Monthly Archives: February 2011

Why Libya is different

Tunisia and Egypt were, in a sense, decapitations – hugely important removals of dictators that nevertheless left a lot of old structures standing. Libya is different, writes Mouin Rabbani:

‘Perhaps most importantly, Qaddafi’s removal cannot but result in genuine regime change. Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Libya does not possess autonomous state institutions or state-sponsored elites with the capacity to force out the leader in order to perpetuate their custodianship of the state. If Qaddafi falls – and absent foreign intervention – Libya’s power elite will either go down with him, or remain masters of institutions and networks that no longer exist, are shattered beyond repair or have lost their relevance. Libya, in other words, will be spared the spectre of a permanent transition, and any successor appointed by the Ancien Régime will make Shapour Bakhtiar’s 39-day tenure look everlasting. As with the national uprising against the Shah in the late 1970s, the only possible outcomes are restoration or revolution.’


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Le scandal

Eric Pape in FP on France’s vacillement faced with revolution in Francafrique:

‘At least 35 people had been killed by Jan. 11, when Alliot-Marie shockingly offered to bolster Ben Ali’s grip on power. She suggested to France’s Parliament that the world-renowned “savoir-faire of our security forces” allows for the “solving of security problems of this sort.” (She later clarified that she meant to help control protesters without killing them, but the distinction was lost to many people in France and Tunisia.)

An array of opposition politicians called for her resignation. “Here is a people who rises up after 23 years of dictatorship, the police fire into the [crowd], and the only thing that the [French] government says is: ‘We are going to help you through police cooperation,'” said former prime minister and prominent Socialist Laurent Fabius on French radio. “It is one thing to have state-to-state relations. It is another to pat a dictator on the back.”

It was only after Ben Ali fled into exile on Jan. 14 that French officials finally took the side of the Tunisian people.

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Metro Masr

Shabab change Hosny Mubarak metro station’s name to ’25 January Martyrs’ station.

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Egyptian military TV interview

Here is the first TV interview with members of the Egyptian military council. It’s in Arabic but Egyptian Chronicles has a summary of the main points in English.

Part 1 (Mona el-Shazly’s preamble)

Part 2 (first appearance of the generals)

The rest can be found on dreamtv’s YouTube channel if the thought of 11 more parts tickles your fancy.


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Libyan endgame

Some possibilities for Libya, none of which make particularly cheerful reading:

‘End game. What happens after the demise of the regime may be slightly influenced by the manner and speed of the overthrow:
Fight. The core of the regime may fight to the bitter end, most likely in Tripoli or possibly attempting to retreat to Sirte or Sebha. International calls for the departure of Qadhafi, and threats of international action and consequences for further atrocities, may help to split the army away from Qadhafi, accelerating the collapse.
Flight. Qadhafi and his family may try to flee, for example to a neighbouring sub-Saharan country. However, they now have very few options for where they can reach and avoid being brought to justice in due course.
Rapid collapse. A rapid final collapse would cause the least overall damage. This could occur through escalating defections and resignations in the army, and the rapid flight, capture or killing of the Qadhafis and loyalist ‘men of the tent’. This path of events would make for an easier environment for national dialogue among opposition and civic groups and the formation of a caretaker administration.
Prolonged collapse. A drawn out, prolonged collapse would be most damaging, both in the human cost during the collapse, and potentially afterwards. It could comprise prolonged battles or sieges, army splits, massacres and random killings. This path of events would carry a risk of a vengeful and bloody aftermath, perhaps with lynchings of ex-regime members and possibly a retaliatory campaign of sabotage against those trying to establish a new administration. A prolonged collapse would delay the formation of a new administration and cause more disruption to the economy.’

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Saudi Arabia and globalisation

Brian Whitaker takes apart Saudi Arabia at length:

‘With all their bluster about “the norms of Islamic law”, it might be imagined that Saudi Arabia and other predominantly Muslim countries stand firmly and consistently on the side of cultural relativism. On the whole, though, they don’t – except when it suits them. To some extent they do accept the principle of universalism – but again, only when it suits them. Through their membership of the UN and other bodies, they are willing participants in a system of international law and they are also among the first to complain about human rights abuses and infringements of international law where Israel is concerned.

In partially exempting themselves from international standards, they are not so much arguing for cultural relativism as for a form of cultural selectivity. It’s a selective defence against whatever forms of external influence are regarded as unwelcome.

And what they are actually seeking to protect is not the sum-total of authentic local tradition but an imagined, officially-approved version of it which in some cases has to be imposed on reluctant citizens. The Islamic “norms” that Saudi Arabia waves in international forums are not those of the country as a whole but those that happen to have become dominant.

If they really believed in cultural relativism as a principle they would surely also have to apply it internally by insisting on respect for the different norms and traditions of whatever distinctive religious, ethnic or regional groups may be found within their own borders. Mostly they do not.’

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Soft bigotry and Qadafi

Issandr el-Amrani on why ‘lowered expectations’ of democracy in the Arab world have been turned on their head. (And why Qadafi jokes are wearing thin.)

For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies’ “immaturity” while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.

Over the last few days, Muammar Gaddafi has waged a vicious battle over his compatriots, hiring foreign mercenaries to take out protesters. Gaddafi, in power since 1969, is best known in the west for his eccentricity, from the voluptuous nurse that accompanies him everywhere to his habit of setting up a bedouin tent during state visits abroad. The focus on such personal foibles, as well as Libya’s alleged role in the Lockerbie bombing, has dominated the portrayal of the country. For most people around the world, Libya was Gaddafi.

It turns out there are another 6 million Libyans, many of whom are now rebelling against the Gaddafi family, and that at least 200 have died in the last few days fighting for their freedom. Libya is the Arab world’s North Korea, a near-totalitarian nightmare and an insult to common decency. And as Pyongyang is protected by China, so Tripoli is being given cover by Tony Blair, BP and academics-turned-consultants like Anthony Giddens and Benjamin Barber. The idea is that it was best to try to help countries like Libya “reform”, even if the reforms in question tended to be mostly about making the place more business-friendly.’

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