March 22, 2011
Non binaries: A Libyan Fight for Democracy, or a Civil War?
The NY Times poses this burning question: A Libyan Fight for Democracy, or a Civil War? - NYTimes.com Well, it's not an either or, now is it?
A bit unfair perhaps, but I find the answer to their question:
Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?To be "Yes."
Or more shortly, it is clearly not just a tribal civil war, although it could evolve in that direction, but neither is the opposition abstract democrats. They oppose Qadhdhafi (an eminently sensible position regardless of one's politics). After that....
“It is a very important question that is terribly near impossible to answer,” said Paul Sullivan, a political scientist at Georgetown University who has studied Libya. “It could be a very big surprise when Qaddafi leaves and we find out who we are really dealing with.”Well, I shouldn't think it is a surprise as such. One is dealing with a chaotic melange of people who hate Qadhdhafi, which as reflected in even the wider Arab public's response, is "pretty much anyone of any political flavour, excepting only those people directly supported and/or related to him."
Of course saying he only has mercenaries, as I have noted in passing on several occasions, is a wee bit too simple. His support is more fundamentally of a tribal logic.
Returning to the opposition, there are clearly some nasty people there, ex-regime figures who are not particularly wonderful folks, Islamists of a quasi-Takfiri inclination, etc.
I'd hazard the opinion that there are precious few liberal democratic types in Libya, so expecting a Liberal Democratic Revolution is the height of idiocy.
Nevertheless, insofar as Qadhdhafi unleashed hell in response to the demonstrations, and the Eggs of Stability are already broken, one has to move forward with that reality (this in contrast with the Iraq situation, where Bush ibn Bush willfully and with precious little understanding, started breaking eggs - an active choice).
The behavior of the fledgling rebel government in Benghazi so far offers few clues to the rebels’ true nature.Errr, no. It offers lots of clues. First of which, they're not a unitary movement, second of which they don't have a "True Nature" in a unitary sense, and that this chaotic mix can go in a lot of different directions - probably bad directions but certainly bad directions if there is no countervailing influence.
Further to that, I find this sort of writing just strange (although after typing that I stopped to think, well, the Journo needs to convey that the heroic image of the freedom fighter and the credence given by many to the claims out of the Rebellion, needs, ahem, some nauncing):
Like the Qaddafi government, the operation around the rebel council is rife with family ties. And like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.Marhaben il Libya, bled al Jamahiriyah.
Let's just say that nothing about Libyan political culture over the past 50 years has built anything like objectivity into public discourse (if I may engage in moderate understatement).
As to the notes on violence, this is in fact a good thing to highlight:
In the neighborhoods of the capital that have staged major peaceful protests against Colonel Qaddafi, many have volunteered — speaking on the condition of anonymity — that their demonstrations were nonviolent mainly because they could not obtain weapons fast enough.Emphasis added.
Even one religious leader associated with Sufism — a traditionally pacifist sect something like the Islamic equivalent of the Quakers — lamented his own tribe’s lack of guns for the fight.
That stands in sharp contrast to Libya’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. In Egypt, in particular, the young leaders of the revolution were so seized with an ethic of nonviolence that in the middle of winning a battle of thrown stones against a loyalist mob, two young protesters said they believed they had lost, simply because they had resorted to violence.
Sufism is not a pacifist sect like the Quakers. It's not even a "sect" - it is an approach to worship, like Charismatics in Christianity.
I have no idea why Westerners can't get it fucking right re Sufism. It appears that pacifist quasi Quaker stuff sold by Indian Swamis in the 1960s can't be removed from English speaking consciousness.
Aside from that, the contrast with Tunisia and Egypt is correct: Egypt and Tunisia are relatively modernized societies, Tunisia more than Egypt, and
Of course expecting Non Violence to be a preferred methodology (this reminds me of Andrew Sullivan's idiocy a few days ago on this subject) in the face of The Guide, who rather obviously has few compunctions about violence, is more than a bit precious.
Otherwise, I draw attention to some wise comments from Marc Lynch, at Libya in its Arab Context | Marc Lynch
Libya's degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nicholas Sarkozy. Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi's forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings. Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn't matter more than, say, Cote D'Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).
Well, minor disagreement re CdI, although in many ways the impact of CdI is already priced in. But otherwise, Lynch is seeing and thus saying similar things to myself - although I have focused on the direct destabilization potential for Libya and Tunisia, more the 2nd to be sure.
Finally, as I warned last week, Arab support for an intervention against Qaddafi to protect the Libyan people rapidly begins to fray when the action includes Western bombing of an Arab country. It should surprise nobody that the bombing campaign has triggered anger among a significant portion of the Arab public, which is still powerfully shaped by the Iraq war and aggrieved by perceived double standards (one of the most common lines in Arab debates right now is "where was the No Fly Zone over Gaza?"). Amr Moussa's flip-flopping on the Arab League's stance towards the intervention should be seen as part of that tension between the desire to help the Libyan people and continuing suspicion of Western motives. Skeptical voices matter too -- ignoring or ridiculing influential or representative voices simply because their message is unpalatable is a mistake too often made in this part of the world.I'd add Amr Moussa's flip flopping can also be seen in his lack of personal character as a professional weasel. But there is more than personal weaseling involved.
I continue to have many, many reservations about the military intervention, especially about the risk that it will degenerate into an extended civil war which will require troops regardless of promises made today. But as I noted on Twitter over the weekend, for all those reservations I keep remembering how I felt at the world's and America's failure in Bosnia and Rwanda. And I can't ignore the powerful place which Libya occupies in the emerging Arab transformations, and how the outcome there could shape the region's future. Failure to act would have damned Obama in the eyes of the emerging empowered Arab public, would have emboldened brutality across the region, and would have left Qaddafi in place to wreak great harm. I would have preferred a non-military response -- as, I am quite sure, the Obama administration would have preferred. But Qaddafi's military advances and the failure of the sanctions to split his regime left Obama and his allies with few choices. The intervention did not come out of nowhere. It came out of an intense international focus on the Arab transformations and a conviction that what happens now could shape the region for decades.I very much agree with the above.
As an aside, re 1831, Not 1848 - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
In the sense that I obviously support - and the Dish has aggressively covered and championed - the various uprisings against the stagnant, ugly autocracies in the Middle East, I hope I am not on the wrong side of history. The question of how outside powers respond to the events we cannot control and do not fully understand seems to me a separate one. My judgment may be debunked by events. I sure hope so.If I were to do emoticons, there would be a line of roll-eyes. In fact Sullivan "aggressively covering and championing" (bravery from a US deskjob?) mostly involves easy and facile cheer-leading without being particularly well-informed or rational about it. A lot of emoting in the end.
Finally, I share some comments I made at Zenpundi: zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Libya Shatters the Partisan Divide
First, where do you read Lynch against intervention? He seemed to turn off on a No Fly proper as a olution after learning that it wasn’t the magic wand that it seems to non-military, but he did not strike me as anti-intervention per se (anti boots on the ground, yes, but that’s a different thing).
If I may, I would note that I turned to supporting an intervention on a single main ground:
Without intervention, it rather looked like Qadhdhafi was going to break the rebels. The result of that did not look to be a restabilised Guide Regime, but rather conversion of Libya into an Algerian East c. 91, only far better armed on the insurgency side, and a Guide with a will and means to look to lash out at traitorous neighbours - notably Tunisia and Egypt. On the first item, I saw a dynamic where the Takfiri movement represented by the amorphous Al Qaeda fil Maghrib gains rocketry, MPSAMs, and the Libyan opposition swings to Takfiri Salafism. At the same time, on the second note - the rather more powerful one, the Guide looked very likely (looks very likely) to move to destabilise Tunisia and give a shot at Egypt. He has an active past history, the money and the will to do so, and in Tunisia, the network. The blowback then is not merely Libya, it is his neighbours. Were he located in The Sudan, I’d say, bollocks, let him stew.
Libya in and of itself isn’t a good driver to intervene. What was a good driver for a Rebel morale booster intervention as appears to be the case is heading off a result that had (has) very good likelihood of resulting in destabilisatation of Egypt and Tunisia.
I should add that outside observers have not been factoring in the working class level of economic ties between Libya and its neighbours, loss of which is also fundamentally significant to their stability.
In short, Libya is not an Island, nor is Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisia is not itself strategic - but as the MENA country with the best chance of having a positive, liberal economic and political outcome, it has important symbolic value - also as the country that set this all off. Egypt, of course, is Egypt.
zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Libya Shatters the Partisan Divide
I was not suggesting Qadhdhafi would take on either Tunisia or Libya via military means.
No, rather by the rather harder to control for agents provacateurs.
In Tunisia, pre Libyan civil war, there were already very credible reports (Fr, Ar) of Libyan agents at work ($, guns to former Ben Ali police).
The same modus operendi is not far fetched in an Egypt that is still seething and where it is not clear to what extent the pressure groups will be able to negotiate through their differences (or to what extent the Neo Mamlouks of the military will successfully navigate their tricky masquerade ball).
As for the Strategic Imperative that several commentators keep seeking, let me return to Tunisia and Egypt.
As I keep hitting on in my Blog and as I hit on above, while you are looking at this in isolation, I presume that anyone in the White House with good intel reporting knows the same things that I do, notably:
Tunisia has extensive ties with Libya, economic and social, the potential for significant destabilisation is high, even without The Guide undertaking active work with agents provocateurs (which let me again emphasize)
Egypt has less extensive family and busienss ties than Tunisia, but still staggering number of Egyptian guest workers (officially guest workers were 350 thousand although I have seen numbers double that) that are now either trapped - and no longer sending reimittances to impoverished families - or refugees in their own country. Again a significant source of destabilisation (and lost earnings to an Egypt still crippled by lost tourism revenues). Again, without factoring the probability of the Guide seeking revenge (and also seeking to wrong-foot the Americans) by promoting violence (bit of cash to ex-police, pick up old habits…).
I suspect few of you realize the depth of the ties and the potential economic - leave aside the political / agents provacateurs scenarios - blow back re both Tunisia and Egypt.
Analysing the Libyan situation as if it would remain hermetically sealed inside its borders - either with a scenario (pre-intervention) of Qadhdhafi restablishing unstable control and low level insurgency that likely swings hard-core Takfiri (Al Qaeda fil Maghreb) given sense of abandonment OR a scenario of an outright Algerian situation c. 1992, only better armed - is not clear thinking, it is myopic and ignorant folly.
That doesn’t of course make the No Fly Plus a brilliant choice. I would argue it is la reasonable "Least Horrible among Horrible Choices" choice.
In any case, if one is critiquing Obama, I’d suggest one has to address the problems I note here as to the scenario.
Of course the Exit Strategy problem is there, and unless the powers are willing to back an arming of the Rebellion, there will be a divided Libya. However, contra naive Iraq analogies, unlike say with the Kurdish situation (roughly analogical to Ben Ghazi)there is not an important ethno-linguistic cleavage (there is East-West tribal differences, but they’re not strictly strong, and we already see with Misrata, while the Guide has real support in the West, it’s hardly 100% (maybe 25%?).
zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Libya Shatters the Partisan Divide
First, a correction. Mark I did not say that Libya is deeply integrated - I am highilighting economic and social ties that seem to be substantially ignored by Eng lang commentators who are by and large not familiar with the Maghreb. In ordinary times, I would be of the opinion that both Egypt and Tunisia could manage (see, e.g. Jordan re Iraq, which was in a similar situ vis-a-vis econ & social ties with Sadaam era Iraq). However, they do not have stable governments and are themselves only centimetres away from chaos.
Second, returning to your desire to see a full out assault to take out Qadhdhafi, I reiterate my point that this would be a political disaster, and in the end the goals are political. I seriously doubt that, without serious Western troops on the ground, Qadhdhafi could be taken out, which would be a collosal mistake. AJC (Ar& Eng) has already shown (back in the early days) a captured bunker network in Benghazi that belonged to Qadhdhafi, with underground tunneling, etc.
Too much Western military action and you will see Libyans and the wider Arab world turn against it - rendering the effort futile.
The best scenario is one in which clandestine, low-key but focused support on high-value areas (anti-tank, training, assist with Western back-country Rebellion - the mountain flank to the West of Libya (~90% Amizigh Berber as I recall, absolutely loathe Qadhdhafi), Misrata to assist Western rebels) is given to the Rebellion. Having Libyan rebels take down Qadhdhafi is a vastly superior approach and outcome to a dubious Western campaign, that is likely to generate heavy civilian casualties and turn opinion back towards The Guide, playing into his narrative.
As to Raman:
7. The only effect of the Libyan adventure will be that the march of democracy, which started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, will be stopped.The Arab despots, who have jumped into the Western bandwagon against Gaddafi, have done so not because their hearts bleed for the civilians in Libya and for their human rights. They have done so because they calculate that the diversion of the Western attention to
Libya enables them to crush the human rights and aspirations for democracy of their own people.
Lounsbury: What bollocks. The two countries that have jumped on are Qatar and the Emirates, neither of which have serious domestic issues. Neither Qatar nor Emirates are in need of distractions to crush anything. That the writer wrote this illustrates his depth of knowledge. Or in the alternative, his desire for Spin.
8. The Western need for Arab support in Libya in order to show it as a truly international coallition of Western crusaders and Islamic people has already led to a cruel suppression of the pro-democracy agitators in Bahrain with Western voices and conscience remaining muted as the Sunni ruler, with the help of 2000 ground troops from the States of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), crushes the Shia protesters. Western near-silence in Bahrain today and in Saudi Arabia tomorrow is the quid pro quo for the Arab support in Libya.
Again bollocks. There isn’t a quid pro quo because there is no need for one. The West - and indeed everyone - being so fearful of the blowback from civil war in KSA and Bahrain, at the heart of the petrol, over Sunni Shia divide is going to say little regardless of what Qatar and the Emirates do. Again this is pure idiocy or rather dishonest spin.
9. Whatever be the outcome in Libya, its echoes will be heard wherever American lives are threatened and American interests are endangered—whether in the Af-Pak region, or in Yemen or in Egypt or elsewhere. We have seen the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan with a Neo Taliban keeping the NATO troops bleeding. We will be seeing a resurgence of Al Qaeda with a Neo Al Qaeda endangering American lives and interests everywhere. Anger breeds terrorism. More anger will breed more terrorism. 20-3-11)
Whatever. I presume the person writing here is from the "AfPak" region. No Fly Plus in Libya, if it is not accompanied by the kind of W. action that Zen is calling for (which I consider foolish) is not going to have any blowback in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Usual Suspects will integrate it into their rhetoric, but it will have no real added impact.
to the contrary, if the Rebellion eventually removes Qadhdhafi, with a wee bit of Western help, but largely on their own, the result is rather the inverse. If they do not, there is still the support to highlight (we tried, in contrast to the alternative scenario, doing nothing and standing on one’s toes)
Posted by The Lounsbury at March 22, 2011 01:53 PM
Filed Under: EU Foreign Policy , Foreign Policy & MENA , Libya Civil War , Maghreb , North Africa , Political Development , The MENA '48 , US Foreign Policy
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"I'd add Amr Moussa's flip flopping can also be seen in his lack of personal character as a professional weasel."
Not that I don't agree, but why all this venom against Amr Moussa? This is the third or fourth time you rail against him in passing, in just a few days.
Posted by: alle at March 22, 2011 03:27 PM
Oh I have long disliked him. A kind of Mubarek without Mubarek's character. He's been more on the mind since he's gotten into the Presidential fray.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at March 22, 2011 05:05 PM
OK. I was hoping for a juicy personal anecdote, but that's fair.
Posted by: alle at March 22, 2011 05:46 PM
Click here to read an excerpt from historian Alaa Al Aswany's new ebook, ON THE STATE OF EGYPT which sheds a great deal of informed knowledge on the unfolding crisis and revolution in the Arab world.
[ETA: if the publisher wishes to promote a book, first they should at least put it into a thread that actually is on topic (Egypt, not Libya), and second should rather ask first]
Posted by: CateCannon at March 23, 2011 01:53 PM
Pat Lang's Blog is Sic Semper Tyrannis, and he does call for a Green Beret ODA to help the rebels with organization and training.
First found your site when you were posting 2005-2006 time frame, you provide excellent analysis.
Posted by: Thomas at March 23, 2011 04:32 PM