Monday, February 21, 2011

Um, you forgot one

I decided to consider Libya separately because there is a somewhat different dynamic here with somewhat different concerns about the outcome.

Libya has been the scene of the most violent examples of repression of the protests sweeping the region, with
[e]stimates of the total number of fatalities over six days of unprecedented unrest rang[ing] from 173 to 285. Some opposition sources gave figures as high as 500.
But it has also been the place where the protests themselves have been most violent, particularly in Benghazi in the eastern part of the country. There, Al-Jazeera reports, protesters against the 41-year long regime of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have seized army vehicles and weapons and even some of the troops sent to quash the protest switched sides. In fact, the protesters have essentially taken control of the city with pro-government forces reduced to harassing sniper fire.
There were also reports of protesters heading to Gaddafi's compound in the city of Al-Zawia near Tripoli, with the intention of burning the building down.

Protests have also reportedly broken out in other cities, including Bayda, Derna, Tobruk and Misrata - and anti-Gaddafi graffiti adorns the walls of several cities.
A vital point about Libya is that tribal ties are still very important. Which gives extra emphasis to the statement of the head of the Al-Zuwayya tribe in eastern Libya, who has threatened to cut off oil exports from the region to the West unless there is an end to the "oppression of protesters." Meanwhile, the Warfala tribe, which lives south of Tripoli and is one of the nation's largest, has reportedly joined the anti-Qaddafi protests. A leader of the Warfala tribe said Qaddafi is "no longer a brother" and should "leave the country."

All this together - nationwide protests, what amounts to insurrection in Benghazi, rejection by one of Libya's largest tribes - without doubt creates the biggest threat to Qaddafi's rule ever, which is likely why the response has been so ugly. That repression hasn't stopped the protests, however; in fact they have spread. And that is often the turning point, when repression produces more protest rather than less.

In a predictable step, in a nationally-televised speech on Sunday night, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, Col. Qaddafi's son, offered the carrot to the military's stick, completing the triangle of threats, promises, and pleas that have been the pattern of governments unable to understand or deal with protest that doesn't melt away at the first baton. Mixed in with defiant declarations about fighting to "the last man,"
[t]he younger Gadhafi offered to put forward reforms within days that he described as a "historic national initiative" and said the regime was willing to remove some restrictions and begin discussions for a constitution. He offered to change a number of laws, including those covering the media and the penal code.
He also appealed for an end to the protests, saying that if they continued, it could lead to civil war that could send the country's oil wells up in flames and he admitted to "mistakes" in responding to protests.

The thing I found interesting about the speech, something that indicates, as similar things have in other cases, that the regime is on flimsier footing than could have been imagined just a couple of months ago was that he found it necessary both to say that the army still backed his father and to deny rumors that he had fled to Venezuela. What's more, the BBC noted, without actually saying it he
appears to be conceding that the country has already broken into two parts, with the east out of control.
That makes what's happening in Libya qualitatively different from what's happening elsewhere in the region in this wave of protest. If the Beeb's interpretation is correct, so was Seif Qaddafi's: This is becoming a civil war. Which also means that something other than a change in the form of central government may be coming; this may not be a not-at-all simple but still relatively straightforward change from a repressive government to a more open one but an outcome considerably more complex.

Qaddafi ingratiated himself with a West addicted to oil when he withdrew his support for various revolutionary (or "terrorist") groups around the world and shut down his nascent nuclear weapons program. But those same Western nations turned a blind eye to his continued violent repression of any opposition. And here, once again, our preference for stability over justice, for convenience over conscience, may well come around to bite us on the ass.

It appears to me now that there is much more of a threat than elsewhere of Libya descending into the sort of violent chaos that was feared for - but did not occur in - both Tunisia and Egypt. With the reality that the people of Libya have been given over these recent years more than enough reason to see Western nations as enablers of Qaddafi's reign, what emerges from that potential chaos and whether or not it is burningly hostile to Western people - and note the careful and conscious distinction: not Western interests, Western people - can be a matter of genuine concern.

We - by which I mean those of us who make up the actual Left in this country - are assuredly on the side of the people of Libya over their oppressors. (If you're not, you're not part of the Left.) Here as is so often true, the best course, even the politically wise course, is the just one - which means our leaders should be and their side, too. And it would be helpful if they said so.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');