Something important is still happening. It’s still happening, and it’s spreading.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, has said on a privately owned TV channel that he intends to run for president in Egypt’s 2011 presidential election. “When the door of presidential nominations opens, I intend to nominate myself,” ElBaradei said on ONTV channel on Wednesday. ElBaradei also said that suggested constitutional amendments to move Egypt toward democracy are ‘superficial.’ He appealed to the military rulers to scrap them or delay a scheduled March 19 referendum on them.
These protests have been somewhat akin to life-saving heart surgery, or perhaps limb-saving removal of gangrene from a wound. All the drama happens at the beginning – the dramatic removal of damaged and dying tissue, the machine that goes “ping!” – and there is a flurry of activity. However, once the problem has been removed, there remain the several hours of tissue salvage and repair. You see, just because you get rid of a corrupt government (to put the metaphor aside for a second), it doesn’t result in good government springing up overnight. The people of Egypt have a long road ahead of them if they want to move toward a true representative government.
Any state that overthrows its government has to deal with the aftermath, and this is even more challenging in countries that have been ruled by autocrats for decades – most of the citizenry doesn’t remember life any other way. To return to the metaphor for a final moment, after the surgery is done and the patient is stitched up, there still remains months of painful rehabilitation and physiotherapy – these uprisings will have implications that will resound for decades to come.
Forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi are reported to have made gains against anti-government rebels in two key areas. Western journalists in the city of Zawiya, west of Tripoli, confirmed the Gaddafi regime’s claims that the city had fallen after days of bombardment. Rebels are reported to have fled from the oil port of Ras Lanuf to the east.
Whereas the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Oman were (mostly) peaceful, Libya’s revolution has devolved into a civil war, with two separate factions vying for control. There is a non-centralized (but soon to be centralized) rebel “government”, and the forces loyal to the deposed Muammar Gaddafi. This state of bilateral conflict was made official when the French government formally recognized the rebel force as the legitimate governing regime in Libya. This recognition was, in my mind, premature and stupid. No elections have been called, no official leadership has been formed, and the situation is still incredibly volatile.
There have been repeated calls for the establishment of a “no fly zone”, including a petition from Avaaz. For the record while I am usually directly on board with Avaaz’s causes, they got this one dead wrong. A “no fly zone” means that foreign military aircraft will be patrolling Libya’s airspace and shooting down any Libyan military aircraft. However, in order to do this without being shot themselves, the foreign powers would have to disable Libya’s anti-aircraft capabilities, which necessitates the deployment and active combat engagement of ground troops. Yes, this means declaring war on Libya. Considering that a) the African Union has explicitly denounced the plan, b) the Arab Union would not look kindly upon Western military involvement in their territory, and c) military intervention by the West is what started all of these problems in the first place, I am opposed to the idea of getting more involved than trade sanctions and the seizing of foreign holdings.
However, that means I have to stand impotently by and watch as Libyans are slaughtered by their own military. This is one of those times where we have to go with the lesser of two evils – foreign involvement in this conflict will only make things worse.
Hundreds of police have been deployed in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, ahead of anti-government rallies planned for after Friday prayers. Security forces have blocked roads and set up checkpoints, while reports suggest some protesters have begun to gather in the eastern town of Hofuf. On Thursday, police opened fire at a rally in the eastern city of Qatif, with at least one person being injured. Activists have been inspired by a wave of popular revolt across the region.
Saudi Arabia is an unlikely place for such widespread protests, given the disproportionate wealth and absolute power of the ruling class. However, the fact that there are protests is testament to the fact that once people get a taste of their collective power they are willing to use it to improve their standing in life. Egypt showed us that protests can work to effect change even in autocracies. Libya showed us that people are willing to fight and risk death for their freedom, and Saudi Arabia is showing us that no matter how oppressed a people are, they will rise up and fight when given the opportunity. These protests are also happening in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Yemen – this is no isolated thing.
The irony in all of this is that the United States devoted billions of dollars to wage war, with the ostensible goal of promoting democracy and freedom in this very region. History will eventually decide, but it seems today that that war only succeeded in increasing resentment toward the West and retarding the cause of democracy. Now, while the western world is cracking down on the rights of people in Europe and North America, it seems as though the Arab and North African world is giving us a lesson in how to wage freedom.
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