is centripetal because authority and political power reside in the center, which explains the rebels’ march into Tripolitania and that the only serious confrontations in Bahrain occur in Manama.
Second, power sharing is relatively quiet. For a short time before the Qadhafi counterattack, there was very limited violence. Qadhafi famously offered talks, almost certainly a ruse to build his forces, but the kind of overture that takes place in power sharing.
Third, it is always temporary, though the length of time varies widely. It is temporary because the parties seek to prepare for a breakout. The breakout need not be violent and might take a long time to develop. Hezbollah demonstrated this in its parliamentary procedural ouster of the Hariri government in Lebanon. It took from 2006 to 2011 for Hezbollah to make its parliamentary breakout that toppled the Hariri coalition.
Even in Lebanon, there was fear of violent street protests. If violence associated with a breakout occurs, it is divergence violence.
Qadhafi began a successful breakout last week. His success may be measured by the distance from Tripoli that Qadhafi’s forces are fighting. Divergence violence always happens after there has been de facto or de jure power sharing.
Qadhafi’s successful breakout also reinforces the most salient and predictive point of instability. The side with the most and best guns wins. If Benghazi falls in 48 hours, the rebellion is crushed and Qadhafi’s authority will be fully stronger than ever…for a time.
To recap, convergence violence, as in Bahrain, means the government is in so much stress that it is resorting to extraordinary means to prevent power sharing. Divergence violence means a party is trying to break out of power sharing to seize control of the government.
Finally, successful convergence or divergence fights are never final solutions, but they can add decades to the longevity of a regime as in Libya and Algeria. Instability always resets and recycles, even if it takes 30 years, until the underlying problems are solved or changed.
Phi Beta Iota: The failure of the West to provide a no-fly zone for Libya may go down in history as an exemplar of how little the West understands humanity in the Middle East. It is not that the West could not understand, but rather that the West is organized to NOT understand–ideological politics and uninformed intelligence.