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Local Experts Analyze Calamitous News Coming From Middle East And North Africa

Local Experts Analyze Calamitous News Coming From Middle East And North Africa
Local experts discuss the latest news coming out of the Middle East and North Africa.

As rebellion continues to roll through the Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East, the differences in these similar struggles are becoming more apparent.

The most significant case in point is Libya, where an extraordinary U.N.-sanctioned intervention is underway to prevent Colonel Moammar Ghadaffi from violently suppressing revolt among his people. Meanwhile, a dangerous and confusing rebellion is unfolding in Yemen, which may lead to a split in that nation's military. And popular protests have begun in Southern Syria.



Mounah Abdel-Samad, Ph.D., is assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy and Director of the Institute of Public and Urban Affairs at the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University.

Avi Spiegel, Ph.D. is assistant professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.

Abdul El-Arbi, is a Libyan American living in San Diego

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As the rebellion continues to roll through the Arab nations of North Africa and the Middle East the differences and the similar struggles are becoming more apparent. The most significant case in point is in Libya where an extraordinary UN sanctioned intervention is underway to prevent Col. Moammar Qaddafi from violently suppressing revolt among his people. (Inaudible) while a dangerous situation is unfolding in Yemen which may lead to a split in the nation's military and protests have begun in southern Syria. Joining us with an overview of these complex events are my guests, Dr. Mounah Abdel Samad is assistant professor of public administration and policy and the director of the institution of public affairs at the school of public affairs at San Diego State University. Welcome back.

MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: You're welcome, thank you.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Dr. Avi Spiegel is a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego. May I call you Avi?


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you and welcome to These Days.

AVI SPIEGEL: It's great to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to start by asking you both does the intervention in Libya as it has been so far to explain make sense to you let me start with you I'll see if I may.

AVI SPIEGEL: It does make sense to me at one level and it has become to assume an important and symbolic role in how the revolution spreading across the Middle East and that is in 2011 we were averaging one deposed authoritarian leader, al-Abidini in Tunisia in January and in February Mubarak in Egypt as soon as Qaddafi basically began declaring war on his people the revolutions came to a screeching halt. So if we care about revolutions and if we care about freedom marching through the Middle East than Qaddafi needed to be stopped and the revolutions need to continue because the problem is the mission message being sent to autocrats after Qaddafi is you know what if we kill enough of our people and we declare war on our people than you know what maybe we can stay in power.


MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: I agree but me on my part and (inaudible) little bit further think that the image of the US in the Arab world has not been very good and we know from the war in Iraq and other wars and we always have been supporting dictators. Now we have switched and they started we have seen this really in Egypt we have seen it also in Libya said this intervention a UN intervention provided us with an opportunity to really change the image that people have of us. I was looking at Al Jazeera and Al Arabi at the Internet sites that talk about all this no one is criticizing the US for the intervention of the UN. On the contrary some people are happy thing that we have intervened because at this point we are standing for our real values which is democracy, which is freedom, which is liberty, which is all of these that could really empower us and I think the shift that is going to take place at its good because you see it in Yemen and in Syria will really be beneficial for the US in the long run because currently we can easily support dictators and benefit for the short-term but our image will be extremely bad. If we support democracy we might have to compromise our policies a little bit but in the long run we are supporters of democracy, so even I would even argue a little bit here that we can undermine Al Qaeda and other basically extremist groups by saying we are supporting democracy, not supporting dictators that are killing their people. So this intervention is really critical and I think the key element here is not to be afraid that this will be another Iraq or the fear of all of this in the media is really attacking it because they think it will be another Iraq and we have a duty to question the war. Let's give it some time there are a lot of unknowns that we still need to know in the process but let's give it some time and let's see what is going to unfold.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I know that yes the media has been somewhat harsh about this intervention and because there are so many questions involved in it, though one of the things that I've heard raised, obvious the idea that a no-fly zone will not be enough, that what we have for opposing a rather strong Bolivian army is a ramshackle rebel group that really have not been militarily trained at all and so there's going to have to be some strategic intervention if the rebels are actually going to be able to succeed.

AVI SPIEGEL: That's right. There are a number of questions raised by this intervention. The first is we need to set our goals and our expectations. The president seemed at first to say that Qaddafi must go but it's not clear to many people the level and the extreme US is willing to go to ensure that the goal is met. Yesterday the White House seemed to suggest that our goal is to install a democratic system in Libya. If that is the case that's going to take much more than simply Qaddafi going. That's going to take many years and a lot of hard work establishing institutions and civil society in Libya and unlike Tunisia and Egypt there is really no civil society and political parties in Libya. So we see how hard it is already in Tunisia and Egypt, it will be a lot harder in Libya.


MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: If Libya is moving toward a democracy we are going to see a lot of changes. I would argue that tribes will start to play a bigger role. I would argue that it will create some sort of representative institution that that will help them, but in a way when we say we are going to protect citizens or civilians it means that we are going to bomb Qaddafi's forces and I think here is the problem is that the United Nations was not very clear in what they want to do, or the implementation. Let's seem say they gave a basically an order of intervention but we don't know how the implementation will take place and here this is the key element, are we going to bomb Qaddafi, are we going to send in troops, and I think the United States and other countries are really reluctant to send troops there. So it is up to the rebels to see what will unfold in if they will gain momentum because Qaddafi's forces for example is military depends a lot on mercenaries and at the end of the day the mercenaries find himself facing a huge power like the UN or these countries combined they might think twice about sticking with Qaddafi and maybe then his political and military support will start to crumble and then we might be seeing something changing in Libya.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I would like to welcome a new guest to our conversation here and on the line with us is Abdul El-Arbi, a Libyan American and he has been commenting on what's been going on in Libya and Abdul welcome to These Days.

ABDUL EL-ARBI: Good morning, ma'am.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you've seen the television pictures coming across this weekend of the tracer fire and you've been hearing the reports. How does this all strike you?

ABDUL EL-ARBI: Well if you look at the strike that the coalition is doing right now, all Libyans, Libyans with all sorts of Libyans, whether the opposition in Libya or Libyans living abroad in the US or in Europe, they all agree, they'll welcome the intervention of the US and NATO. To do what they are doing right now. We really critically need this to disable this dictators power, air strike power in the other power that he still has on the land. Tanks, heavy artillery need to be disabled. The Libyan opposition or the revolution can but with the dictator as a military power, they have very modest compared, they don't have that much money compared to end this dictator is just killing right now civilians. He is using them as you know, a human shield in his war against the rebels. For the revolution. But he uses them as if he would have the strike that when he killed the Libyans himself, he showed them as the Allies killed those in their race.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Abdul, excuse me. I know that you've been listening closely to some of the speeches that Col. Qaddafi has been making and I know that they have been particularly outrageous to you.

ABDUL EL-ARBI: Yes it is. This man is mad right now. This man is very dangerous, becoming more dangerous than ever. He could use any means to destroy the whole country. If he has a mass distraction weapon he could use it. I mean, he is unpredictable. Qaddafi is unpredictable, can do anything.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me get some reaction about the headlines from Bolivia they seem to overshadow some of the other protests, other developments going on in the region I wonder the knife you could tell us about the protests in Yemen because they are taking on a very dramatic term.

MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: Yemen has been always overshadowed by the different things that were happening from Egypt to Libya. But now there is a big defection in the Army Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to change the general and there was a reaction and a revolution. And some people are expecting that Ali Abdullah Saleh could be out in 48 hours and that's Robert Fisk who has written about the Middle East and writes a lot for the Independent. In Yemen we are seeing an escalation of demonstration and more concentration of power within the opposition. So we might be seeing Ali Abdullah Saleh, knowing he has said that I will leave in a year I believe in six months but the opposition is standing firm saying that you have to leave now. So it will be a very interesting thing was going to happen because Yemen is also a very, it is a society that is composed of a lot of elements. It's a very diverse society ranging from the south to the north that's very tribal to the extreme north but they are also different in terms of their sects. They are between Sunni and Shia; they call themselves in between those two sects and so there is a number of complicated factors coming into play. There is a possibility of two Yemens but however it seemed more of a unified Yemen where people are more represented because the south, with unification they are going to a portion of the government they were going to be a real partner in governing the country but Ali Abdullah Saleh push them out so we might see all of the Southern movement coming back to power with a number of tribes from the tribes from the North Caucasus a possibility there's also the possibility that Ali Abdullah Saleh will choose to use violence in order to suppress his own people, but Yemen is different than Libya because tribes have weapons. The society in Yemen is militarized so that Saleh may find himself in the corner if he uses his power.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And... your contention was this about face in Libya in some way empowers or emboldens other Arab nations to protest and are we seeing some of the also in southern Syria?

AVI SPIEGEL: We are. What's fascinating about that, as soon as the UN intervention began in Libya we saw a new round of uprisings notably in Yemen and now in Syria which more than a year ago would have been on the couple. The SR family has incredibly tight control over the population and we are seeing some small signs of tribal revolt in Syria and people speaking out that the reshaped how legalized Facebook for the fist time a few weeks ago which of course was ridiculous because young people using proxies to access Facebook has been my contention from the very beginning in January that the most vulnerable regimes in the region where the presidential republics and that is as opposed to the monarchies and (inaudible), president al-Abidine and Mubarak, then you are left with Algeria and Yemen and Syria and so my contention that those are the ones that are most vulnerable and actually the monarchies would not fall but more likely fade away, so you are seeing that in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan. So is my feeling that Syria and Yemen, those are the countries to watch in the next few weeks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a risk to the west of this intervention? Because it is mostly US and Western European nations that are taking part in this intervention in Libya

AVI SPIEGEL: Yes. however I believe strongly that the intervention in Libya and situation in Libya is extremely different from the situations elsewhere. Here's why, in Tunisia and Egypt for example it made a lot more sense for the US and Western powers to take a backseat to say listen, these are homegrown youth led revolutions and let the revolutions take their course we don't want to take them by putting a US imprint on them. However these people were allowed to protest, they were given relative freedom to protest. In Libya they had no such freedom. They were not being allowed to protest they were being killed. Col. Qaddafi said he will go door to door he will murder his people he will do whatever he can do to make sure that he stays in power and in those conditions under the specter of impending massacre that was a different situation and it makes sense in Libya while it might not make sense in other places.

MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: I think we are seeing the revolution starting all over the Middle East and it's kind of an interesting thing was happening because in Syria it started in a funeral and it grew, so now it is in... which is southern Syria and will be interesting to see if it starts going other places. I would expect something like... which is to be bastards at one point of movement at that point it was Islamic movement, but I think that the Syrian memory is, Syrians are a little bit afraid because when the movement, Islamic movement against father (inaudible) took place he basically murdered everyone. It was like a massacre of people say numbers between 25,000 50,000. So people are afraid of that but I think the intervention in Libya is sending a message that we are not going to allow dictators to really mass kill their citizens, so that is emboldening people. It's not the only reason. There are a lot of factors at play in there are a lot of factors that will come shape the future of this revolution and I would even argue that the resolutions are just the beginning. The next steps are the hard steps and we can see that in Egypt. There is a revolution that took place, now we are seeing demonstration by different parts of the society. We are seeing basically the government to solving what they had national security apparatus because of his involvement in torture and all of that. So we are looking now at rebuilding states in one form or another and that is a huge endeavor. These countries are going to be engaged in. And that is something that will determine the success of these countries and we should really watch them closely and see if they need our help if they ask for it and be careful how we intervene here in these countries.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to go back to our guest... and he sounded very positive and very supportive of this intervention against Libya. Against Col. Qaddafi. And I'm wondering however, it must be very difficult honor family members who are back in Tripoli. Tell us about how they are coping.

ABDUL EL-ARBI: Well I called my family every day but they are very scared to speak over the phone because they have been bound and watch about what they say. I mean right now all of the Tripoli, that lived in Tripoli they are, they are taken as hostage by Qaddafi. I mean, they cannot, they leave their homes for necessities only. And they come back and the children don't go to school, they don't go to work, they don't go to anything but stale because they are afraid. Qaddafi starts snatching some of the youth or the young men from their own homes and takes them as human shields or they disappear either in prison or being killed and nobody knows where they have been taken. So while the Libyans in Tripoli right now they don't have any weapons first to defend themselves. When they get the chance to erupt vacated when the Allies started bombing Qaddafi's installations, military installations, they came out, the youth and young men and they just faced the bullets of Qaddafi security squads, and military. So they are back home, they cannot do anything. They are waiting. What is the result, what is going to come out from that it used it to liberate them or help them. Has Qaddafi mentioned as he's like he's going to give weapons to all the people of Libya. He's lying about this. He's getting weapons only to his cronies, to his supporters but not getting to the Tripoli and the Libyans in Tripoli because he knows they will erupt against him and use weapons against them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Abdul let me broaden the question little bit and ask you to, how are people who have cultural heritage from this region, this broad region of North Africa and the Middle East and they're living here in San Diego, what are you hearing from them? Is there trepidation? Is there excitement, how are people reacting?

ABDUL EL-ARBI: You have different people perceiving different things. Some people perceiving the US intervention is another intervention like Iraqi ambition of the intervening. Other people see it as a positive intervention. Basically our intervene to stop a dictator. And this is the trickier. Some people will say yes intervene, some people would say no don't intervene. The key most important element here is the Libyan people in the Libya people seem to be welcoming the intervention because they know the intervention is stopping Qaddafi from killing them and that becomes an essential element and the most important element in my opinion. So other people can think differently but the most important are the Libyan people. If they are surviving, that is the endgame. That is what we want. So that's where intervention is really an important intervention in protecting at least if we just protect the civilians that is an important thing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Really quickly, Mounah, do you feel that this intervention will help without ground forces?

MOUNAH ABDEL SAMAD: It's really hard to say yes or no. I think the best hope is that Qaddafi's military and political support will disintegrate and then he will find himself obliged to leave and then we can have a good transition in that case. Otherwise we might come I think there are several steps before getting to military troops on the ground because one of the things that could happen is that different countries could start arming the rebels and really provide them with military support. And that could make it different. And we have the possibility for that. We control the sea, we control Egypt is close to it, so the border is open. All of these are possibilities before we get to the option of sending troops on the ground.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Avi Spiegel, you know San Diego is a long long way from this area of the world and sometimes it's a little difficult to make any sense out of it. From our vantage point what is important for we here in San Diego to understand about what we are hearing about the uprisings in the interventions going on in that region of the world?

AVI SPIEGEL: I would say three things. First of all a think everyone needs to be cautious and clear when we begin talking about military interventions in military operations especially in the Middle East. US is involved in combat operations in three countries have, whether in the Middle East or Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan still need to be cautious and be clear and we need to be concerned about the long-term. We talk about whether the intervention will work we still don't know exactly what that means. Does that mean getting rid of Qaddafi does that mean installing democracy? And we still don't know really who the rebels are and who would come after coffee so those are questions to be concerned about. The second thing I think people should be concerned about is if we care about freedom if we care about democracy if we care about people whether in Tiananmen Square or Tripoli or Cairo if we care about people being allowed to protest peacefully then we should care about what's going on and thirdly I think in Libya we are seeing out of all the countries in the Middle East and unmatched humanitarian disaster that is people being killed and murdered so if you care about that than you care about what's going on and one of the concerns I hear from students and colleagues is there are humanitarian disasters everywhere there were leaders with blood on their hands everywhere why should we intervene in Libya. Once we start in Libya aren't we never going to be able to stop. There are people everywhere that have blood on their hands however I believe that that argument in the end isn't really that compelling and that is because there is a need in Libya, and we have UN call, we have the Arab League, rebels and maybe asking for help or just because we can't help everywhere doesn't mean we shouldn't help someone and firefighters for example face this challenge every day. If there are people burning in danger in a fire cannot say okay we can say is everyone so we could save everyone. They make decisions and calculations in her head, do we help the people on the top floor do we help women, children these are calculations that make it now what foreign policy is about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to wrap it up. I want to thank all three of you for joining us so much. Abdul, thank you so much, Dr. Avi Spiegel, thank you and Mounah Abdel Samad, thank you so much for joining us again. If you would like to comment please go online to Days.