Friday, October 21, 2011

The meaning of the Libyan revolution and Qaddafi's death

By Ali Ezzatyar

Qaddafi's death well and truly spells the end of another Arab dictatorship. Three out of the four out-and-out Arab dictatorships in North Africa have fallen in the last year. Now is a good time to take a step back to examine what this all means for the region and the world, as the Arab uprisings continue to rage on.
Question one: Have the British, French, and Americans been planning for Libyan unity?
It is important to note that with Qaddafi's downfall coming so many months after the uprising first began, and with the Syrian and Yemeni regimes still insisting on sticking around, the clean revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia are truly behind us. As I argued in the Middle Eastern and French press last summer, tribal divisions and long-standing tensions in Libya were the primary concern going forward -- not the return of Qaddafi-esque dictatorship. Watching the rebels drag Qadaffi through the streets and reading about renewed tribal tensions within the ranks of the Libyan rebels, there is clearly room for error in Libya going forward. The next year in Libya needs to be marked by unification, and the steps that were taken outside of the press by the rebels and the world to facilitate that will be key.
Question two: The world got involved -- was it worth it?
Unquestionably, Libya suffered from foreign intervention to some degree. The inability of the rebels to cope and sustain their revolution was a blow to the Libyan revolutionary project. The international community's involvement took some of the shine off of that project, to be sure. But the consequences of the world ignoring Libya, now with the benefit of more hindsight, would have been worse. For all that must be said about NATO's overreaching, the involvement of Turkey seemed to soften the negativity of foreign intervention in Libya, and things went surprisingly well in the months leading up to the ouster of Qaddafi from Tripoli. It was a necessary evil, but the world was right to get involved in Libya's fight. Once again, the important question (as it was in Afghanistan in the '80s, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003) is, how will the world stay involved? Reference to question one, here.
Question three: What does it mean for Syria and Yemen?

If you follow the Muslim World, you know that revolution and intervention are the two most charged, and in a sense important, words people use in relation to their political lives. The interplay between the two, moreover, really makes one cringe. The more they mix, the more you cringe. In watching Libya, there was little doubt that the world's involvement, from day one, meant the downfall of the Qaddafi regime.
However, the way things would play out was to affect the region, not just Libya, due to its precedential value. In that sense, Libya and the world have been lucky thus far. No doubt, there have been blunders, tragedies, suspicious activity, and all the like with respect to the world's involvement in Libya's revolution. But the tipping point, where the world's pulse felt that the revolution was no longer theirs, never happened. That is essential, and it also leaves the door open to the world helping Syria and Yemen.
Today is a bad day for Bashar al-Assad and Ali Abdallah Saleh (not forgetting Bahrain and the other dictatorships in the region). It is also a lukewarm day for those who believe that nobody should have been involved in Libya besides the Libyans. The Syrian revolution certainly, and perhaps even the Yemeni revolution, will carry on for months, even years. That means that the world will continue to look to Libya to see how things fall into place there. Reference to question one, here, again.

Revolution is inspiring, but it is tragic as well. It is almost always the triumph of good violence over bad violence -- and violence is never desirable. It is with the realization that Libyans had to live under a brutal regime for decades, that thousands of innocent men and women died on both sides of the conflict, that even the presumed worst were killed without their day in court, and that the world got its dirty hands involved and inevitably tainted Libya at least a little, that we say, today, to Libya, congratulations.

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