The Arab Spring as it is known began in Tunisia when a young man torched himself over an issue relating to the sale of food. The real story in Tunisia was a people fed up with the corruption and the torture that they constantly faced under the regime. It took a few weeks, but the dictator fled to Saudi Arabia. Now the Tunisians are preparing for an election that will lead the way to the next step in their lives. Will it mean that they shift towards Islamism? I do not know. The leader of the largest Islamist party is trying to project an image that may just be taqiyyah. It is a troubling time for the people of Tunisia because for them it seems that nothing really changed.
Protests broke out in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt and Libya, to name some of the Arab countries where there has been some upheaval. My focus here is on Egypt and Libya and why I do not believe that Libya will end up like Iran, but I do believe that Egypt could end up like Iran.
In order to try and understand what is happening I have found it necessary to abandon my own western psyche to try and step into the shoes of those who have been fomenting for change. It has been necessary to set aside my own objections to Islam in order to try and understand what is happening in these Middle Eastern countries, and then try to interpret what that means for the West. What I have discovered is that comparing the experience of Egypt with the experience of Libya is like comparing chalk and cheese. There is simply no comparison between the two situations.
When Gadhafi came to power via a bloodless military coup, Nasser was in charge in Egypt. Very few people seem to appreciate that Nasser was in fact a Communist, and it is important to understand this point because to the young army captain, Moammar Gadhafi, Nasser was a hero. It is also important to understand some of the modern historical background of Libya, especially the struggle to be free of Italian colonial rule.
Libya is a majority Islamic country. It is already under Shariah Law but the laws are not hardline like they are in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, they are bad enough because a thief can end up without his hands, and a woman who has been raped will not get satisfaction in the courts. This is why Eman el-Obeidi was so brave when she broke into the Rixos Hotel in order to tell her story to the foreign journalists. She declared to the world what no other Libyan woman would have been willing to declare, and as a result she was slandered by the regime. Since Libya is already under Shariah it seems pointless for people from a western culture to get their noses out of joint on the subject. In the context of this being a Muslim country we do need to acknowledge that Shariah Law is the norm.
Another area that needs context is that of the people who were shouting “allahu Akbar”. It is important that context is given because this was not the same as the jihadist on an aircraft who makes the same utterance, or is it the same as the Fort Hood murderer who made that utterance before he killed innocent people. The true context in Libya happens to be the relationship that Moammar Gadhafi had with the people of Libya. He thought of himself as “the King of kings”, or in other words he thought of himself as God. (the man I dub the Grand Poohbah in Iran, aka Ayatollah Kahmenei does exactly the same thing. He also thinks that God speaks through him). The Libyans explain it best when they talk about the posters that abounded in Tripoli and elsewhere, as well as the use of the Little Green Schoolbook. There was in effect a “Cult of Moammar” that was in existence.
The men who have been called Islamists certainly objected to theis deification of Gadhafi. This is best illustrated in the context of some of the things that took place during battle. In one instance a doctor who was in the field trying to attend to the wounded, and who was in an ambulance when he was shot, was seen on the ground with a mercenary standing over him. The mercenary was demanding that the doctor proclaim Gadhafi as his “leader” or supreme, but the young doctor stated “allahu akbar” meaning that Gadhafi is not above God. This man exemplifies how many of those Libyan revolutionaries saw the situation. Gadhafi was not above God or Allah for them, only Allah was Supreme.
When one considers the history of Libya it should come as no surprise that there are Islamists. King Idris’s grandfather founded the Muslim sect known as Sanusi. It was a mixture of the Sufi and the Sunni Islam. The grandfather had been influenced by the Wahibbi school of Islam and it is true he had no real love for the Western colonial powers. In fact he was hostile to those western powers. By the time of Idris however, the Libyans were under the thumb of the Italians and they wanted to break free of their colonial masters. As is typical of Libya though, there was a divide in attitudes between East and West. The people of the East, that is people from Benghazi and similar towns were more inclined to want to shake off that colonialism but the people of Tripoli and Sirte were willing to keep the status quo. During the Second World War, Idris did a deal with the British and the French, that his people, the Sanusi Army would help the Allied forces and in return after the war, the British and the French would help Idris to throw off the yoke of the Italian colonial masters…. and so it was that Idris came to power. Needless to say the people from Tripoli were not happy about government being located in Benghazi.
Thus, we have to keep in mind that Islamism has always been a part of modern Libya and that Islam is a part of the fabric of society. Yet, these people also want to have some form of democratic system. It can be done, because this is what Turkey achieved through Attaturk. The question is how far will Libya go in setting up democratic systems?
The legacy of Gadhafi is that he made sure that there was no central government system in place. All the power was concentrated in Tripoli with Gadhafi cronies having the top positions. This in turn has led to a whole lot of corruption. Libya is not a poor country because of its oil wealth, yet on the whole a majority of the Libyan people are poor. This is because Gadhafi was shrewd enough to give the people an allowance every month. He spent lavishly on Sirte, and he spent lavishly on supplying weapons etc to other African nations.( His sons helped themselves to the wealth of the Libyan nation, and the luxuries of their foreign mansions, as well as their mansions in Libya were absolutely obscene. There is no better example of this obscenity than Aisha’s house in Tripoli with its indoor swimming pool and huge swimming pool size bath. The money that was spent and socked away by the Gadhafi family could have been used to build new apartment blocks many times over for the people all over Libya). The various towns had their committees but nothing else.
Gadhafi was a Marxist. His little Green schoolbook was based upon Mao’s Little Red book. He changed the flag to that green thing which had little or no meaning because it was just green. He renamed Libya as the Socialist Republic of Libya.
There is no need to rehash the background of the first protest in Benghazi, what caused it etc. but it is the outcome that is of significance. Once the walls of the town “fort” was breeched, and the people had control of the weapons, they began to organize themselves, forming a committee that was to become the National Transitional Council. What is quite significant, and what I believe separates Egypt from Libya, is that at this juncture the old flag of Libya began to appear. That flag became the symbol of the revolution. The fact that there was a flag that symbolized the revolution was something that set the revolution apart from what took place in Egypt.
One thing that I have noticed is that the critics of the Libyan revolution seem to be comparing the situation in that country to Iran prior to takeover by the Mullahs. However, there are some very significant differences. Whilst it is true that there are imams who played a role in the fall of Tripoli, there does not seem to be any real influence from any Mullah or Imam in Libya. This is a very striking difference between the 1979 revolution in Iran and the 2011 revolution in Libya. In Iran the leading figure of dissent was in fact the Ayatollah Khomenei who was living in exile. It was that fool, Jimmah Carter who did not have the brains to recognize the danger of this particular person, and saw him only in religious terms, thinking that he must be ok. The problem for Carter is that he equated Khomenei to a Baptist preacher. He had no understanding regarding Islam, and thus he helped create the evil that is Iran.
When the Egyptians began their protests in Tahrir square, it was both Coptic Christians and Muslims involved in the protest. The mix of people is significant because it has not panned out as expected. Amongst those protesters were anarchists, left-wing types, Marxists, Salafists etc. These people were demanding “democracy” but it is with a forked tongue. Here again in Egypt we have an element that is perhaps unsavoury. The real influence was the Muslim Brotherhood, yet they pretended that they were not involved. There is also a figure returned from “exile”, sort of, in the form of el Barabrandi (sp). This particular man desires to be Egyptian President but if that happened it would be one very big mistake since el Barabrani is allied to Iran. He is sort of a part of Muslim Brotherhood, but it seems that Muslim Brotherhood do not want to own him. Perhaps there is hope here because MB do not seem that keen on ties with Iran!! Since the revolution in Egypt the situation for both the Copts and the Israelis has deteriorated. This is the fault of the military. I point out here that one of the leading imams in Egypt is Tawanti (sp) who just happens to have the same name as that of the man in charge of the military, and who is currently in charge in Egypt. To the dismay of those early protesters though, nothing has really changed when it comes to the suppression of protests or even the suppression of free speech.
There are similarities between Egypt and Libya in that under the dictatorship there was a lack of free speech and the people were suppressed in similar ways. However, the differences are still quite stark. In Libya the people lived in constant fear of their neighbours dobbing them into the “authority” or perhaps a better phrase is the “thought police”. The suppression in Libya was always far more brutal than it was in Egypt. Another difference is that Gadhafi was exporting terrorism in many countries. Whilst it is assumed that he had quietened down after the invasion of Iraq, that was not necessarily the case since he was supplying weapons etc. to a variety of tin pot dictatorships in Africa. The only thing that really happened is that he shifted his emphasis away from the West.
Without a doubt Libya has a very long way to go on the road to democracy. This will not be democracy like we experience in the West. Here in Australia we are a Constitutional Monarchy and we are semi-independent from Great Britain. We elect our own politicians who sit in the various Parliaments in the States and Federally. Our form of democracy is different from that of the USA, which is a Republic. What we have in common though is that we elect our representatives. This is something that was denied to the Libyans. They have never experienced such structures, and now they must start from scratch.
The gap that has been created by the death of Gadaffi is such that there is the danger of tribal rivalry now that the common enemy has been eliminated. I personally do not believe that there is any threat from Al Qaeda or Hezbollah or any other outside group. I have no point of reference regarding the strength or otherwise of Muslim Brotherhood. Considering the way in which political parties were suppressed, I doubt that MB ever gained a foothold in Libya. Yet, there are Islamists.
This brings me to the leading Islamist, Mr. Belhaj. Up front, I believe Belhaj when he states that his focus was anti_Gadhafi, and that the focus of his LIFG was not global jihad, but was a jihad that would see the ouster of Gadhafi. I suspect that Mr. Belhaj was characterized by Gadhafi and his henchman as Al Qaeda when in fact he was not anything of the sort. According to this man he rejected the Al Qaeda idoeology. On the other hand I need to know more about Mr. Belhaj and his activities when he lived outside of Libya. He is one of the 2 men who was subjected to torture via the policy of rendition. I do suspect that Gadhafi and his henchmen lied about both men.
At this point in time it is hard to predict the future direction in Libya. If the people are true to their word, then they will be a pro-west nation. How far will they go in being pro-west? Will they follow the example of Idris with regard to Israel? At least under Idris there was little in the way of hostility between the two countries. The real hostility occurred under Gadhafi. Perhaps this is an indication that in the future there is a chance that there will be some form of reconciliation between these two countries, or at least a “look the other way” form of relationship, just like there is between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
With Gadhafi gone there are some big losers: Russia, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, China and Iran are all losers with the death of Gadhafi. The noises being made by the Russians make it obvious that they are afraid of losing their oil contracts. They backed the wrong pony. This is also true of China.
The evidence seems to point to a new regime that is not Marxist. These people do not want to be a part of a Peoples Republic. Libya will be an Islamic Republic, and hopefully they will come to grips with the daunting task that lies ahead of them.