The military campaign against Col. Gaddafi’s regime is now in its fourth day. As I write, Sky News is reporting more Anti-Aircraft fire over Libya’s capital, Tripoli. How has it come to be that the majority of Libyans have decided to turn on their ruler of 42 years, or more to the point, what has given them the confidence to rise up?
Arguably, it all started in Tunisia in December 2010. Fuelled by high unemployment and rising food prices, ordinary Tunisians took to the streets in an attempt to end the 23 year reign of President Ben Ali. By the 14th January 2011 they had succeeded in their mission and Tunisia was on the brink of democratic reform. The same fate was awaiting the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, and for similar reasons. Millions of Egyptians, heartened by the success of the revolution in Tunisia, turned out across the country and, with the support of the Egyptian military, forced the resignation of President Mubarak on the 11th February 2011. The revolutionaries in both nations comprised of people from across social classes and religions and they sent a clear message to the rest of the region on what could be achieved with ‘people power’.
Just a few days later, on the 15th February 2011, pro-democracy demonstrations began to spring up across Libya’s major towns and Cities. Given the fact that Libya is geographically sandwiched between Egypt and Tunisia, some analysts had already predicted tension. The unrest escalated quickly and within a week a vast majority of Libya was under rebel (note ‘rebel’, not ‘revolutionary’ as in Tunisia and Egypt, a term that has been used by the mass media when referring to Libyan pro-democracy groups) control, leaving only Tripoli in the hands of Gaddafi and his supporters. What followed was a violent and bloody resistance from Gaddafi and his troops, some of whom were domestic military and, allegedly, some who were paid mercenaries from other African countries. Gaddafi began to make gains on the rebel held areas using a mixture of brutal ground assaults and air attacks from Libya’s air force. There were reportedly heavy casualties, both amongst the rebel fighters and civilians that were caught up in the battle or, according to some claims, targeted by Gaddafi’s troops. It wasn’t long before his heavy-handed response drew criticism from around the world, including other Arab nations. The rebels were suffering heavy loses and it looked as though the fledgling revolution had been stopped in its tracks.
Then, on the 17th March 2011, the UN Security council voted to adopt ‘Resolution 1973’, which:
“Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures…”
These necessary measures were to be taken to halt the suffering of the civilians of Libya, who had set out to emulate the success of their neighbours, in choosing their future. They included the implementation of a ‘No-fly zone’ over Libya in order to prevent Gaddafi from targeting them from the air. Authorisation was also given to target military installations on the ground, that pose a threat to the lives of civilians and those protesting for democracy. The resolution was a result of energetic lobbying by France and the UK and had the support of the US and Canada as well as members of the Arab league.
Now, whilst I support the humanitarian aspect of the resolution and the ensuing military action against Gaddafi, I feel the need to take a look at the wider implications. This, after all, was an attempt by the people of Libya at a revolution (‘an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed’ – From dictionary.com) and a revolution usually has two outcomes:
1. The revolutionaries are successful and the government or ruler is overthrown (Iran 1979, The Velvet Revolution (Czechoslovakia) 1989, Georgia 2003, etc.)
2. The revolution fails and the government remains in power (Brazil 1918, Moldova 2009, etc.)
These outcomes serve to make revolution a last option for desperate, oppressed populations.
However, I would argue that Resolution 1973 and the manner of the action in Libya, that is destroying the Gaddafi’s ground and air capabilities and removing the ability of resistance (not that I am suggesting that Gaddafi is merely resisting revolution), makes way for a third outcome, ‘Assisted revolution’. This would occur when a revolution attempt appears to be failing, therefore a foreign force (or coalition of forces) steps in to help. In my opinion this sets a dangerous precedent for future revolutions across the world. It does this because it gives strength and confidence to would-be revolutionaries, in nations that would have once been relatively ‘revolution-proof’. Take present day Iran or North Korea as examples of this. Such is the often aggressive and oppressive nature of the governments of both countries, their citizens, should the desire arise, would scarcely dream of revolution through fear of it being brutally crushed. Now, with this third option of ‘assisted revolution’, the citizens may encounter a false confidence on the premise that the UN will assist them if their attempts were to fail. I am not suggesting that the UN or any member nations would come to the aid of any would-be revolutionaries in states such as Iran and North Korea, but the perception of the people could be enough to lead them in to a bloody and fruitless revolution attempt.
What’s more, who decides who is ‘good and evil’ in these situations? In Libya it seems fairly clear-cut, Gaddafi’s regime is violently oppressing the ‘rebels’ that are attempting revolution. A group of people, who when viewed in the same light as recent Tunisians and Egyptians, are normal citizens who are desperate for political change. This definition is problematic. The ‘rebels’ in Libya are armed and, in some cases, trained militia, who appear prepared to resort to civil war in the quest to over throw Gaddafi. Taking strength from the recent successes in Tunisia and Egypt, they have attempted a revolution of their own, perhaps blinded by optimism, to the fact that Gaddafi does not appear to share the same morals as most decent human beings. What, I ask, would be the response of the UN if the Anti-Gaddafi camp were succeeding in their cause at the expense of the lives of Gaddafi’s troops and supporters? Which brings me back to the question, who decides who is good and evil and, in addition, what is their agenda?
Now on to, perhaps, my most exaggerated example of all, China. One of the five countries that abstained from voting on Resolution 1973.
If the people of China decided that they wanted real democracy and the power to choose their own ruler, the threat of such expression of opinion being crushed would be enough to stop it in its tracks. But, let’s just say that, encouraged by the recent events in the Middle East and the assistance afforded to the revolutionary movement in Libya, the Chinese people decided to act on the momentum. Without doubt the Chinese government would turn to violence, be it overt or covert, almost as soon as the revolution attempt began. The attempt continues and word spreads across large parts of the country, of course some will stay sided with the government, but sections of the nation begin to rise up. What then? My prediction would be that the Chinese government would not hesitate to turn their military on the people, killing hundreds and maybe thousands. How would the UN and the West respond to such a crisis? I would suggest not in the same way as they have in Libya.
Thanks for looking.