David Blackburn

The Mad Dog lies in wait

The Mad Dog lies in wait
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The Bahraini regime will not yield peaceably before protest, as Hosni Mubarak did. This morning, Bahraini police opened fire on demonstrators with live rounds; four people were killed. There were also reports that Saudi Arabian troops were involved, which would mark a clear change in the Arab establishment's tactics following Mubarak's fall. In the uncertain atmosphere, Twitter resounded to claims that Shiites were seeking reprisals and that the military was ‘taking control of parts of the capital’. The agony of choice: a military coup or a religious massacre?  

This morning's news has forced Western powers to drop their hesitant approach. The British government responded immediately: condemning the Bahraini authorities’ use of violence and urging that ‘essential steps to reform’ are taken. Many will decry the intervention, but the government is right to denounce a ‘Peterloo moment’.

Western eyes are now turning to their other allies in the region. Colonel Gadaffi, the Mad Dog himself, is one of these favoured despots. Gadaffi has been taking subtle measures to silence dissent. Ian Birrell has paid a flying visit (£) to Libya and found that Gadaffi has mobilised the mobs in Tripoli and his security services are primed to meet unrest in the historically mutinous city of Benghazi.

But force is not the first resort for the wily colonel, who has already made concessions on social housing and welfare. Riots broke out this morning and Gadaffi reacted by closing the transport network and shutting down the internet. Protestors have therefore lost the means to easy communication, so essential for the revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia. The thinking is that Gadaffi hopes that his opponents will either dissipate or be provoked to violence; he could then use their intemperance as a pretext to extend his crackdown. Gadaffi has ruled Libya for more than forty years with a combination of velvet and iron, and he has no intention of stopping.

UPDATE: Libya has degenerated into Libya. Al-Arabiya is reporting that up to 19 people have been killed.