Libya’s Transition To Democracy

UPDATE1: July 9, 2012 Libyan election hints at blow to Islamists

UPDATE2: July 13, 2012 Libya’s Jibril in election landslide over Islamists

UPDATE3: September 28, 2012 Give Egypt’s Aid Money to Libya

As a Muslim country, it’s not the end of the world if Libya uses sharia as a basis or basic source for their laws. They’re not going to be stoning, beheading or cutting off hands anytime soon. It also has a far better shot at emerging with a reasonably secular government and constitution than Egypt, Yemen or Syria. We can still be the most optimistic about Tunisia.

“On the eve of February 17th, the anniversary of last year’s Libyan revolution, Tripoli was a dangerous place. “Three men were shot outside my house last night,” a businessman told me. “And outside the Rixos, there was so much celebratory gunfire that I could not leave the hotel for hours”—the Rixos being the five-star hotel where many members of the transitional government live.

While Libyans are organizing political parties to compete in the June 23rd parliamentary elections, many describe the current situation as a power vacuum where there is no real law or order. Especially in western Libya, highly armed militiamen duke it out, often over disputes that have nothing to do with politics. Even in Zwara, the tightly knit Amazigh town of 50,000 that constitutes a separate cultural enclave, the police have not returned to work. Tripoli? Forget about it.

Such peace as prevails in Libya is the result of the social cohesion of a traditional society—and one where, in my experience, there is considerable fellow-feeling and a relative indifference to material goods. Libyans are inclined to give other Libyans the benefit of the doubt—and thus the omnipresent militia have not torn the country apart. The real question is what Libya will look like after the elections, as it puts itself back together.

One of the key issues here is how Libyans conceptualize freedom, and on my last trip this fall, I noticed that nearly everyone viewed freedom as compatible with sharia law. I was also increasingly sure that the best way to analyze Libya was not as a collection of tribes—though these exist—but as a collection of city-states or cultural regions. Renaissance Italy struck me as a possible analogy. But when I picked up David Hackett Fischer’s 1989 book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, still an excellent study of American origins, I began to see similarities here too.

While sharia strikes me, like most Americans, as problematic, it’s worth considering that our own country began as a loosely knit confederation of theocracies—Puritan, Quaker, and Anglican—where freedom of religion ranged from partial to nonexistent. As Fischer explains,

“liberty often described something which belonged not to an individual but to an entire community. Samuel Adams, for example, wrote more often about the “liberty of America” than about the liberty of individual Americans. This idea of collective liberty … was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals.”

Fischer, a professor of history at Brandeis University, divides colonial America into four “folkways”—Puritan New England, the Quaker mid-Atlantic, Anglican Virginia, and the frontier areas—each settled mainly by immigrants from a distinct region in England.

Fischer’s analytical model—looking at each of the four American cultures in terms of their approaches to birth, child rearing, marriage, age, death, order, speech, architecture, dress, food, wealth, and time—illuminates the importance and persistence of cultural origins. To take a simple example, even today, certain idioms are common in certain regions, even as the population may have completely different ethnic roots than the original settlers.

Fischer’s framework suggests ways of looking at Libya as a collection of related but culturally distince mini-societies, rather than a single society, and as a nation that will likely turn out to be partially free, with a greater regard for community liberty than individual liberty. But as the evolution of our own country suggests, cultures are not static. Persistent yes; unchangeable, no. (Fischer’s model also makes for interesting interpretations of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

On July 4, 1777, few Americans could have imagined our country today. Libya will need a lot of luck, but Americans should not be too quick to judge how the country will evolve in the coming years.”

Libya, One Year Later

Extract from Michael J. Totten on the Arab Spring:

“I’ve never seen such a gruesomely oppressive place as Libya under the mad rule of Qaddafi, and I might not ever again. His was the kind of regime that scarcely even exists anymore, and as a buffoonish yet sinister Islamic-Stalinist hybrid it was in some ways unique unto itself. Everyone I met there said wonderful things about Qaddafi in public, yet no one I met had anything but loathing and hatred for him in private. They were terrified of the man and urged me not to repeat what they told me to anyone lest they be taken from their house in the night and buried in prison. I have heard, but cannot confirm, that one in six residents of Tripoli worked for or with the secret police. The only reason anyone in Libya told me anything whatsoever in confidence is because they knew I could not be with the mukhabarat—state intelligence.

Libya underwent a total regime change. There is little left of Qaddafi’s state. There isn’t even much left of his family. The army has been completely replaced by the rebels, although some of them are former army officers. Institutions and courts have to be built up from scratch by people with hardly any experience in modern politics.

If the traumatized people of this brutalized nation can’t agree on how to proceed—watch out. The country is awash with guns and battle-hardened militiamen. Every conceivable political faction—from liberals and moderates to tribal leaders and radical Islamists—has supporters willing to pull the trigger for what they believe in. Even al-Qaeda has a presence in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Genuine pro-Western sentiment exists in Libya today thanks to the NATO campaign, which is excellent, but everything from this point forward must go exactly right for Libya to emerge as anything like a stable democracy. It could happen. It isn’t impossible. Every possibility is wide open. But democracy is only one possible outcome among many.”

Arab Spring or Islamist Winter?

A Vision Of A Democratic Libya

The Arab Spring

National Transitional Council


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: