Category Archives: Revolutions & Revolts

A Whole New World (of Problems)

The emblem of the National Transitional Council (and a pretty damn cool one at that) of Libya. The NTC claims to represent rebels across the country, but do they have the influence to really unite Libya's opposition? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s days become more and more numbered, the question of Libya’s new leadership is coming to the front of international leaders’ minds, and of course is a topic of paramount importance to Libyans themselves.

Little sidenote here – it seems that Moammar Qaddafi’s son and heir-apparent, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, has either escaped rebel custody or was never captured in the first place. Rebels had reported that Saif was captured, and would be handed over to the International Criminal Court, but it seems that won’t be happening until he’s actually, well, captured. Just a little update!

Control of Libya seems to be moving safely into rebel hands; at least, the general momentum of the conflict is in the rebels’ favor for now. The probable outcome is an entirely different story, and one I won’t dive into here, except to say that I’m generally optimistic for the rebels. Let’s be generous to the rebels and the National Transitional Council and assume that they’ll soon take power.

The new leadership will face many challenges and problems as they take over Tripoli. The first, and perhaps most important of these is figuring out who the new leadership actually is. Like so many revolutionary movements, the rebellion in Libya is made up of a complicated fabric of different tribes, factions, and interest groups, a fabric that is difficult to tease apart. While the NTC (National Transitional Council, the de jure leadership of the Libyan rebels) is technically in charge, there are so many different groups represented in the rebellion that it will be a major challenge just to bring everyone under a single banner.

And beyond the already daunting task of uniting the rebel forces is the challenge of holding back the tide of anger, resentment, and vengeance that is likely to be brought to bear against Qaddafi supporters by rebels after the tyrant falls. The last thing post-Qaddafi Libya needs is an Iraq-esqe chaos-state (catchy huh?) where violence is the only law people obey.

On top of all this, there’s the ever-present risk of another dictator rising from the ashes of the Colonel’s regime, an outcome which is not entirely unlikely, and one which would render the entire revolution moot and make the international community that facilitated the change seem rather moronic.

The stakes are high in Tripoli and across Libya. The people of the country certainly don’t lack resolve and bravery, traits which they’ve demonstrated throughout the revolution. But because Libya has been in Moammar Qaddafi’s headlock for the past 42 years, the country has few political institutions, and the young people who are largely responsible for the rebellion don’t have any experience leading large political groups, much less governments. During his lengthy rule, Qaddafi made a point of splitting up tribes, organizations, political groups and movements, and any other form of organization that he could get his hands on. This simple yet effective dictatorial tactic will make it trickier for the Libyan people to form the political groups they need to and to build a stable state.

This state will need to hit the ground running in order to keep up with the constant demands of a divided and conflict-ridden country like Libya. Besides managing infrastructure issues like water supply, electricity, and the many other things Qaddafi promised the rebels would cut off if allowed to come to power, the NTC and other leaders will still need to manage the winding down of a civil war. Even after Qaddafi’s death or capture, the country will remain divided, and it could take quite a long time to bring things back together.

To achieve these and other goals, the new government will not only need to act fast and think faster, but will also, in all likelihood, require a bit more international nudging. The NATO air campaign has helped the rebels enormously, but the majority of Libya’s problems can’t be solved by aerial bombardment. If security is a major issue in the weeks and months after regime change, it may be necessary for peacekeeping forces (who should be from a variety of contributors, not just the US) to step onto the streets of Tripoli until things can be calmed down. Once some democratic institutions have been set up (and this process is already underway in Benghazi and across the country) and the NTC has found its footing, the international community can pull out and declare Libya a job well done.

There are of course many more issues and challenges that I may have overlooked or airbrushed in the course of writing this, but the Libyan rebels seem to be on the right side of history in this conflict. If their determination can bring about democracy and revolution gives way to freedom and security, then the story of the rebels who stood up to Moammar Qaddafi’s violence and repression will be a refreshing revival of the Arab Spring and a powerful reminder to tyrants across the Middle East and the world at large that violence and rage can’t stop a people who will give anything to win back their country.

Leave a comment

Filed under International Focus, Politics & Power, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Qaddafi’s Final Dawn?

A map of the current situation in Libya. Green indicates Qaddafi control, brown indicates rebel control, and blue indicates contested territory. As you can see from the image, rebel forces have seized Zawiya and have taken the battle straight into Tripoli. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Reports are flooding in from all quarters of incredible new gains for the rebel forces fighting Moammar Qaddafi’s loyalist forces in Libya.

After 6 months of conflict and more than 17,000 NATO airstrikes, Libyan rebels, led by the National Transitional Council, have brought the fight to Qaddafi’s doorstep. Over the last few days, the rebels have taken control of the city of Zawiya, despite heavy shelling and sniper fire from Qaddafi forces. Directly after rebel forces seized Zawiya, they began a charge for the capital, where a battle rages for Libya’s future even as I write this.

True to form, Qaddafi has insisted that he and those loyal to him (which he still seems to think includes the vast majority of Libyans) will fight “until the last blood drops.” Plenty of blood has already been shed in the short time since the city came under attack; the Libyan government reports 376 dead, and one can’t be quite sure that this figure is accurate.

But just as truly to form, the Colonel seems to be dead wrong about the outcome and scale of the growing conflict in Libya’s capital. Besides the rebel forces who are swiftly advancing on Tripoli at this moment, the uprising that was stifled here months ago has come back to vigorous life, where a dedicated core of rebel fighters is taking over parts of the city, including (according to some reports at least) Mitiga Airport. Even as Qaddafi loyalists struggle to contain the uprising (and not too effectively, according to many reports), more rebels are pouring in, by land from Zawiya and elsewhere, and even by sea from Misrata.

A map of the situation in Tripoli. Rebels currently control areas marked in red, and are presumably closing in from the west. Check the links at the bottom of this post to see a live-updating version!

The map to the right shows the current (12:59 pm, PST, 8/21) situation in Tripoli, to observers’ best knowledge. Though the outlook for Qaddafi and the rebels remains somewhat unclear, it would be difficult to argue that Qaddafi stands much chance of bouncing back from this latest advance. After months of bloodshed and civil war in Libya, it seems that this tyrant’s days are finally numbered. In fact, some think that he and his family may even have fled the country.

The situation is evolving fast, so before I assume too much more, I’ll leave it here. Check back in the next couple of days for speculation on a post-Qaddafi Libya!

For those interested, a live-updating version of these maps can be found here and here, respectively. The images in this post are screen captures of the images taken at 12:30 and 1:00 pm, PST, on August 21. 

Leave a comment

Filed under International Focus, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Clashing Dreams in the Middle East

As revolution rushes through the Middle East, radical Islam and democratic secularism will clash and confront one another. (Source: beforeitsnews.com)

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his dream lives on. His was a dream of violence, bloodshed, and sectarianism, one in which a new Islamist caliphate could take power, and his repressive ideology would flourish.

Bin Laden also envisioned a Middle East that would be sympathetic to his ideas and ideals. And while most people are repulsed by his beliefs, there are a frightening number of people who hold the same bloodthirsty views as him. Many of these are already involved in al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other distinct terrorist entities. But this mindset can be found all throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is an idea that advocates the violent enforcement of one’s own beliefs, and is not only a grave danger to lives, but an offensive and woefully misguided interpretation of the otherwise peaceful and fairly welcoming religion of Islam.

Yet the Arab Spring, as it is now known, is seriously calling into question the efficacy and popularity of bin Laden’s violent Islamist vision for the Middle East. Unlike the religious revolution al Qaeda dreams of someday bringing about, the Arab Spring which brought down both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was almost exclusively secular, and motivated by secular desires and aspirations. It’s democracy that the Arab people seem bent on achieving, not an Islamic state or caliphate.

So there seem to be two conflicting viewpoints in the Middle East right now. On the one hand, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and all who share their twisted views see a future in which their own beliefs about religion and society are paramount. On the other hand, a powerful new youth movement is swelling in the Middle East, a movement that, despite al Qaeda’s fondest wishes, is a secular one.

The stage seems set for yet more tension in the Middle East. Even as a new dream of freedom and democracy builds momentum in places that previously suffered under terribly repressive states, a different kind of repression, this time of a religious variety, is still in the arena. As these two dreams of the future, one of religious nationalism and the other of secular democracy, face off over the coming years, the people of the Middle East will have a choice. They must make it wisely.

Leave a comment

Filed under International Focus, Religion & Reason, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

In Other News…

Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara shake hands in Ivory Coast last year. The deadly struggle between the two over presidential legitimacy has been largely overlooked by the media. (Photo credit: Thierry Gouegnon)

Without a doubt, this has been a very newsworthy year, historically speaking. There’ve been massive protests throughout the Middle East since the end of last year, and corrupt regimes have been been toppled in Tunisia and Egypt. Civil war has erupted in Libya, sparking international outrage and a coalition military intervention on behalf of the rebellion. And of course, an earthquake and tsunami of unparalleled ferocity swept across Japan and has set off a chain of events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing a new wave of nuclear worries, in Japan and around the world.

But in this deluge of enormously significant world events, it’s so easy to lose track of the smaller, yet still significant things going on around us. I say this in particular reference to news and world (or somewhat more local) events.

One place I’ve seen this pretty strongly recently is in the coverage (or lack thereof) of the humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast (or Côte d’Ivoire, in the French spelling) over the presidential election results of last year. Incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo disputed the results, which showed that his opponent Alassane Ouattara had won the election. The country has been in deadly struggle ever since, with Gbagbo using veritable death squads to wipe out opponents and suppress supporters of Ouattara, despite international recognition of Ouattara as the winner. The conflicts have left possibly hundreds dead, and only now is Ouattara beginning to get the upper hand; and not from the international community. This issue is just now starting to become major news.

The point I’m trying to make is this: When there’s a lot of big news going on, as there has been (in spades) this year, we tend to forget about smaller things. I’m pretty guilty of this, as you can see in many of my posts and in my most-used tags, but the point still stands. A lot of the time, I focus too heavily on just the big-name issues, as do many others I know.

In a way, this connects to another post of mine about why we should all read the news. Just as it’s important to stay up to date on major events in our world through the innumerable media outlets available to us, it’s crucial that we look behind those events, so to speak, to what may be happening in other parts of the world.

The conflicts happening in the Middle East now are enormously important of course, but Americans can’t forget about the problems we still need to sort out in Afghanistan. Libya might be big news for the moment, but let’s not forget about what’s happening in Yemen, Syria, and other countries, not to mention Egypt and Tunisia! The devastation in Japan is heartbreaking, but we can’t neglect the disasters happening elsewhere.

Above all, this post is a kind of call away from too much focus. Our passion for certain world issues or events shouldn’t keep us from remembering the other crucial things happening in the world, on a local, national, and international level. So stay informed, not just about whatever most interests you, but about whatever is most important to the world!

Leave a comment

Filed under People & Society, Revolutions & Revolts

After the Bombs

Rebels inspect a pro-Qaddafi military truck after its bombing. (Photo credit: New York Times)

Five weeks after the Arab protests spread to Libya, the United States has found itself tangled in yet another Middle Eastern conflict. The question on everyone’s mind is, will this be a Gulf War or Iraq 2.0? In other words, where will we be after the bombs stop falling?

I think it’s safe to say Obama’s situation now is quite different from George Bush’s back in 2003. On a military level, Obama has been keeping his distance by not involving ground forces, choosing to instead use missiles and airstrikes. Obama’s military plan at this point seems to be to hammer Qaddafi’s forces as hard as possible without touching down on Libyan soil.

The UN’s decision to hold back the tide of Qaddafi’s advances on the rebels was intended to do two things. First, it was meant to stop further humanitarian crisis in the form of military massacres by Qaddafi’s forces. Second, the declaration was a way of legitimizing the rebellion’s government and the movement that put it in place.

And yet, as with every military intervention, this answer to the rebels’ prayers opens an entire book of new questions, particularly for the United States and Barack Obama. The president has faced harsh criticism from the left and the right for what many feel was an impulsive dive into yet another Middle Eastern crap chute. Some have even gone so far as to say that Obama’s presidency is “Bush’s third term.”

Now, although I’m a fan of the man, President Obama has made some hefty mistakes in handling the crisis in Libya. His first foible, which has compounded into the criticism he now faces, was his hesitancy in taking the Libyan humanitarian crisis as seriously as he should have. Now, I realize that I don’t stand a chance of pretending to understand all of the complex minutia and details that factor into a decision like the one he made, and how difficult it must have been, considering all the pressures on the administration about this issue. But it seems to me that the president should’ve given more initial credence to the idea of military intervention in Libya. If the idea had been on the American table earlier, there would have been more time to have serious internal discussions about it (which would hopefully resolve Congress’s beef) before launching in after a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy.

Following from this mistake was the lack of clarity on the future of the situation in Libya. While I don’t think that this is likely to become another Iraq War, US military involvement always brings up questions. The most prominent one, as I suggested in the title of this post, is what’s next? Many, including prominent members of Congress and thinkers on both sides of the aisle, have pointed out that Obama doesn’t seem to have much of an endgame in Libya. Bombs will fall for a few more days (hopefully that’s all), and Qaddafi’s forces have been and will continue to be whittled down.

But what happens after that? Now that the international community has intervened (which, even after all my hemming and hawing, I think was a good thing), how involved should it be? US administration officials have made it pretty clear that they expect the burden of this coalition to fall of the shoulders of everyone, if not mainly Britain and France. And hopefully, other nations, particularly the Arab League, will prevent this attack on Qaddafi from taking on the aspect of another assault on a Muslim country. But there’s a bigger problem than America’s Arab street cred.

The coalition’s goal in striking against Qaddafi has been to protect the civilians and rebels of Libya from the senseless violence Qaddafi would love to inflict on them. But how far can a no-fly zone and bombs take the rebellion? There’s a whole host of possible situations that could rise after the dust settles in Libya. The country might fracture into two under the pressures of enemy governments in east and west. If not removed, a vengeful Qaddafi might revert to his past terrorism, lashing out against Europe, America, and his own people. The opposition is still nascent (at best), and it remains a relatively untested force.

There are many things still up in the air where Libya is concerned, and I’ll continue to write about the situation as it develops. But for now, we can only hope that things come to the swift conclusion that the coalition is hoping for. And so, in the spirit of this post, I’ll end with the biggest question of all: What’s next for Libya?

Leave a comment

Filed under Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Crossing Qaddafi

The UN Security Council has decided to take action against Qaddafi. France has shown particular initiative.

The United Nations passed a vote on Thursday to begin enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, as well as deciding to permit “all necessary actions” (code for military enforcement) to defend the civilian population of Libya from Moammar Qaddafi.

This is incredible news, and though it comes quite late in the day, the Libyan opposition movement has been jubilant about the UN’s much more official and pragmatic declaration of support. In fact, it would seem that French jets have already fired on at least one occasion against Qaddafi, and the US has launched missiles targeting his anti-air defenses. The current number of missiles launched at this post’s time of publication was 110.

Col. Qaddafi has been pushing the rebels back, city by city, towards the east, and has forced them as far as Benghazi, the current seat of rebel power. The declaration against Qaddafi was widely welcomed, and indeed celebrated by rebels, who see it as a somewhat late move but what could be a turning point for them against the dictator who runs the country.

In response to the UN’s decision, Qaddafi “declared a ceasefire.” I put this in quotes for two reasons. First, this ceasefire seems to have yet to materialize. Witnesses have been reporting violence in Benghazi and elsewhere even after the so-called peace. Second, how is it at all possible to trust Qaddafi at this point? He’s made such ridiculous claims as “I have all the Libyan people with me and I’m prepared to die. And they are prepared to die for me. Men, women and even children,” in a letter to President Obama. Qaddafi is hardly known for his powers of common sense and rationality, and it shows plainly in his assertions that all of Libya stands beside him. Would a man so willing to lie outright about the loyalty of his people be honest about a ceasefire? No, it seems obvious that Qaddafi’s words have utterly lost their meaning. A man can’t go from spluttering violent threats against his own civilians to saying that there is peace.

That said, I think Qaddafi still has a chance to step down or step aside. Now that the UN’s condemnation of his actions has taken a form stronger than words, Col. Qaddafi has a much shorter timer on his autocratic slaughter of his own people. With coalition forces beginning to hit his military, this dictator may begin to put his money where his mouth is (hopefully).

This seems to be an answer to prayer for the rebellion, who have been almost pleading for foreign intervention to stop the bloodshed. Their desires have largely fallen on deaf ears, particularly in America, so this development comes as a very welcome change for the opposition. And while there are still drawbacks to military involvement in yet another Arab conflict, it’s a good thing overall that serious steps are being taken to put an end to Qaddafi’s massacre of his own people. It’s time that the international community, especially the US, puts some real meaning behind the assertion that democracy is a basic right for all people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Military & Might, Revolutions & Revolts

How Should the US Handle Libya?

A bomb crashes into the once-rebel-held town of Ras Lanuf.

As the situation grows more and more chaotic in Libya, pressure is growing on other nations, particularly those who are NATO members, to put their money where their mouths are regarding Libya’s rebel movement.

The calls for international assistance and support for the rebellion have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears or been met with confused world leaders’ vacillating words of encouragement.

The United States has been desperately scrambling to formulate some official stance to take. But there’s a lot of uncertainty and disagreement over the right course of action. President Obama has decided to exercise restraint as a general principle in the Middle East, as the situation over there has been an extremely sticky one politically.

But is this the right course of action (or inaction) regarding Libya? Obama’s been forced into a corner on this one, as so many presidents have been. When a humanitarian crisis emerges in a country whose interests aren’t very closely associated with those of America, as happened in Rwanda in 1994, it’s difficult to find the right way to go forward. Things become even more difficult when one takes into account the fact that more and more people are dying every day deliberation goes on. Because of this, the president has unfortunately found himself trapped in an uncomfortable in-between, where he’s likely to face criticism and backlash no matter which decision he makes (but isn’t that just politics?).

So what decision should he make? Should the US intervene in a country whose national security is only tangentially related to our own, at best? While Libya is a significant supplier of oil to European countries (most notably Italy), it seems that America would be relatively unshaken, whichever way events turn out, so there’s not a lot of economic or security concerns on the line. Besides that, the US has seen all too clearly how difficult and unpleasant over-involvement in other countries can be, time and time again, and of course most prominently in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the rebel leadership has said that they don’t want the US to become involved on the ground, but simply to have a no-fly zone enforced.

There are a lot of good reasons to remain distant from this conflict. But is it really right? I mentioned Rwanda earlier, and America did not intervene in the events there. 800,000 people died in that genocide, and while losses in Libya are unlikely to be quite so staggering, do we want to be a nation that stood back wringing its hands while a dictator steam-rolled his own people?

This isn’t an issue of national pride, mind you. It’s an issue of human rights, and the defense of people who may not be able to do enough for themselves. Col. Qaddafi has proven himself to be utterly ruthless in ending this rebellion, and has had a number of significant victories over the rebels, pushing them back along the east coast. Chances are, with Qaddafi’s superior firepower and funding, the revolution won’t be able to stand up much longer. If our country and our leadership really support the democratic rights of others, shouldn’t we show that to Qaddafi in more ways than just telling him to leave? I don’t know if full military intervention would be the right pursuit in Libya. But I believe that it’s imperative to show the rebel movement that we’re behind them with more than words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace