Tag Archives: Arab Spring

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.

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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. 

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

A Harder Line on Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama discussing the state of affairs between Israel and Palestine. (Source: CNN)

In a landmark speech on the Middle East, President Obama staked a strong position for the United States towards Israel, Palestine, and the conflict between the two nations. Rather than the usually-noncommittal tack taken by previous US leaders, Obama strongly stated that Israel and Palestine must set apart their differences, each recognizing the other as a sovereign, independent state.

It’s been the unofficial stance of the United States for years that Palestinian borders should be restored to their positions in 1967, prior to the Six-Day War, in which Israel forced Palestine out of yet more of its territory, after having already been given Palestinian territory by the United Nations in 1947. But Barack Obama is the first US president to openly state that this will be America’s official policy toward the conflict.

This is a crucial statement on Obama’s part, both politically and strategically. On the political side, Obama is finally reviving one of his campaign “promises” (I use quotes because all presidential candidates make promises that are unlikely to come to fruition; it’s how they get elected) by bringing up the issue of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Strategically, Obama may have helped place himself on the right side of a coming conflict between Israel and Palestine.

I say “coming conflict” because, unfortunately, it seems quite likely that another intifada may come along. The revolutionary spirit of many other parts of the Arab world could easily catch on in Palestine, and not necessarily in the peaceful ways it did in Egypt or Tunisia. The recent merger of Fatah and Hamas has Israel even more concerned, and the Palestinian plan for a unilateral declaration of independence at the UN’s General Assembly this coming September is pushing things to dangerous levels. Last week, Palestinians from neighboring countries marched on Israel, calling for recognition of a Palestinian state. 13 were killed by Israeli soldiers.

All of these events, combined with the energy of the Arab Spring, may put Israel on very bad footing on the international stage. If Palestine can take the reins of this revolutionary fervor in a peaceful way, Israel will have to either make peaceful concessions or react oppressively to Palestinian desires. If Israel doesn’t acquiesce but instead reacts with repression, it stands to lose an enormous amount of hard-won respect around the world.

Perhaps a new, peaceful intifada is in order. Instead of the bloodshed and violent hatred that marked the second intifada though, this revolution should be a nonviolent shaking-off (as the word intifada literally translates to) of Israel’s repression. Palestine must recognize Israel’s right to statehood, but Israel must do the same for Palestine. Only if these two peoples can see one another’s value will there be any true resolution.

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Filed under International Focus, Military & Might, Politics & Power

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.

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

Global Community, Global Responsibility (Part 3)

Each and every member of the international community must be responsible and consistent, both within its own borders and in its handling of international and foreign problems. (Source: miyabbi.student.umm.ac.id)

This post is a continuation of my previous two posts of the same title. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

But perhaps more importantly than international interventionary action is a right international mindset toward atrocities and states that have gone bad. Many of the greatest crimes against humanity have been committed by leaders who pushed the limits and received no reprimand. The most frightening example is of course, that of Hitler. After coming to power by completely legal means, Hitler pushed the political and social boundaries in his own country, and no one stopped him from taking complete control of Germany. The fuhrer swiftly expanded his power across Europe, as the Allies flailed in diplomatic inefficacy. This policy of appeasement allowed Hitler’s Germany to grow into a colossally dangerous and destructive force.

Admittedly, there are few people alive in the world today who have as much blood on their hands as Adolf Hitler did. But after the hard lessons learned from allowing Hitler to have his way with the countries around him (at least until he looked to Poland), international leaders can no longer stand back and allow atrocities to happen, whether these are crimes committed against foreign persons or against one’s own people.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the road to international responsibility starts in a country’s attitude toward leaders who perpetrate injustice. If the international community simply sits back and allows a state to commit atrocities, either against others or its own people, the damage is twofold. First, the leader(s) responsible for such acts will see that these can be successfully perpetrated with no repercussion or retribution, at least not from any organization or institution with real power. And second, the rest of the international community risks looking toothless and tame. While the international community shouldn’t come across as hyper-aggressive, it must be not be seen as a powerless objector to atrocities, but rather as a powerful dissuadent from atrocity.

This requires both consistency and enforcement on the part of the international community. Leaders who are considering committing atrocities must be shown that any violent acts they commit will not pay off. If a dictatorial leader (Qaddafi or Mubarak would be examples) believes that he can commit mass violence (whether it is toward a political purpose or any other) without being stopped, then he will. Strong countries and international organizations must show these leaders that any violence they commit will be severely dealt with, no matter what.

This issue is particularly pressing in light of the Arab Spring sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. As leaders like Moammar Qaddafi cling to power by violently suppressing their people, the international community’s response must be swift and decisive. A lot has already been done in Libya, but it may not be enough (I’m planning to write more on this subject soon!). And after a violent weekend in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, one wonders how long Assad’s schizophrenic alternation between reform and crackdown can go on before it reaches the same breaking point that was reached in Libya.

Without the right mindset and determination behind its actions and sanctions, the international community will never be able to act as a serious roadblock to state-sanctioned atrocities. And this determination and consistency will take some sacrifice, of course. But to be a responsible member of any community, especially one as large and all-encompassing as the international community, one must learn to give up some of their own goals and desires for the good of all.

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Filed under Human Rights, International Focus, Politics & Power

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!

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Filed under People & Society, Revolutions & Revolts

Chaos in the Middle East

For those of you who have been reading the news lately, things have gotten a little crazy over in the Middle East as of late. Starting in December of last year, Tunisia had a little uprising, one that ended badly for then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a vaguely creepy-looking head of a corrupt authoritarian government. Ben Ali had been funneling money to his extended family and spending huge quantities on his and their pleasures as the rest of the country foundered (similar to what Louis XVI pulled back in the French Revolution).

This uprising (and overthrowing) in Tunisia was fairly alarming to other Arab leaders, as many of them led similar autocratic governments. And lo and behold, Egypt is foundering in political turmoil and civil unrest. The protests have spread not only to Egypt, but to Jordan and Yemen as well. Throw in the collapse of the Lebanese government, and you have a pretty big explosion waiting to happen.

Now, the way I see it, there’s two ways to look at this. The first might be a bit stupidly optimistic (and I consider myself something of a master of stupid optimism), but here goes. The governments in many of these countries are notorious for their authoritarian rule. The country on everyone’s mind right now is Egypt, so I’ll focus on them for a bit. The president of Egypt, a guy by the name of Hosni Mubarak, has been in power in Egypt for 30 years. Even if the Egyptian people had the option to elect someone else, 30 years is an egregious amount of time for one person to remain in power without the option of ousting said leader. So you could look at these protests in that way: An eruption of anti-autocratic sentiment, when the oppressed people rise up against the oppressors and break their chains.

Like I said, that’s the stupidly optimistic view. The other, more realistic view is of course more complicated. Egypt has always acted as one of America’s staunchest allies in the Middle East, a region full of pies that America has dug its fingers into. While one can hardly say that Mubarak’s police state is humane or “American,” we risk losing a firm foothold in that part of the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty in these protests. People want Mubarak out, but it would seem there’s not much of a plan for a replacement (though I’m sure many people will present themselves as candidates). Chances are that if the government were to be replaced (and Mubarak with it), America would stand to lose a lot. But who knows? Maybe it’s about time we do.

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Filed under Revolutions & Revolts