Monday, August 22, 2011

Reasons to be optimistic about Libya's future.

Libya is free.

With the exception of a few pockets of resistance in Tripoli and some rogue military units elsewhere the Qaddafi regime has collapsed completely. 

Fursa sayiida, and Mabrouk to the people of Libya. It still hasn’t sunk in yet for me. The progress was frustratingly slow for the past two months but never a stalemate, despite what the skeptics said. Suddenly, over the past week the forces in the mountains started advancing by leaps and bounds, and more high profile defectors started slipping away. The actual conquest of Tripoli itself took less than 48 hours, and although Bab-AlAziza (Gaddafi’s super-villain compound) is not yet liberated, several of Gaddafi’s sons are in custody and G’s personal security forces laid down their arms yesterday (though there has been no specific mention the fate of his amazon bodyguard team). Misinformation and rumor surrounds the actual whereabouts of Brother Leader himself – some say dead, some say in custody, some say fled to Algeria or Chad.

None of that matters right now. The only important thing is that the Libyan people are now free.

So what comes next for Libya?

Prognostication is a dangerous business when one’s predictions are preserved and easily findable (my earlier overly optimistic comments about Gaddafi’s imminent departure are all still up on this blog). That being said, some outcomes are more likely than others.

As I’ve said before, Libya has certain advantages over many of the other Arab countries.

First of all, it has oil wealth. Not on the scale of countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but certainly enough to ensure funds for infrastructure rebuilding without borrowing money and signing away its future to the IMF and the world bank. Not only that, but the Gaddafi bank accounts that were frozen at the beginning of the NATO intervention will be opened to the National Transition Council, providing them with instant capital for reconstruction.

Secondly, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the collapse of the regime has been complete. Some of the more powerful tribal leaders may win big in an election scenario, but it’ll be pretty difficult for anyone with deep connections to the Libyan regime to retain much power unless they were among the first to leave . Libya will be taking their steps towards freedom without the entrenched power structures that Egypt and Tunisia are still struggling with. Guys like Mahmoud_Jibril, Abdul_Hafiz_Ghoga, and Mustafa_Abdul_Jalil were already on the outs with the regime when the uprising started, and if there’s one thing that the Libyan people are going to be wary of in the future it’s a strong central government. Don’t be surprised if the Libyan constitution places severe limits on the powers and authorities of their chief executive.

Third, Libya is reasonably situated for self-governance. Despite the general failure of the political system invented by Gaddafi and promulgated in his “Green Book”, an important aspect of the “Jamhariyya” is its heavy reliance on direct democracy for local governance. Although the system was severely hampered by the corruption and interference from nepotistic elites, the Libyan people are quite familiar with the democratic process, and 100% committed to self-governance.

Fourth, there is a strong sense of Libyan identity. This is not to say that Libya is homogeneous, and it is possible that some of the more traditional tribal elements will simply fade out of the state system (though the advantages of sharing in the state oil-wealth may serve as a counterbalance to this), but the shared tribulations of 41 years of Gaddafi, along with the sacrifice and unifying experience of the 2011 Libyan revolution has certainly created a powerful sense of Libyan unity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Egypt, evolving.

Due to other projects I haven’t been able to devote as much time to this blog as I’d like to. I’m still staying relatively active on twitter, but my available time has been cut back rather substantially – I’m still following everything, but can’t always write it up. (I recommend that you follow my twitter feed - @ixakRubicon )

That being said, last week we hit a major milestone: Ramadan

For the past 6+ months, Fridays have been major action days for the Arab Spring. This is in large part because Friday prayers are the most important prayers of the week, and as a result many more people are in attendance at the evening services at the mosques. In the Muslim community the mosques themselves are community centers as well as religious centers, and as such have served as central locations for planning, organizing, gathering, and rallying the protests we’ve been watching for the past several months. Not only that, it is extremely dangerous for political leaders to forbid or restrict the Friday evening services because of their religious importance.

Because Ramadan is a time for contemplation and prayer, and most Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (children, sick people, and the elderly can be exempted) the general energy level during the day is much lower. However, during Ramadan, every evening service is like Friday services so larger groups assemble more often, and word of mouth travels more quickly. Furthermore, the shared experience of Ramadan’s sunrise to sunset fasting creates a strong sense of community across the Muslim world.

Ramadan has brought with it a marked change to the political scene in Egypt - particularly in Tahrir Square.

Protesters returned to Tahrir square in early July to protest the slow progress of reforms, and the continued acts of corruption and brutality by elements within the government. As Ramadan approached, there was a great deal of debate over whether the tent community of protesters should continue to protest during the holy month. The majority of the protesters planned on going home for Ramadan, but many of the more enthusiastic protesters wanted to continue to camp out in their tents. This proved to be unwise. The general sentiment towards the protesters among Egyptians has been a steadily waning tolerance – many feel that enough of their demands have been met, and now it’s time to get back to work. As a result, the protesters have been steadily losing the support of the wider community. This reached its culmination on August 2, when armed police swept through the small tent villiage in Tahrir square, destroying tents and dispersing the protesters, arresting many in the process. Zeinobia, over at "Egyptian Chronicles" did some rewarding closer analysis of this.

The attitude of mainstream Islam is fairly mixed in its stance towards rebellion against authority (Great piece on the diversity among Egypts Islamists here) but protesting during Ramadan was pretty clearly beyond the pale for most Egyptians.

This steady swing of public sentiment away from the protesters was further strengthened by the Mubarak trial. The spectacle of Egypt’s dictator of forty years being brought in front of a judge to testify from the inside of a cage was a rather captivating one for Egyptians, as seen by the huge number of people glued to the TV for part one of the televised trial.

In the eyes of the general public, Mubarak’s trial seems to serve as a coda for the street protests. The protesters themselves probably don’t all feel this way, but based on the shifting attitudes of people whose twitter feeds I’ve been following for half a year, many of the die-hard activists and protesters are accepting the reality of the situation – the impetus for change must now take place within the coalescing Egyptian political system. 

The hard work of democratic reform – organizing, educating, public debate, fundraising, battling corruption, mobilizing voters – this is the next step for the activists. Perhaps less fun than hanging out in Tahrir, but unavoidable nonetheless.