Libyan rebels falter
As we all know by now, the “Jasmine Revolution” in the Middle East has hit another major milestone with the recent death of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in the loyalist stronghold of Sirte. I have no sympathy for Qaddafi, whose horrific crimes against his own people negate any standard of humane treatment some say he should have been given upon his capture by rebel forces.
However, my hope that the rebels will produce a democratic and humane alternative government is slim and fading. As the initial jubilation for Qaddafi’s downfall begins to wane, the world is seeing the disturbing side of the “heroic” movement. Mass graves containing the corpses of hundreds of civilian loyalists, shot execution-style and burned, were unearthed in Sirte as well as Tripoli. The National Transitional Council (NTC), the body that ruled the country since the regime’s downfall in August, failed to investigate the atrocities committed against loyalists, which already bear a disturbing resemblance to Qaddafi’s crimes against his own people in the name of political control.
According to a Human Rights Watch spokesman, “If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution.” The stated ideology of the rebel movement is also disturbing: Mustafa Jalil, the leader of the NTC, vowed to an audience last week upon the stated rebel victory, “We as a Muslim nation have taken Islamic sharia as the source of legislation, therefore any law that contradicts the principles of Islam is legally nullified.”
The small gains the Qaddafi regime has made towards social democracy, resulting in widely available schooling and one of the highest standards of living in North Africa, are at risk. The world should be wary of not only the barbaric theocracy offered by the rebel movement, but also the possibility of the U.S.-led NATO coalition co-opting the movement into another pro-western neoliberal regime, along the lines of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Right now, I see no stable and humane democratic alternative between these points.
These mixed developments occur while the Egyptian interim military state is coalescing power beyond its welcome. Last week, two members of the ruling military council indicated that the junta does not plan on fully relinquishing power following the new round of national elections in November. The council will not consider returning government power to the civilian population until the formation of a full parliament and the ratification of a new constitution, a process that will last at least until next year.
These two most fragile accomplishments of the Jasmine revolution must heed the words of Saul Alinsky, that the best offense is a functional alternative. Just as the 20th century saw revolutions in China, Russia (twice), Algeria, Vietnam and countless other developing and post-colonial states that failed to live up to their initial promise or ended in flat-out autocracy, the Middle East is showing once again that great historical changes do not happen overnight, in a year, or even in decades. The process of democratization in the Middle East will inevitably be long and painful, and it has only just began.