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Middle East - March 6

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U.S. Wavers on 'Regime Change'

Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journl
After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait.

Instead of pushing for immediate regime change—as it did to varying degrees in Egypt and now Libya—the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling "regime alteration."

The approach has emerged amid furious lobbying of the administration by Arab governments, who were alarmed that President Barack Obama had abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and worried that, if the U.S. did the same to the beleaguered king of Bahrain, a chain of revolts could sweep them from power, too, and further upend the region's stability.

... A pivotal moment came in late February, in the tense hours after Mr. Obama publicly berated King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa for cracking down violently on antigovernment demonstrators in Bahrain's capital. Envoys for the king and his Arab allies shuttled from the Pentagon to the State Department and the White House with a carefully coordinated message.

If the Obama administration did not reverse course and stand squarely behind the monarchy, they warned, Bahrain's government could fall, costing America a critical ally and potentially moving the country toward Iran's orbit.

... The emerging approach could help slow the pace of upheaval to avoid further violence, the administration's top priority, and help preserve important strategic alliances. At the same time, the approach carries risk. Autocratic governments might not deliver on their reform promises, making Washington look like it was doing their bidding at the public's expense. Officials said the administration's response in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere could change if people take to the streets en masse, rejecting offers made at the negotiating table, or if the U.S.-backed governments crack down violently.
(5 March 2011)

Video: Libya rebels control oil port

Al Jazeera

(X March 2011)

Saudi Arabia bans public protest

Agencies, Guardian
Public protests have been banned in Saudi Arabia following demonstrations by minority Shia groups.

The ruling comes after widespread demonstrations in the Middle East – including those that led to the downfall of regimes in Egypt and Tunisia – and two weeks of Shia agitation in Saudi Arabia itself, during which 22 people were arrested.

... More than 17,000 people backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations in Saudi Arabia this month, the first of which went ahead on Friday.
(6 March 2011)

Muammar Gaddafi's opposition: How Libya's revolt has stalled

Martin Chulov, Peter Beaumont and Jamie Doward, Guardian
Those heading the charge know that forces and communities loyal to the dictator are unlikely to roll over so easily
At the beating heart of the uprising, in Benghazi, Libya's rebels are trying to kickstart a revolution that has stalled less than halfway to the capital. Throughout the sacked city that spawned the revolt, the euphoria of victory is steadily becoming a distant memory. Routine has set into a place that two weeks ago was flush with hope and opportunity. After ousting a dictator of 42 years in less than a weekend, anything seemed possible here. For a while.

Shops are now open, streets are teeming and people are again talking about the grind of daily life. Heady predictions of a glorious march to Tripoli have been silenced.

"We didn't ask to be in this position," said Salwa Bugaigis, a leading member of Benghazi's organising committee, now trying to run the town's civil affairs. "I've said that since the beginning. I was one of the first protesters outside the courthouse. Then they attacked us. And then the revolution came. We are running something that we were not prepared for."

Benghazi's rebels were clearly not prepared for another surprise – Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's ability to rally his supporters and mount an effective rear-guard action that has stopped the revolution in its tracks, at least for now.

They had witnessed the speed with which his power base crumbled in the east. They had seen loyalists of more than four decades flee within hours, leaving behind their spoils of power and patronage. They could have been forgiven for thinking that the rest was going to be easy.

But the 1,000km road running flat from Benghazi to Tripoli reveals stark realities.
(5 March 2011)

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