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Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi began to approach the eastern rebel capital of Benghazi on March 19, with the BBC reporting that loyalist armor already is inside the city, though this may have been only a reconnaissance element. Soon after these reports, word of impending international military operations against Gadhafi's forces began to emerge, with French and Italian aircraft reportedly beginning to conduct combat air patrols.

Though Gadhafi declared a unilateral cease-fire in response to the U.N. Security Council's (UNSC) authorization of the use of force against Libya on March 17, it is becoming apparent that this was simply a stalling tactic in an attempt to consolidate gains ahead of airstrikes. The military incentive for Gadhafi is to reach Benghazi before any airstrikes begin. If a "no-drive" zone between Ajdabiya and Benghazi were to come into effect, military vehicles and supply convoys would be vulnerable to any coalition aircraft orbiting overhead, making it far more difficult for Gadhafi to project force across the large open terrain that separates the two cities. Airpower can also make it difficult to move and resupply forces, so the heavier elements of Gadhafi's forces — tanks, tracked vehicles and artillery — already operating at the end of extended lines of supply, may quickly face logistical issues. However, while airpower can attempt to prevent forces from approaching the city, it cannot force the withdrawal of those forces from within the city without risking significant civilian casualties.

Relevant political negotiations and military planning now taking place in Europe continues and more time is needed to mass forces for the impending air campaign against Libya. Nevertheless, if the European-led effort is to stop Gadhafi from reaching Benghazi, it will have to begin soon, with what forces have so far been moved into place — though given Libya's distance from mainland Europe, the presence of U.S. Marine Corps and Italian Harriers and cruise missile-armed warships off the coast, there already is a considerable amount of coalition airpower in place.

As nightfall approaches, loyalist forces with little night-vision capability may slow operations, and any air campaign against them will likely begin under the cover of darkness, consistent with longstanding U.S. and NATO operational practice. Targets are prioritized, so available airpower will begin to work down the list with the suppression of enemy air defenses as well as command, control and communications likely to be at or near the top of the list, though SA-7 MANPADS and anti-aircraft artillery will remain a persistent threat.

Rules of engagement will be an important question. While Gadhafi's forces have been led by a vanguard of T-72 main battle tanks and supported by BM-21 rocket artillery, his infantry is often videotaped using civilian vehicles for transportation. While the intention will likely be to stop all traffic between Ajdabiya and Benghazi, whether coalition aircraft are willing to fire on civilian vehicles remains to be seen. If so, they risk considerable civilian casualties. If not, they may deny the use of tanks and artillery but risk not stopping Gadhafi's infantry.

The use of airpower has been authorized, forces are being massed and Gadhafi appears to be acting as though its use is inevitable and so is moving while he can. However, the application of airpower entails civilian casualties, and it remains unclear if that application can be translated into the achievement of political objectives in Libya. So while there are many tactical questions moving forward, there is only one strategic one: How has the European-led coalition translated the UNSC authorization into military objectives, and what are the operational parameters and rules of engagement that govern them?

Reprinted from Red Alert by STRATFOR with permission. All rights reserved (c) www.stratfor.com

 

Stratfor, Red Alert

Reports emerged today March 14 that forces from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will enter Bahrain to help the Bahraini regime quell unrest. The report was published by Bahraini Alyam Newspaper (known for its close links with the ruling al-Khalifa family), and came one day after clashes occurred between Shiite protesters and police in the capital, Manama. Troops from United Arab Emirates are reportedly expected to arrive in Bahrain March 14. Al Arabiya reported that Saudi forces have already entered Bahrain, but these claims have yet to be officially confirmed by the Bahraini regime. The only announcement so far came from Nabil al-Hamar, the former information minister and adviser to the royal family, who has written on Twitter that the Arab forces arrived in Bahrain. An unnamed Saudi official also said on March 14 that more than 1,000 Saudi troops from the Shield of Island entered Bahrain on late March 13, al-Quds reported, citing AFP. Meanwhile, Bahraini State News Agency reported that The Independent Bloc (a parliamentary bloc of the Bahraini parliament) asked Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to enforce martial law to contain the unrest.

These reports suggest foreign intervention in Bahrain, or at least the possibility that the Bahraini military is taking over the security reins. Such moves mean the regime is getting increasingly concerned with Shiite unrest, which does not seem to be subsiding despite dialogue calls from Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. The ongoing unrest is exacerbated by the split between Bahrain's Shiite movement, which became clearer during protests on March 11. The more hardline faction of the Shiite movement, led by the Wafa and al-Haq blocs, has been increasing the tension on the streets in the hopes of stalling the talks between the Shiite al-Wefaq-led coalition's negotiations with the regime. Military intervention from GCC countries means the situation is increasingly untenable for the regime. The paradox the Bahraini regime faces is that it cannot contain the unrest while trying to kick off talks with al-Wefaq. Al-Wefaq finds itself in a difficult position, since it risks losing ground against hardliners if it appears too close to the regime while Shiite protesters are beaten by the police.

The Bahraini regime has used a military option before. On Feb 17, the military deployed immediately after a police crackdown in Manama's Pearl Roundabout and was able to calm down the situation for a while by encircling the area with tanks. If Bahrain indeed has called Saudi intervention this time, the implication is that the Bahraini military is not confident in its ability to contain the unrest now. Riyadh's decision to send forces to Manama could be taken to this end, since wider spread of Shiite unrest from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia would aggravate the already existing protests among Saudi Arabia's own Shiite population. Saudi military intervention in Bahrain is not unprecedented. Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain in 1994 when Riyadh determined that Shiite unrest threatened the al-Khalifa regime.

Regional implications of the unrest in Bahrain became more obvious when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Manama on March 12 and urged the Bahraini regime to implement bold reforms. Gates said Iranian interference would become a greater possibility if Bahrain fails to do so. While Bahrain and Saudi Arabia seem to be coordinating to avoid that possibility, it is not without risks. Leader of hardliner al-Haq movement, Hassan Mushaima, who is believed to be increasing the Shiite unrest in Bahrain by Iranian support, said on Feb. 28 that Saudi intervention in Bahrain would give Iran the same right to intervene as well. A scenario of regional Sunni Arab forces cracking down on Shia would apply pressure on Iran to respond more overtly, but its military ability is limited and it is a very risky option given the U.S. 5th fleet is stationed in Bahrain. As of this writing, there is no sign that Iranian military is taking steps toward that end, however, the situation on the ground could escalate if Shia in Bahrain ramp up demonstrations.

Read more: Saudi Intervention in Bahrain | STRATFOR

 

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered the following statement Feb. 11: "In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody."

Suleiman's statement is the clearest indication thus far that the military has carried out a coup led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi. It is not clear whether Suleiman will remain as the civilian head of the army-led government. Egypt is returning to the 1952 model of ruling the state via a council of army officers. The question now is to what extent the military elite will share power with its civilian counterparts.

At a certain point, the opposition's euphoria will subside and demands for elections will be voiced. The United States, while supportive of the military containing the unrest, also has a strategic need to see Egypt move toward a more pluralistic system.

Whether the military stays true to its commitment to hold elections on schedule in September remains to be seen. If elections are held, however, the military must have a political vehicle in place to counter opposition forces, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The fate of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) thus lies in question. Without the NDP, the regime will have effectively collapsed and the military could run into greater difficulty in running the country. While the military council will be serving as the provisional government, it will likely want to retain as much of the ruling NDP as possible and incorporate elements of the opposition to manage the transition. Sustaining its hold over power while crafting a democratic government will be the biggest challenge for the military as it tries to avoid regime change while also dealing with a potential constitutional crisis.

Read more: Red Alert: Mubarak Resigns, Military is in Charge | STRATFOR www.stratfor.com

 

By Lauren Williamson, Great North News Services reporter

(Watch a minute and a half video that includes photographs of Saturday's protest. It can be viewed via this ">Youtube link.)

This weekend protesters in London took to the streets as part of a continued display of solidarity with the Egyptian popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, whose rule has lasted nearly thirty years.  Though the number
of demonstrators on Saturday was only around a hundred, far fewer than in llast weekend's London demonstrations, the emotional and political fury were still intense.

"We won't give up, we won't give in, until we see our people win," chanted the emphatic crowd.

Parents with children, young students, British nationals and other foreigners joined the Egyptian diaspora as they called on London-based Egyptian representatives and the UK government to support the populist movement.  Though some sections within the protesting group talked of different paths toward Egyptian political change, everyone seemed to share the same goal of achieving a sweeping transformation.

Saturday's protest at the Egyptian Embassy on 26 South Street was closely monitored by dozens of police on foot, on bikes, and in surveillance vans, with additional forces on standby in Hyde Park. Though the noon demonstrations started off slowly, within a few hours more people joined the group. Some women bought roses to commemorate the lives lost in the clashes between security forces and protesters in Egypt. The UN estimates around 300 people have been killed and an equal or greater number injured.

"We support the [Egyptian] people because we know now what Mubarak did in supporting Saddam Hussein," said a Kurdish protester as he expressed outrage over the atrocities Hussein committed against his fellow Kurds. The man
proudly displayed a large poster with a caricature of Mubarak oozing into the sewers with rats crawling nearby.

Though the protest's organisers refused to speak to us, other members of the crowd expressed their opinions freely, requesting to remain anonymous.

"Some protest because they want Islamic law. They think that kind of system would bring peace," one Egyptian said. "But we don't want that. The people who started all this, here, we don't support the Muslim Brotherhood."

This demonstrator's statement encapsulates a pressing concern of Western governments.  There is a worry over the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative policies, which conflict with liberal democratic values.  There is further
anxiety that if the Muslim Brotherhood were to take power, Egypt's peace with Israel might be compromised.

Just thirty miles north of London, on the same day as the Embassy protests, thousands of English Defence League supporters filled the streets of Luton. Their message targeted UK lawmakers, imploring them to help stop the spread
of Sharia law and Islamic extremism within the UK, as reported by Sky News. Interestingly, the day prior in London, on 5 February, the Egyptian embassy protesters were unexpectedly joined by an extremist Muslim anti-war group
whose members made threatening statements against the UK, according to Demotix.

The extent of the fear from all sides, built upon vastly contrasting rhetoric, is dangerous. It contributes to misunderstandings of the evolving process in Egypt and may fuel further grievances of disenfranchised groups.
Many in the West equate the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda when, in fact, they are two separate organisations with very different doctrines. The connections, however, do exist. It is well known that a Muslim Brotherhood
leader, Sayyid Qtub, served as an inspirational mentor for Osama bin Laden. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has urgently tried to distance itself from violent jihad and gain political legitimacy to support their conservative religious policies.

Of course, political legitimacy in Egypt, which outlaws openly religious political factions, is nearly impossible to gain. Because group members have had to run for political positions as independents and operate
clandestinely, the exact number of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and sympathisers is unknown. Prominent anthropologist Scot Atran, in an article for *The International Herald Tribune*, says it may be around 20-30 percent.
This, Atran argues, should not spark such panic of a Muslim Brotherhood usurpation in Egypt.

But the Muslim Brotherhood's ideals have gained traction among the Egyptian people, as evidenced by the group's parliamentary election gains in 2005, which deeply disturbed Mubarak and the National Democratic Party.  Could it
be that the oppression of this group has actually gained them sympathisers?

In stark contrast to Atran's views, authors in *The Jerusalem Post* have been overwhelmingly alarmist about the situation; an anti-Zionist group is, to Israel, a decisive threat. The US has also indicated that it would not support extremist groups. But Atran's point is that by and large the demonstrations have been organised and sustained by a more educated and secular stratum.

Saturday's London protest provides some proof of this. The weekend demonstrations, which included protests on Downing Street on Sunday, were organised via Facebook groups, just like the initial demonstrations in Egypt
before the government shut down the internet. Many Facebook attendees have changed their profile pictures to Egyptian flags, a show of loyalty to their countrymen in this time of upheaval.  Generally  the
digital majority's chosen representation is the Egyptian flag, not the crescent and star of Islam.

"Like standing in no man's land, many Egyptians are confused, caught between feeling immense pride and great shame," wrote one London-based Egyptian, poignantly describing the ambivalence he and many of his countrymen feel at this point.

The author said it is pride for the scenes of bravery, the people's struggle for a freer life, the unity seen between Christians and Muslims.  It is shame for the eruptions of violence, the government's manipulation, and those that believe the propaganda, he argued. The author chided the notion that the protestors have caused the chaos in Egypt, an idea promoted on state-run media outlets. He equates it to blaming a rape victim for screaming for help.

There are endless accounts and opinions circulating on the web via social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter, Youtube to independent blogs. Some want Mubarak gone immediately. Others want the current administration to
maintain control of security and allow protesters to pursue their demonstrations, gaining support for a future election.

It is perhaps all too obvious that true democracy takes time to cultivate. A transitional period for Egypt seems only appropriate. But if during the transition any emerging political group, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, receives undue global condemnation, these criticisms may escalate the faction's domestic support. This political revolution is under intense international scrutiny and equally intense media coverage. At this critical juncture, decision makers in the West and the Arab world must not underestimate the potential of deeply rooted national loyalties.

---

Lauren Williamson is a London-based freelance journalist with a passion for security and development issues. She holds a Master's degree in International Studies and Diplomacy from the University of London.

 
 

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