The Arab Revolutions Continue, its Just not Mostly on American TV

Friday is a traditional day of protest in the Arab world, and yesterday did not disappoint. In addition, there were some important developments in the two post-revolutionary societies of Egypt and Tunisia.

1. Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in a number of Syrian cities on Friday, including in Idlib province and in the capital The regime continued to rain mortar fire onto some districts of the rebellious cit of Homs. Meanwhile, the European Union applied sanctions to first lady Asma al-Assad, now seen as a Marie Antoinette figure after her private emails on shopping were hacked and released.

2. Thousands of Yemenis protested Friday against the continued influence of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh is said to work through his party’s cabinet ministers. He also continues to have support in the officer corps, where one of the generals is his son. Saleh had been president for life before last year. In February, his vice president ran unopposed and was elected president. But Saleh can’t let go, provoking Friday’s big demonstrations.

3. Police in the island nation of Bahrain used tear gas and riot gear to break up a demonstration near the capital of Manama.

4. NYT says that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose Justice and Development Party dominates the new parliament, is intent on lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip. The article alleges that the Brotherhood is trying to broker a national unity government between fundamentalist Hamas and the secular Palestine Liberation Organization, in the belief that only a united front can bring about a meaningful two-state solution.

5. Tunisia’s large number of small secular and leftist parties are forming a big coalition to contest the next parliamentary elections. The Nahda or Renaissance Party, Tunisia’s fundamentalist movement, captured 42% of the seats in parliament last October and so elected the current prime minister. One problem the small leftist parties faced was that they had been allowed to function, if under severe restrictions, during the reign of dictator Zain al-Din Ben Ali. All the parties that did well in the elections had been in exile. The fractured character of the left allowed them to lose the elections decisively, even though they have a great deal of support among unions, students and urban populations.

6. On Libya, the glass can be seen as half full or half empty. Despite the raft of negative reporting on Libya, its security situation is generally just all right, and tour operators are reviving tourism, saying they’ve had “zero problems.” Security and administration are good enough that Libya’s oil exports are set to reach pre-revolution levels again in April, earlier than expected. This would not happen in a country that is a basket case (Iraq took years to accomplish this feat). There have been pressures for decentralization in the east, but moving from a highly centralized dictatorship to more of a federal system is only natural and parallels after all what happened in the early United States. No one is talking about breaking up the country. The third-largest city, Misrata, pulled off grassroots municipal elections, and several other cities have or will follow suit. Building democracy from the ground up is a good idea. There has been very little reporting on these electoral achievements in cities that had been ruled by idiosyncratic fiat for 40 years.

There have been serious human rights abuses, but on a small scale compared to those of Qaddafi, and most of the population feels liberated. This is not to minimize them; the human rights situation needs to improve if the revolution is to be honored. Attempts are being made to rebuild a national army, but it will take time; in the meantime, its social peace will be a bit fragile– but that is to be expected after a revolution. Libya is nowhere near the mess that France was after its revolution in 1789, and there is nothing like a Vendee or a Terror. There hasn’t been a civil war, though there are still a few pockets of insecurity. Those hoping for bad news really haven’t had all that much considering that the country had been left with no functioning institutions after decades of personalistic Qaddafi totalitarianism.

As for those who blame the recent military coup in Mali on the civil unrest in the north of that country caused by returning Tuareg mercenaries from Libya, surely the blame should be put on Muammar Qaddafi for forming a corps of lawless Tuareg mercenaries in the first place. Qaddafi promoted militias and mercenaries and civil strife all over Africa, and it is not unexpected that some of his minions will go on being troublesome after his death. It isn’t Free Libya’s fault except if you think 6.5 million Libyans should have preferred to live under brutal tyranny in order to keep foreign Tuareg mercenaries employed and happy. Moreover, there were other ways for Mali’s officer corps to deal with the Tuareg unrest than to make a coup; the military is taking advantage of the turmoil to take power, which is also not Libya’s fault. And, it is not as if the Libyan Revolution invented a Tuareg problem for Mali. There have been two major Tuareg rebellions before.

Some people can’t forgive Libya for revolting against Qaddafi, or for taking outside help to do so, and seem to seek some Schadenfreude in Libya’s post-revolution problems. But that isn’t social or political analysis, it is just point scoring and a sort of moralistic story-telling. People who are interested in the welfare of Libyans are pulling for them.

17 Responses

  1. The Tuareg situation is very interesting to me (and not because they’ve become a car somehow), as a history buff. I have a lot of inherent sympathy for the wild men of the world, what few there are, and the nomadic, stateless peoples who have been under such oppression from settled peoples and governments. I think there needs to be some provision made to respect the rights and lifestyles of such people, be they Tuaregs, Australian aborigines, Inuit, American Indians, Kurds, Baluchi nomads, Gypsies/Roma, Bushmen, and etc.

    The Tuareg remind me of the Highlanders of Scotland, historically. Seen as savages by the urbanized, settled, “civilized” folk whom they had traditionally been a thorn in the side to. Ruthlessly suppressed by the forces of modernity and “progress”.

    Ideally, the Tuareg would have an area of their traditional homeland in the Sahara to roam freely. They shouldn’t be imprisoned by artificial national borders and they do not really have anything in common culturally or historically with the other Malians. A lot of the troubles with the Tuareg result from the blinkered attempts of authorities to force them to abandon their lifestyles, as authority always seems to want to do to free people who won’t obey the Rules. There is a better way to approach this problem than forcing the Tuareg into militancy to defend what they see as a threat to their existence.

  2. Don’t forget Saudi Arabia.

    Mar 24, 2012
    (Ahlul Bayt News Agency) – Thousands of Saudi protesters have staged a fresh anti-government demonstration in the eastern city of Qatif despite a violent crackdown on protests in the oil-rich region.

    Mar 24, 2012
    Saudi Arabia says wanted Shiite, 3 security men wounded
    LONDON: A fugitive member of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Muslim minority and three members of a security patrol were wounded in a gunfight late Thursday, the Saudi Interior Ministry said Friday. The shooting in Awamiya follows repeated anti-government protests and clashes with security forces in the area, part of the Eastern Province’s Qatif district, over the past year.

    Mar 22, 2012
    As protests across the Middle East have gotten headlines – from Egypt to Yemen, Tunisia to Syria – unrest in Saudi Arabia, though on a much smaller scale, has attracted much less attention. That changed earlier this month, when dozens of students at King Khaled University in the south of the country were injured as they protested conditions at the school.

    Feb 22, 2012
    DUBAI — Shiite Muslim dignitaries in predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia denounced on Wednesday the use of violence by authorities in dealing with protests in the mostly Shiite east of the country. A statement signed by 41 people criticised using the “language of arms against peaceful demonstrations” and called for a “serious investigation” into the violence, which has killed seven people since November.

    Feb 12, 2012
    US Embassy Msg: Exercise Caution in the Eastern Province
    The U.S. Consulate General in Dhahran continues to advise U.S. citizens living in, or considering travel to, Qatif, Awamiya, Safwa and Saihat in the Eastern Province, to exercise caution and be aware of the potential for protests that sometimes result in violence. At least two persons have reportedly been killed and a number of others injured in the last several days following confrontations between demonstrators and government security forces in the city of Qatif.

  3. It is a bit amusing to see so many people who eagerly proclaim their adherence to fundamentally revolutionary doctrines – Marxism, anti-imperialism – act shocked, shocked! at the existence of revolutionary violence in a country in which a popular uprising deposed an oppressive dictator by force of arms.

    This is what “Power to the People” looks like when the People win, folks. This is a step in the process of overthrowing a dictatorship and replacing it with a democracy. If you don’t see any path from post-revolution anarchy and violence to a civil, functioning democracy – if you think that the existence of a post-revolutionary, pre-consolidation situation delegitimizes the uprising and its use of force – then you have no business proclaiming yourself to be a supporter of popular uprisings, or of any doctrine that embraces them.

    Under the TNC, the violence is not just less, but there is a path to ending it. Under Gadhaffi, violence and oppression at greater levels than this was the plan.

    • Astute observation, Joe. I find those armchair revolutionaries in the U.S. who call for an “overthrow” of the system especially amusing. Having never experienced a real revolution themselves (but having learned by heart the slogans and lingo from their reading of Marx and Che), their self-absorbed view of themselves in their call for “revolution” would do justice to a sophomore dorm room bull session. If they ever experienced a real revolution and its aftermath, they would be throwing up in the streets, that is if they survived.

  4. Excellent to read some proper perspective on Libya, and also a great comment from Joe above. Its has been dispiriting that so many on the left are so wedded to their hatred of everything the west touches that they have been all but wishing for chaos in the post conflict period. Theres a great article waiting to be written about the bizarre logic of blaming the problems of a post revolution society not on the dictator who plundered the country for decades, but on the mish mash group of rebels who bravely toppled him

    • I supported the intervention on behalf of the rebels. But I’m not that impressed by those who cheered on the rebels, but then have nothing to say about the ongoing crimes those rebels are committing. If you were a black man in libya, the rebels would assume you were a Qadaffi supporter, and you’d be in danger. Qaddafi is dead. The militias are responsible for the crimes they are committing.

      • Yes but who crippled the country, destroyed its middle class, and hollowed out its political institutions? These are the primary reasons for the difficulties that Libya finds itself in now, not any innate badness of the rebels. I am quite ready to condemn individual rebels or groups that carry out atrocities, but much as I would blame the conditions of poverty and deprivation for creating crime in developed countries, I would place the main responsibility for the state of these militias on the regime that brutalised them. As Juan says, considering the situation in many post revolution countries, and what Libya has been through, its amazing there hasn’t been worse instability since Gaddafi was toppled

  5. Wow. “Anti-imperialism” is now a “revolutionary doctrine?” I’m SHOCKED! and Marxism too! One has to wonder which of many definitions of those terms were in mind. In the same vein, one might wonder (if only the accounting could be honestly and accurately done) whether “imperialism” or “anti-imperialism,” both breathtakingly sweeping generalizations in their own right, produced more pain and corpses and damage to the planet.

    I guess I don’t read in the right places, where apparently Radic-Libs, maybe, commit the jejune hypocrisy charged to them here. T. Jefferson — wasn’t he some kind of Perpetual (slave-owning) Reolutionary? Thank G_d for Hamilton…

    One hopes with the Professor that the stuff that’s going on in several nations, surprisingly Arab and Muslim, of all things, mostly, is in fact a work in progress, on the way to Something Better. Not likely, if the powers that be have anything to say about it. The largely Imperial powers that be.

    • I guess I don’t read in the right places, where apparently Radic-Libs, maybe, commit the jejune hypocrisy charged to them here.

      You quite frequently read these comment threads, so the problem is not one of exposure, but of recognition.

  6. All really just about Oil business?
    Tony Blair agreement with Colonel Gaddafi “prisoner transfer” and a £15bn oil deal for BP.
    WikiLeaks Stratfor “The Libyans diddled the oil company for a couple of years”

  7. The only real problem in libya is that thousands of people are being detained without trial, some of those people are being tortured, and the people who left the town of Tawergha are not being protected or resettled. The revolution will not be honored until these abuses end. And since the UN and the West show little interest in adressing human rights problems, how Libya looks will depend on which half of the glass your looking at.

    • Those are undoubted and severe problems and need to be addressed. However, it should be noted that in the American Revolution the Tories were chased off to Canada and that they represented a third of the population. Tawergha’s displaced population is 12,000 in a country of 6.5 million. And, a significant proportion of the people attacked or held prisoner fought to repress, brutalize and kill people on behalf of Qaddafi. The fighters need to now be treated in accordance with the laws of war governing POWs, but that they are held is not in and of itself a scandal. Obviously, the non-combatants of Tawergha should be allowed to return to their homes and until then their camps need to be guarded against reprisals and attacks..

    • The role of the West in helping the rebels in the military confrontation is pretty easy to understand, but what is the West supposed to be doing, that it is not doing, about the problems of governance and politics that you mention?

      The problems you mention – except for the detention of prisoners of war, which (less than six months after the end of hostilities) doesn’t seem to me to be that big a problem – stem from the new government lacking the reach to impose order and civil authority. The West is sending aid and providing the sort of official recognition intended to consolidate a government’s writ. Where do you see the West’s actions coming up short in this sphere? I doubt you want to see foreign troops sent in to restore order or curb the militias, so where does that leave us?

      • I’ll refer you to Human Rights Watch’s March 23 press release “UN Rights Council: North Korea Condemnation Goes Unapposed.” The subtitle is “Western Countries Turn a Blind Eye to Libyan Abuses.” So,they could use their positions on the Rights Council to issue appropriate resolutions, for starters.

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