Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi spoke Tuesday, saying many things. However, they can be summed up succinctly: He does not intend to step down, ever. This was not much of a surprise, as the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has been in power for more than four decades, and has weathered several threats to his rule during this span. As Gadhafi did not step down, violence will therefore continue. Even if he had resigned Tuesday, violence would have continued, as Libya has now crossed a threshold from which it will be difficult to retreat. It is likely that chaos is on the horizon in the country.
It is difficult to predict at this point whether the events of the past week will lead to the outright collapse of the Libyan state or whether Gadhafi will be able to ride out the wave. It will certainly not be easy for him to retake the east, which is no longer under the control of the government in Tripoli. With signs of the army splintering and the tribes turning against him, Gadhafi is perhaps facing the most daunting challenge of his 41 years in power. No matter what befalls the Libyan leader, however, it is clear that Libya faces a high likelihood of civil war. This could take the form of a west vs. east dynamic (in which Libya would revert back to division between the core coastal regions of Tripolitania, the western region surrounding modern day Tripoli, and Cyrenaica, the eastern region around Benghazi), or it could see a series of localized fiefdoms fighting for themselves. It could also be a hybrid scenario, in which the main division is east vs. west, but where intra-tribal warfare creates images of Somalia.
“Saudi Arabia’s main concern is that the Bahraini unrest does not spread to the sizable Shiite minority populations it has in its own oil-rich eastern provinces.”
Italy is more concerned about this latter scenario than anyone else, due to its energy interests in Libya and fears of the resulting wave of Libyans and other African immigrants who would wash up on its shores. There are other long-term concerns for many nations about what lawlessness in Libya (particularly the eastern region) could mean, however. The primary danger is that Libya could potentially become a new jihadist haven, with Libyans who honed their skills in Iraq and Afghanistan employing them on the streets of their home country.
Libya is in flux, and STRATFOR is paying close attention to what happens there — particularly because there is the potential for the first true case of regime change (which did not actually happen in Egypt and Tunisia) since the wave of unrest in the Arab world began late 2010. However, we are turning our eyes back toward the ongoing crises in Bahrain and Yemen.
Bahrain is a tiny island-nation located in the Persian Gulf, between regional powerhouses — and rivals — Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is a country full of Shiite Arabs (and foreign guest workers), but is governed by a Sunni monarchy. Bahrain has hardly any people (roughly 800,000), but a lot of geopolitical significance. It is not an accident that the U.S. Navy has made a considerable investment in shore and support facilities in Bahrain.
Protests have been going on there since Feb. 14, led by a mixture of Shiite opposition parties and Facebook pro-democracy groups, among other groups. The regime has gone back and forth over whether the use of force is the best strategy, and currently appears set on pursuing dialogue, without the use of guns. After all, it is not regime change that the majority of the protesters are after, but political reforms that will even the playing field for the Shia. The Khalifa royal family would have preferred to continue as it had until the recent crisis, but is OK with certain compromises so long as it maintains its rule.
But almost as nervous as the Khalifas about the protests in Bahrain are the Saudis. The royal family in Saudi Arabia fears an Iranian hidden hand behind what is happening in Bahrain, and fears the potential for a special strain of contagion to emerge from the island-nation, one of a general Shiite rising in the Persian Gulf region. Recent protests in Kuwait, albeit small, only add to Riyadh’s concerns that Iranian power is rising on their periphery. Saudi Arabia’s main concern is that the Bahraini unrest does not spread to the sizable Shiite minority populations it has in its own oil-rich eastern provinces. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, would much prefer to have an ally in charge of the host nation to the 5th Fleet than a potential Iranian satellite, for obvious reasons.
After Bahrain, we move to Yemen, another country in the Saudis’ backyard, where a spillover of unrest would threaten Saudi security as well. Understanding Yemen’s situation is muddled by the multiple conflicts occurring within its borders: a secessionist movement in the south, al-Houthi rebels in the north (where there have been concerns about Iranian meddling as well), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) throughout, and pro-democracy protesters of the model that helped drive the Egyptian demonstrations. It, too, has witnessed several days of protests in recent weeks, with Tuesday marking the twelfth straight day of demonstrations in the capital of Sanaa. There are also reports that some demonstrators (media reports say about 1,000) are camping out in the central square there, just like what happened in Cairo, and is happening in the Bahraini capital of Manama.
Like Bahraini King Hamad, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has already made certain concessions, promising that he will not run again for president in 2013, which would mark his 35th year in power. But like Gadhafi, he has been adamant about one thing: He is not stepping down due to pressure from demonstrators. Thus, the tensions in Yemen will only continue to rise, as concessions have not worked, and nor has the use of force employed to varying degrees. Yemen may not be as significant as Bahrain, as it does not sit right in the middle of Saudi Arabia and Iran. But, if Saleh were to lose the loyalty of the army or the tribes — another parallel to Gadhafi — it would likely lead to a very ugly scene. And that is something jihadist groups like AQAP would welcome.