What now for the Arab awakening?
The desperate fight for freedom goes on, but there are fearsome and unpredictable struggles ahead
The Arab world is in the midst of a tumultuous weekend as the convulsions set in train last December by the suicide of a despairing fruit-seller accelerate into the unknown. Today, in Libya, as details are still quibbled over of how Muammar Gaddafi met his death, the new government will announce the liberation of the entire country, and the flag of rebellion will become the standard of state. In Tunisia, historic elections will be held – whatever the outcome, it is a remarkable memorial to poor Mohamed Bouazizi who set fire to himself in that obscure market just ten months ago.
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Moves towards a more representative government are also imminent in Jordan and Morocco. And, yesterday, by the shores of the Dead Sea, more than 50 countries, including the US, met at a World Economic Forum gathering to discuss economic change and job creation across the Arab world. Jordan's King Abdullah said 85,000 jobs must be created; he also urged Israel and the Palestinians to use spring as the inspiration to restart peace talks.
Elsewhere, violence, obstruction, sectarianism and a stalling of progress are causes for concern. In Syria, where more than 3,000 are estimated to have died since protests against the Assad regime began in March, there were a reported two dozen more killings on Friday, and no indication that the death of another dictator had given pause for thought. In Yemen, the most chaotic state of the region and home to the most venomous branch of al-Qa'ida, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has so far declined to reply to Friday's UN Security Council resolution calling on him to go.
In Egypt, there are growing worries both inside and outside the country at the lack of free expression and economic opportunity under the military rulers.
Even in Saudi Arabia, the weekend brought unease, as the death of the heir to the throne was announced. His likely successor is Prince Nayef, head of the internal security forces, 77 years old, and a conservative even by Saudi standards. The world's top oil exporter will now rely on an untested system of succession set up by King Abdullah in 2006. A Saudi political analyst, Turad al-Amri, said: "The stability of Saudi Arabia is more important than ever. All the countries around it are crumbling. The balance of power is changing in the Middle East."
The genie of change is not going back inside the bottle.
Today, National Liberation Day will be declared in Benghazi, rather than the capital, Tripoli. Many of the National Transitional Council's members, especially the more religious ones, have stayed in Benghazi. On this happy day, then, there is friction between the leadership of the two cities.
Elections are meant to take place within eight months for an assembly to draw up a constitution. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held a year after that. One downbeat note: the acting prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, who was expected officially to step down yesterday evening, said that, under Colonel Gaddafi, Libya had used 62 per cent of its oil resources.
Elections for parliament are due to start on 28 November, for a staggered vote over four months for the upper and lower houses – the first multi-candidate vote since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled after 30 years in power. Yesterday, the closing date for parties to register for election was pushed back for a second time, after some politicians asked for more time to make their applications. Registration has been slow so far, seemingly because coalitions have broken down at the last minute and some parties have had trouble raising funds.
On the economic front, European governments are increasingly concerned that enthusiasm for democracy could dissipate if the economy fails to improve – opening the way for Islamification. International concerns over Egypt will be aired in December at a meeting in Lithuania of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Meanwhile, a prominent Egyptian political talk-show host, Yosri Fouda, has suspended his programme indefinitely to protest at what he said were efforts by the country's military rulers to stifle free expression. The council of generals have frozen new licences for private satellite TV stations and are moving against broadcasters they say are inciting violence or are violating their station's mandate.
President Bashar Assad's security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least 24 people nationwide on Friday, according to activists.
The UN estimates the Syrian crackdown has resulted in the deaths of some 3,000 people since March. Syria's mass demonstrations, meanwhile, have shaken one of the region's most authoritarian regimes, but the opposition has made no major gains in recent months, holds no territory, and has no clear leadership. The regime has sealed off the country, making it difficult to verify events.
Islamic militants have seized control of several cities and towns, raising US fears that militants may establish a firmer foothold in the country, which is close to vast oil fields and overlooks key shipping routes. Late on Friday, the UN Security Council called for President Saleh to accept a deal to step down in favour of his deputy. He has clung to power, despite massive protests that have seen around 500 killed, the defection to the opposition of key tribal and military allies, and mounting international pressure.
A parliamentary poll brought forward from September 2012 will be held next month, and a liberal-led coalition of eight political parties is confident of winning. In March, King Mohammed was swift to promise constitutional changes after protests inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt spread to Morocco. Under reforms approved in a July referendum, King Mohammed will hand over some powers to elected officials, but will retain a decisive say on strategic decisions. The government formed after the election will draft laws enshrining a new constitution.
Jordan's new Prime Minister, Awn Khasawneh, was asked by King Abdullah last week to form a government to succeed the outgoing conservative former general, Marouf Bakhit. Mr Khasawneh, a judge at the International Court of Justice, said he hoped to include opposition Islamists in the government for the first time in two decades, as he sought to form a broad-based cabinet and ease months of street tensions.
The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, an international commission investigating months of alleged abuses during Shia-led protests, was due to report today, but this will now not happen until 23 November. At least 35 people have been killed since February, when Bahrain's Shia majority began demanding greater rights in the tiny but strategically important Gulf nation that is the home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet. The panel has received more than 8,000 complaints, testimonies and documents, and interviewed more than 5,000 witnesses and alleged victims of the unrest, including detainees, police personnel, doctors and journalists. Bahrain imposed martial law in March and invited 1,500 troops from neighbouring states to help quell dissent.
IoS ahead of the rest: More coverage, more readers
Since the uprising in Tunisia began, The Independent on Sunday has devoted more space – and more front pages – to the Arab Spring, reporting and analysing it, than any of our competitors. We were the first to anticipate the dangers for Colonel Gaddafi, and the first newspaper to ask the question on its front page: What now for Libya's dictator? That was back in February, before David Cameron called for international intervention.
Perhaps that's one reason only one quality Sunday newspaper is showing a rise in full-price sales year on year, as the market shows a double-digit fall – The Independent on Sunday, of course, the best-value Sunday quality newspaper there is.
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