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Defense / NATIONAL SECURITY

The Latest in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia

Tens of thousands of anti-government Yemeni mourners chant slogans as they gather next to the bodies of activists who were among more than 50 protesters gunned down two days ago by snipers in Sanaa on March 20, 2011 during a mass funeral procession in the capital. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)(AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Sara Sorcher
June 7, 2011

The ultimate success of the Arab Spring will be measured by the daily gains made in key countries. In the list below, National Journal looks at recent developments in, and the dynamics of, the countries in turmoil.

Highlights from last week's roundup: Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's third refusal to sign an agreement that would lead to his resignation spurred a rocket attack on his compound and his subsequent flight to Saudi Arabia. In Libya, NATO announced it would extend its mission for another 90 days once international talks with Muammar el-Qaddafi to end the violence again failed. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a "general amnesty" on Tuesday, but opposition groups said that the concession was too little and too late. In Egypt and Tunisia, the Group of Eight nations promised to provide billions of dollars in aid over the next two years. 

YEMEN

 

Yemen's embattled leader underwent a series of surgeries in Saudi Arabia on Monday; one of the operations was to remove shards of wood from his chest. Saleh's wounds appear to be more substantial than Yemeni officials originally indicated: Saleh received burns to about 40 percent of his body and suffered bleeding in his brain, the Associated Press reported.Saleh's face, neck and chest is heavily burned and his face is “quite charred,” according to a Western official quoted in The New York Times.Opposition tribesmen shelled Saleh’s presidential palace on Friday, the first time tribesmen have targeted the site since violence erupted in the capital of Sanaa. The attack killed at least six guards and wounded eight senior officials, according to AP.

Yemeni officials insist Saleh will return “in days”—a move certain to fuel the fighting between his forces and the opposition tribesmen, who have already been claiming victory. Still, The Times quotes officials as saying Saleh’s wounds could take three or four months to heal, an extended absence that would only add to the turmoil.

The Gulf Cooperation Council spent weeks of fruitless mediation trying to broker a deal for the Yemeni leader to step down, but Saleh refused to sign each time. It's possible these negotiations will resume and speed up before Saleh's expected return, especially as Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia, a key council member. However, it's also possible the sudden change of Saleh's location could make it more difficult to structure an orderly transition in the country rife with tribal divisions.

The White House has been stepping up pressure on the embattled autocrat—a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism—to follow through on his previous promise to step down. Even before Friday’s attack, President Obama had dispatched top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to Riyadh to huddle with the Saudis on the crisis. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted on Monday that “the instability and lack of security afflicting Yemen cannot be addressed until there's some process that's going to lead to the economic and political reforms.”

Meanwhile, despite a cease-fire brokered by Saudi Arabia, the fighting in Yemen continues: More than 400 tribal fighters fought off regime forces to take control of Taiz, a top Yemeni city, on Tuesday. In the southern province of Abyan, at least 15 people were killed this week in clashes between Islamic militants and security forces, a local security source told CNN.

LIBYA

Qaddafi’s regime and NATO are still firing back and forth in a public-relations war as NATO steps up airstrikes on the capital. State television reported on Tuesday that Qaddafi’s compound was under “intensive continuous bombardment” as NATO blasts hit Tripoli. A day earlier, the regime said that deadly strikes struck the state television building itself. For its part, NATO dismissed these accounts as “bogus,” according to CNN.

"We did not target or hit the Libyan broadcast facilities,” NATO said. “What we did target was the military intelligence headquarters in downtown Tripoli. The story coming from Libyan officials that we targeted and hit the state broadcaster's building is bogus."

Warplanes dropped more than 50 bombs on targets in Tripoli on Tuesday, The New York Times reported. It was the most intense series of NATO strikes on the capital since the air campaign began in March. Despite the blasts, Qaddafi insisted he would not step down. “We welcome death. Martyrdom is a million times better," the embattled leader said in an audio statement broadcast on state television.

Meanwhile, Libya’s rebels “arbitrarily detained dozens of civilians” suspected of supporting the embattled leader—and Human Rights Watch says at least one has died after apparently being tortured while in custody, according to the Associated Press. For the first time, Russia and China sent diplomats to the rebel-held city of Benghazi in efforts to mediate an end to the conflict.

SYRIA

Syrian President Assad continues his deadly crackdown on protesters. The regime promised a “decisive” response to violence in the northern city of Jisr al-Shoughour, where state television reported armed men killed 120 policemen and security forces, according to the Associated Press.

At least 20 people were killed after hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters traveled through military-controlled territory to cross the Golan Heights border on Sunday and Monday, AP reported. Syria's state-run media said the second major outbreak of violence at the border area in less than a month was a "spontaneous uprising" of Palestinian youths. The Israelis say Syria's embattled president is trying to provoke a conflict with Israel to deflect attention away from his own bloody crackdown.

EGYPT

The long-banned Muslim Brotherhood was officially recognized as a political party on Tuesday, allowing the organization to go ahead with its plans to run in parliamentary elections slated for September, Egypt’s official news agency reported. The Freedom and Justice Party considers itself to be a civil party, open to Muslims, Christians, and women. It’s considered the best-organized political party in a post-Mubarak era, though the popular but banned Islamist opposition group insists it has no intention of offering a presidential candidate.

The FJP intends to field candidates for roughly half the parliamentary seats, with a goal of filling 30 percent of parliament. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood is busily working to create a wide coalition with other political parties and nationalist groups to gain more support.

TUNISIA

Larger opposition parties are still demanding an early poll for an assembly to draw up a new constitution, Reuters reports, even though electoral monitors postponed Tunisia’s first elections to October 16 due to “technical hold-ups.” The country’s main Islamist party insists delays to the scheduled date in July could “drag the country into a spiral of violence.” As an alternative, some politicians proposed replacing the assembly election with parliamentary and presidential elections.

Deposed Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali insisted on Monday he is a victim of “injustice” and is “tired of being made a scapegoat” amid allegations he holds improper bank accounts and property holdings outside the country. In a written statement released by his lawyer on Monday, Ben Ali said that the charges against him are “nothing but a masquerade with the only purpose of illustrating a symbolic break with the past.”

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