ByÂ Henry MeyerÂ -Bloomberg
Bombs and tear gas are threatening to smother the â€œArab Springâ€ that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and promised to spread democracy in the Middle East.
Already fighting two wars inÂ Muslim countries, the reluctance of the U.S. and Europe to engage in a third enabledÂ Muammar Qaddafi to turn the tide against Libyan rebels. InÂ Bahrain, security forces today used tear gas to drive protesters from their main rallying point in the capital Manama, two days after Saudi Arabia sent troops to bolster the ruling family.
â€œWhen the guns are all on one side and being used, that side has a distinct advantage,â€ saidÂ Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York political-risk consulting firm. â€œWhat weâ€™re seeing now is the first really hard pushback from status quo forces since this yearâ€™s unrest in the Middle East began.â€
The crackdown are tempering optimism about an â€œArab Springâ€ spreading through a region that holds more than 60 percent of the worldâ€™s known oil reserves. While protests have toppled the regimes ofÂ Tunisiaâ€™s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptâ€™s Hosni Mubarak in the past two months, the westâ€™s reluctance to take action is emboldening other authoritarian regimes to resist the push for more democracy.
Oil prices surged to a 2 Â½ year high on March 7 as protests sweeping the Arab world turned bloody. Refusing to give into to the popular momentum that toppled Mubarak and Ben Ali, Qaddafi instead turned his guns on his own people. Just 10 days after his capital was surrounded by opposition forces, his troops are now 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Benghazi and more than 400 people have been killed in the eastern part of the country.
â€œIf we had used military force last week to neutralize a number of air strips and a few dozen of their planes, perhaps the oppositionâ€™s reversal of fortune wouldnâ€™t have happened,â€ French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said yesterday.
Divisions between the U.S. and its European allies have enabled the Libyan leader to avert the most serious challenge to his regime, said Shada Islam, a Middle East and Asia expert at the Brussels-based Friends ofÂ Europe policy advisory group.
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