Saturday, 9 June 2012


It is very early to arrive at any conclusions about the legacy of Arab Spring, given that the uprising is still unfolding in countries like Syria, and the ongoing sociopolitical dialectic in other countries like Egypt and Libya remains fluid. Although it seems obvious that Arab Spring may have had the seeds for greater freedom, democratic institutions, and social justice, it is not so certain the degree to which those seeds will blossom into anything that different from the authoritarian regimes overthrown. Moreover, let us consider that Western analysts looking at Arab Spring see it from the prism of a market-dominated political economy and NATO-centered perspective, thus terms such as freedom and democracy mean one thing to a New York Times journalist, invariably influenced by US-Israeli interests, and entirely another to a Muslim in North Africa/Middle East.

Arab Spring in 2011 swept across Northern Africa and managed to bring regime change in a number of countries, including Libya, but what kind of change; greater secularization, greater adherence to Islam, greater cooperation with the West, more tilt toward an Iranian-style Islamic regime? The question is whether the Libyan 'uprising' has led to any meaningful reforms to the benefit of the majority of the people belonging to diverse tribes as they define their interests; whether the end of the 40-year dictatorship of colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi has resulted in a more democratic and socially just society as they define it; whether indeed this was a homegrown revolution or merely a case of Western military intervention carried out with the help of al-Qaeda and other rebels whose agenda converged with that of the US and its NATO partners. Did Arab Spring in Libya really mean anything for the improvement in the lives of the people, or was the end result one form of tyranny replacing another? Will Libya become more dependent on the West, thus enjoying less freedom and democracy and much less economic and social justice?

On 17 February 2011, the 'revolt' erupted in Libya, and only ten days later the National Transitional Council was established, which France became the first nation to recognize as legitimate on 10 March 2011, followed by the Western-imposed no-fly zone on 19 March 2011. From March to October 2011, NATO operations in Libya helped to bring the end of Qaddafi, but not the end of turmoil, bloodshed any more than the formation of a democratic regime or social and economic justice. This remarkably rapid course of events - a matter of months for the Libyan revolt to be manufactured with Western help and carried out by Libyan dissidents  - does not appear nearly as spontaneous in retrospect as it did while it was unfolding, especially now that there are numerous reports that a number of Western governments had been working covertly inside Libya to bring down the Qaddafi dictatorship before Arab Spring.

There are many reports indicating that US, French and British intelligence were working with Libyan rebels as early as October 2010 to overthrow Qaddafi, apparently at the same time that al-Qaeda was just as anxious to have Qaddafi removed from power. It is also known that colonel Qaddafi had secret dealings with many western governments from which Libya was purchasing weapons, including the US. The curious secret dealings notwithstanding, the question is why did the US, UK, and France believe it would be best to remove Qaddafi in order to secure greater integration of Libya with the West?  And now that there is no Qaddafi dictatorship, and Libya has been moving toward greater integration with the West under more favorable terms for multinational corporations, has Libya achieved social peace and harmony?

On 9 June 2012, the minority Toubou tribe clashed with government forces in the south, just days after the government in Tripoli had announced that it was firmly in control of the country. The UN has reported ongoing tribal clashes in the south and failure of the government to contain deadly violence. A number of organizations have reported that militia groups that helped bring down the Qaddafi regime have been working in the framework of 'War Lordism' , carrying out executions, torture of prisoners, kidnappings, etc.  Many disparate groups, in this otherwise tribally-divided land, have engaged in protests against the new regime. From Benghazi, the eastern city where the Western-backed rebel movement started to Tripoli where the nine-month revolt ended, popular protests have been seeking transparency from the transitional government that is very weak and unable to unify the country in the manner it had been in the last four decades.

One issue of concern was a draft election law regarding the selection of the 200-member constituent assembly, a process carried out dictatorially without any oversight of consultation, and a law that encouraged Libyans to vote for wealthy and prominent citizens along tribal boundaries. Another issue is the lawlessness, chaotic justice system, and human rights violations that are part of post-Qaddafi society. The interim government acknowledges the chaos and corruption that prevails, but accuses former Qaddafi loyalists for the problems. Libyan legal experts have expressed concern about hundreds of millions and perhaps billions of dollars 'mysteriously missing', while government officials complain that 'there is no money' to deal with all of the problems.

To find closure for both Libyan rebels and the West that was behind the manufactured revolution/military intervention that ended the Qaddafi dictatorship, there is the possible trial of the colonel's son Saif Qaddafi by the ICC. As heir to the colonel, however, Saif probably knows about his father's dirty dealings with former EU leaders like Tony Balir, Nikola Sarkozy, and Silvio Berlusconi. He also knows about dirty dealing of giant energy companies, and above all, he may reveal how the US used Libya in the case of Muslim political prisoners that were tortured and denied due process. The ICC trial may reveal a laundry list of dirty secrets that could expose a number of Western governments as hypocritical, given their extensive dealings with Qaddafi whom they overthrew. Beyond the legitimate merits of the case against Saif about crimes against humanity, beyond the debate about whether the Libyan uprising was in reality a NATO military operation, there is the issue of how the ICC can justify crimes against humanity committed by NATO forces in Afghanistan and by the US in Iraq.

Ultimately, the larger issue in Libya is society's function today and its prospects for the future. Is Libya a society with relative functioning institutions, sociopolitical harmony and stability, and prospects for evolving into a more progressive society, or is it worse off today than it was under colonel Qaddafi and the prospects for the country much worse off, given that Western governments have been waiting in the wings for Qaddafi to fall so they can exploit Lybia's energy resources?

On a number of occasions, I have written that the Arab Spring uprisings were necessary to remove corrupt and oppressive dictatorships. However, their removal will not alter the Islamic nations into oasis of freedom, democracy and social justice, and it seems that the reason for popular uprisings is to put an end to hopelessness and to start a new era of progress filled with optimism. While the jury is still out on hope and optimism for Libya, there are lessons to be learned here for Syria where Russia and China have not permitted Western intervention, owing to the delicate regional balance of power. The case of Libya demonstrated that Western military intervention was rewarded, but were the broad masses of the population? The Arab Spring legacy of Libya so far is that a dictatorship fell only to be replaced with a weak and relatively incompetent and corrupt regime whose fate rests in greater dependence on the West, thus less national sovereignty, freedom, democracy and social justice for the people of Libya. 


Anonymous said...

A statement made by his Excellency Obaid Humaid Al-Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs on behalf of Libya at the IMF Committee meeting April 2012
claimed that a pillar of the institution is surveillance.

This is in direct correlation to international vs isolation policies.

Hard line leaders familiar with the entire region, who in the past have implemented Sharia Law in opposition to some popular votes, appear to have supported an international agenda and were forgiven billions of dollars in debt by the IMF; however, some hard liners have also been tied to Justice and Equality movements.

Toubou Muslims had once claimed injustices (within the framework of an institutional formula of the IMF) and had stemmed from being denied medical and educational opportunities by Gadhafi.

In March 2012 emphasizing their desire for international intervention if this would curtail what they perceived as "ethnic" cleansing, an otherwise nationalist leader is calling for the very international frameworking that denied them in the past to help them in the present.

So the question on whether, "the broad masses of population" is or has been rewarded under a military regime is not the actual issue at hand where the Toubous represent just one example while so many exist.

The question might better be defined by asking whether civil liberty as a value system can exist in a framework of institutions surveilled on an international level by those who would reward leaders that have implemented Sharia law by IMF debt forgiveness.

For the Toubou to believe that by asking for international intervention in order to assist them in stopping injustice, is like the Oglala Sioux asking for more blankets during a long cold winter.

Anonymous said...

The Group of 77 and China of which H.E. Al Tayer added his voice at the UN 2009 are not Western.

Professor of Economics, Finance and Politics said...

Still though, the correlated movements of the Arab Spring, if the West certainly encouraged that in some general sense, wouldn't have happened without a lot of correlated domestic unhappiness, mainly because in all these cases, the regimes are long in the tooth, and had a fundamental sucession issue that de-legitimized them. One could like Gemal, Saif, and Bashar, but they're too much creatures of the past to really work in the long run, which is why Saif is in prison and Gemal isn't going anywhere in politics, and Bashar will be lucky to live in a villa in France, if he's smart.
But, if you help overturn a government, true in Mubarak's case really as to pulling support publicly, then you can't just waive hands either as to the aftermath. Maybe this will end in an Islamist deluge. That's also a risk that was already there in all these cases, because of the weakness of Western ideals and ideas, although among the young, not so much, which one can see in the Egyptian case most especially. Since demonstration effects have been important in all this, maybe that's the place to start as to trying to lever between the military and the Islamists enough space so we won't regret this in a year. Personally, although it won't win popularity contests, it seems kind of obvious that it would help if a huge amount of pressure was laid on Abbas, and not a small amount on Netanyahu, to do a deal, so that any domestic disillusionment that is as inevitable as the Who song "Won't get fooled again," doesn't become externalized. Then we would most definitely wish none of this happened, although could we really have just had Mubarak shoot everyone in Tahrir Square, as to the "spilled milk" aspect of all this?