Tunisian Contagion and Gaddafi’s Libya
The events that began in Tunisia have spread to other Arab countries and have destabilized the entire region. Of course the reverberation of those events has been felt in other countries as well. The latest in the series is the events unfolding in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. Muammer Gaddafi came to power on 1 September 1969 by a bloodless coup d'état against King Idris while the king was in Turkey for medical treatment. He was profoundly influenced by the Arab defeat in Palestine in 1948 to Israeli forces and Nasser's rise to power in Egypt in 1952. The frustration and shame felt by young Libyan military officers who witnessed the humiliating defeat of Arab armies on three fronts by Israel in 1967 fuelled their determination to contribute to Arab unity by overthrowing the Libyan monarchy. Owing to this fact, it was clear that his regime would adopt popular nationalist and also anti-imperialist policies similar to those of Nasser. So British imperialists wanted to overthrow him and re-establish monarchy by using mercenaries against the new regime. A plan was organised by David Stirling to use mercenaries to restore the monarchy after he was approached by a member of the royal family. However, the plan was dropped at the eleventh hour by the British Secret Intelligence Service, allegedly because the United States Government felt that Gaddafi was sufficiently anti-Marxist to be worth protecting. In world politics, like many other popular nationalist leaders, Gaddafi took anti-imperialist stand on many occasions and his regime was even branded as one that helped and was associated with Muslim militant groups that conducted terror attacks in several occasions.
Gaddafi’s regime can be described as a popular nationalist social welfarist authoritarian regime. Why so many adjectives? In my opinion, those adjectives would help us in our attempts to understand the similarities and differences between the events in Libya and other Arab countries. Why do people like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez take more conciliatory attitude on the events in Libya? I can see hear a similarity between American and British imperialists and Castro and Chavez. The USA led imperialist countries wanted to protect Mubarak until it was crystally clear that no compromise was possible without removing him from power. They do not want regime change in Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen in spite of similar protests in those countries. Instead of regime change, they called for ‘peaceful transition’. Answer, those regimes have sided with imperialists. However, when it comes to Libya, Hilary Clinton wanted Gaddafi regime to be replaced immediately. On the contrary to the US position, Castro and Chavez now seek peaceful compromise in Libya. They want Gaddafi to come to some settlement with the mass movement that they seem to treat as a legitimate protest. How do we explain the political position of Castro and Chavez? I am posing these questions as it would help very much our understanding about the dialectics of mass protests. In my note on the Egyptian uprising (The Island, February 6, 2011), I quoted Trotsky’s analysis of mass uprisings. He wrote: "The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena,(...). The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny." Preface to History of the Russian Revolution.
In Libya as in other countries, masses have forcibly entered into the realm of rulership over their own destiny. So any democrat or a revolutionary should support this unconditionally. Nonetheless, it is also imperative to understand the nuances and complexities of the mass movement. In Libya, unlike in Egypt, the events may develop into a civil war as there seems to be a popular support for Gaddafi. The reports suggest that heavy fighting between Gaddafi forces and the anti-government popular forces in many areas and anti-Gaddafi forces have already captured some major towns. It was also reported that the forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi have encircled rebels in the town of Zawiyah after a day of pitched battles in the far west and east of Libya. As The Guardian reports, “Residents of Ras Lanuf reported running battles between loyalist forces and rebels for 24 hours, before the government troops withdrew in what some observers have suggested was more of a tactical retreat than surrender. The area between the two towns is now being treated as a front line in a protracted campaign that many in Benghazi fear that it is beginning to turn into a civil war”. Hence, the direction in which Libyan events are developing is somewhat different from that of Egypt.
The most important lacuna in the Arab movement is in my opinion the issue of leadership that stands for anti-imperialism, democracy, and social justice. The popular nationalism has shown time and again that it is not adequate in addressing the demands, aspirations and basic needs of people and as a result it entails an inherent degenerating tendency. Masses entering into the realm of rulership are great. Nevertheless, it in itself does not ensure success as far as main demands of the people like elimination of poverty and unemployment, protection of social justice, elimination of oppression and exploitation are concerned. Similarly the revolutionary mass leadership should also understand the hypocrisy of the US led imperialist front. Anticipating new mass revolt, Saudi Arabia banned all marches. The announcement signalled that the recent small-scale protests by the Shia minority in the oil-producing east of the country would no longer be tolerated. Have the US and its very vocal secretary of state reflected on this? So the popular movement should also take into consideration that Libya should not allow new exploiters to come to regain their oil fields.