The NightWatch for 15 Nov 2012 has information on Syria, Jordan, and Mali that interested me.
The Syrian government’s legitimacy is declining. France started the ball rolling and now Turkey has recognized the opposition as the country’s legitimate government. The French have a history in the region of derailing conflict through clever diplomacy, engaging the U.S. and defusing tension. Turkey has a refugee problem and accidental cross border artillery strikes have escalated their responses. The downfall of Assad has been inevitable for a while, but this troubles Iran, who see the Alawite Syrian minority as natural allies. The Russians’ only Mediterranean naval base is in Tartus and its loss would bottleneck them behind the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles
Jordan has been quietly skidding towards trouble for a while. I hear stories of pay cuts and a stock exchange where valuations and volume both cratered a year ago and have not recovered. Lacking any oil of their own, fuel subsidy cuts triggered economic protests, which the police foolishly chose to recast as challenges to authority. Roughly 50% of the population of five million are counted as Palestinian, which leads to some curious Google results for the country name.
Mali is a disaster in the making. The country split into north and south roughly along the natural divide of the Niger river. The Taureg people of the north have long sought an independent state, a move that is deeply unpopular with neighboring countries, all of whom have their own restive Taureg minorities. The native Ansar Dine (defenders of faith) are said to have been partially hijacked by al Queda in the Islamic Maghreb, but this is based on a handful of kinship connections between leaders in the two groups.
Various western sources have described the Toureg’s desire to create the state of Azawad as a path to the next Somalia or Afghanistan. This is an incorrect assessment – north Mali is the middle of nowhere, not the busy coast of the Horn of Africa, and they don’t have mountains for hiding both fighters and opium poppy fields. Large groups of fighters moving in the flats of the Toumbouctou province have been easy prey for Mauritanian helicopter gunships.
As a rule, information on Mali is sketchy and conflicting. Even the well connected locals I know who live in the capital of Djenne are puzzled by what is happening in the north and what the changes mean for the south.