The wave of demands for democracy in the Arab world is not a single-country phenomenon; nor is the effort to suppress it. Consequently, both the Arab League's call for a Libyan no-fly zone and the Saudi troops entering Bahrain show that strict observation of national sovereignty in the region is no longer in force. The two are related: The imposition of martial law and the anti-democratic Saudi intervention in Bahrain undermine the objections to a pro-democratic intervention in the skies over Libya.
The Arab League has now asked the United Nations Security Council for a no-fly zone over Libya. That makes it hard to argue that interventions to restrain Moammar Gadhafi's repression of the opposition would constitute a revival of Western imperialism. There are reports that a few of the league's members were reluctant; indeed, Algeria is said to be actively assisting Colonel Gadhafi, but at the league's meeting in Cairo on Saturday joined the consensus. If Algeria is indeed involved in Libya, that further confirms that the conflict already has an international aspect.
In Bahrain, the precise motive for the presence of the Saudi force, under the auspices of the Gulf Co-operation Council (previously known primarily as an economic association of Gulf states), is not clear. It may be there to repress the largely Shiite demonstrators or to secure the position of the Al-Khalifa family's monarchy. More likely, the Saudi government is worried about the effect of a possible democratic revolution in Bahrain on the Shiite minority concentrated in an adjoining region of Saudi Arabia - and indeed Iran and Hezbollah are stirring up Shiite emotions.
The Security Council is deliberating over the Libyan no-fly zone being proposed by Britain, Lebanon and France. Russia now appears less unequivocally opposed than last week, but still may veto the resolution. If action is not taken soon, the Arab democratic movement of 2011 may start to look like the mostly ineffectual democratic revolution in Europe in 1848. Col. Gadhafi's forces are pressing eastward. It would be tragic if Libya has to wait another generation before enjoying democracy.
The Saudi intervention in Bahrain is an unwelcome development, while a no-fly-zone intervention in the Libyan civil war has become all the more desirable with the current turn toward repression of democracy in the Middle East.