Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Never again” is the phrase that is always uttered after an international atrocity. It is what is said every time there is an event to commemorate the Holocaust. It was what was said after the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and after the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. And yet the Libyan regime is killing its people in the streets, without much prospect of effective international intervention to stop the bloodshed. Libya is not so much a case of “never again” as “oh no, not again”.

Whenever all pundits agree that something is “impossible”, you need to worry. In the last few days, it has been generally accepted that it is impossible for Colonel Gaddafi to cling on to power. And yet the reports coming from the journalists who have finally been allowed into Tripoli are equivocal. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reported last night:  “Colonel Gaddafi’s men look to be in firm control of Tripoli. Checkpoints are operating at major crossroads and on arterial roads into the city. Some are run by the army, at others armed men in civilian clothes are stopping cars…Everywhere I went in Tripoli was calm except for the airport where there was chaos.” Read more

In this week’s podcast: The escalating civil uprising in Libya, the threat of rising oil prices and the implications for the global economy. Read more

Amazingly enough, Libya remains a member of the UN Human Rights Council. But tomorrow, the council will hold a special session to consider the situation in Libya. On its website, it notes that this is the first time that the UN has decided to investigate a sitting member. There is no acknowledgement that is a disgrace that Libya is a member of the council in the first place. However, this is not some weird accident. It is the settled will of the international community. The Libyans were voted onto the council in May – getting 155 votes of the 192 UN members. Gaddafi is obviously a popular chap. Read more

Amidst all the drama and the horror of events in Libya, one strange angle to emerge is the role of Colonel Gaddafi’s son – Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, or rather Dr Saif al-Islam since he is the proud holder of a doctorate from the LSE. The younger Gaddafi’s thesis was on the undemocratic nature of global governance (I have heard his father wax lyrical on the same theme from the podium of the UN). David Held, professor of politics at the LSE, recalls Gaddafi junior as manifesting a “deep commitment to liberal democratic reform of his country.” It has to be said that deep commitment didn’t seem to be much in evidence on Sunday when Saif Gaddafi made a rambling speech on television, threatening to fight “to the last bullet” to retain control of Libya. Read more

Another week, another revolution. Muammer Gaddafi of Libya may soon become the third Arab president to be swept from power in little more than a month.

Until a few years ago, his toppling would have been greeted with delight in western capitals. But in recent years, the Libyan leader has been recast as a reformed sinner, an ally in the “war on terror” and a valued business partner. His current travails should be a cause of justified embarrassment – not least in London – since Britain has led the way in the attempted rehabilitation of Col Gaddafi.

Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Libya is under pressure after security forces clashed with protestors. James Blitz, diplomatic editor, tells Daniel Garrahan that this revolt will be met by extreme violence from the Gaddafi leadership and there are now big questions to be asked of the oil majors investing in the country. Read more

Saudi Arabia seems to be one of the few Arab states not to have been caught up, so far, in the wave of popular unrest across the Middle East. But it is still profoundly threatened by what is going on. The unrest in Bahrain – just 15km from Saudi Arabia – poses very serious questions for the Saudi royal family. Bahrain’s royal family are Sunnis, threatened by an uprising by a majority Shia population. The Saudi royal family are also ruling over a large (minority) Shia population, concentrated in the oil-rich eastern provinces. Most of the experts I have read or spoken to reckon that the Saudis simply will not let the Bahraini royal family fall. This piece from the New York Times openly raises the prospect of Saudi military intevention.

What could the Americans say or do about that? It would all be uncomfortably reminiscent of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 – you remember, the one that “would not stand”. Read more

In this week’s podcast: the crisis in the Arab world; the latest efforts to resolve Europe’s debt; the row over America’s budget. Read more

If you thought the revolution in Egypt posed some tricky dilemmas for American foreign policy, how about the upheavals in Bahrain? Bahrain is a tiny place. But is also the base for the US Fifth Fleet – the basis of American power in the Persian Gulf. Hitherto, the Americans have hidden behind the convenient idea that Bahrain is moving towards democracy. In the recent past, Hillary Clinton has pronounced herself “impressed” by Bahrain’s “committment to the democratic path”. But now the government is killing demonstrators in the street. Read more

David Cameron has made an important political move today, with the arrival of a new cat at 10 Downing Street. There are some 8m pet-cats in Britain, so it is important to appeal to the cat-owning classes. Personally, I date the calamatious decline in the popularity of Cherie Blair to her decision to get rid of the previous Downing Street cat, Humphrey. Although Mrs Blair later tried to recover by posing with Humphrey, with a fixed grin on her face, I think many British people marked her down as a bad lot from that point onwards. Read more

Wael Ghonim has been appointed by the US media as the face of the Egyptian revolution. Younger than Mohamed ElBaradei, less scary than the Muslim Brotherhood, articulate in English, married to an American and an employee of Google, Mr Ghonim is the perfect figure to sell the romance of the revolution to a western audience. As the administrator of the Facebook page that first drew demonstrators to Tahrir Square, he was imprisoned for a spell, until emerging from captivity in time to articulate the frustrations of young Egyptians.

About a month ago, on January 14th, just after the fall of President Ben-Ali in Tunisia, I speculated on this blog that Egypt might be the next Tunisia. OK, I know it sounds obvious in retrospect, but that still gives me a better record of prognostication than the CIA – who were apparently insisting on the inherent stability of the Mubarak regime. So the question now, is which country is the next Egypt? Read more

With protests entering their third week and the president defiant, what next for Egypt? In Ivory Coast, another president refuses to leave.  Read more

Never has a square been more appropriately named than Liberation Square in Cairo. The television pictures are absolutely transfixing. Even in America, a famously insular nation, everybody seems fascinated by events. The television networks last night took Mubarak’s statement live. And there is now wall-to-wall coverage of the scenes from Tahrir Square.

Everybody from Joe Biden to Jim Woolsey, the former head of the CIA, are popping up on television to air the obvious questions – all variants of “what happens now”. But there will be plenty of time for analysis in the days to come – by me, and everybody else. For the moment, that all seems a bit besides the point. The pictures are the story tonight. Read more

Last night, I did a discussion with Joseph Nye at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on the future of American power. You can watch the video here. The experience was mildly intimidating since Nye is an eminent Harvard professor, inventor of the term “soft power” and a former chair of America’s National Intelligence Council. But, what the hell, I’ve written a few newspaper columns. Read more

Egypt’s military on Thursday pledged support for the demands of the youth uprising as officials suggested Hosni Mubarak, the president of 30 years, is preparing to step aside. Read more

By tradition, the television network that shows the Superbowl gets to interview the president on Superbowl Sunday. And so it came to pass yesterday that Barack Obama had to sit down with his sworn enemies from Fox News and submit to an interview with the repellently-smug Bill O’Reilly. Read more

Events in Egypt are so dramatic that it is tempting to regard each day as a potentially decisive turning point. But revolutions can unfold over months and even years. As the situation in Cairo calms down a little, it is worth remembering that an apparent stabilisation in events can be just a lull, before the drama resumes.

Does the crisis in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East represent a moment of real change? how will it shape US, European and Israeli foreign policy towards the region as worries grow over instability and oil security? In the chair, FT analysis editor Frederick Studemann debates the issues with FT colleagues Roula Khalaf, Middle East editor, Tobias Buck, Jerusalem correspondent and Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs commentator. Read more