The first wave of the Arab awakening, which led to the euphoric overthrow of autocracy in Tunisia and Egypt and then the uprising in Libya, is giving way to the next turn of events: the emergence of the counter-revolution led by Saudi Arabia.
The brutal military suppression of protest in Bahrain as well as Yemeni President Saleh’s massacre of 50 protestors by sniper fire reflect the urgings of the al-Saud family and the line taken by King Abdullah that he will “never accept a Shia government in Bahrain – never.” Bahrain is 70 percent Shiite, and most have family and tribal links with the Shiites of eastern Saudi Arabia (who are linked more closely to Ayatollah Sistani and the “quietists” in Najaf than to emulation of the theocratic mullahs in Qom. Unlike the theocrats of Qom in Iran, the quietists of Najaf in Iraq eschew political power).
The disconnect between the West’s implicit endorsement of the Yemeni and Bahraini leaderships, on the one hand, and military intervention in Libya, on the other, could not be more obvious.
Despite widespread sympathy for the Libyan rebels, an antipathy is nonetheless growing among the Arab public against Western intervention as the hypocrisy of policies is laid bare.
The double standard of Western policy
The newly “awakened” Arab world will not simply ignore the plight of the Bahrainis or Yemenis. Like the Tunisians and Egyptians, they are also demanding their dignity and an end to the disdain and contempt with which their rulers have treated them. Nor will the recent Bahraini military suppression mark the end of a political insurgency that has been festering for the last 20 to 30 years. It is hard to underestimate the depths of the underlying animosities that have surfaced with the Saudi intervention in Bahrain, sanctioned by the Gulf Cooperation Council.
As events in the region play out under the double standard of Western policy, many in the Arab world fear that the end result in Libya won’t turn out like the indigenous revolts in Egypt or Tunisia. Instead, the West is likely to be drawn into the machinations of Libya’s complex tribal conflicts and the fight over who finally ends up controlling the oil.
West's intervention may actually subvert revolt
There seem to be grounds for such suspicions. It is surely optimistic that, through air power alone, the West will be able to find a resolution in Libya that is “saleable” to Western publics, and yet not throw up some Karzai-type manufactured Western partner. In short, there is a paradoxical danger that Western intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebels will end up subverting the homegrown nature of the revolt itself.
If the West truly wants to see freedom flower in the Arab world, it needs to take sides against the Saudi counter-revolution while resisting the temptation to shape the Libyan revolution in its own image.