Feb 27: A provisional government in Benghazi

Here are some early thoughts on the reported formation of a provisional government. I might try to flesh these out for a longer piece in arabist.net.

With Qaddafi threatening to “turn Libya red with fire”, the world is understandably concerned about whether or not he will pull the country down around him. Neil MacFarquhar for example addresses here the possibility that Libya will become a failed state, or that the power vacuum left by Qaddafi will be filled by religious radicals.
The fears are justified, but the rebels — at least in the east — seem to be filling the power vacuum very quickly. As of writing, Benghazi had just appointed a former justice minister, Mustafa abd al-Jalil, to head a provisional government. [Update/Correction: In this excellent article in The National, a spokesman emphasizes that the Benghazi council is a “political face for the revolution” and an organization that directs civic affairs, rather than an interim government. Still, it fills the power vacuum.] A military committee headed by defecting senior ranking military officers are claiming that they are in the process of organizing a liberation force to be sent to Tripoli, and coordinating tribal leaders in surrounding towns, have already infiltrated small groups into the capital’s outskirts.
It is interesting that most of the figures who now seem to be directing the rebellion — a minister, senior officers, tribal leaders — come from the old elites. They seem to be able to coordinate very quickly, presumably because they were involved to some degree in negotiating with Qaddafi and with each other, and with providing resources (ie, cash to officierial appointments) to their client base. They had some authority under the old regime in other words without being completely tainted by it — and now, because they are directing the revolution, they are renewing their legitimacy.
I would contrast this with Iraq, where the old elites were very much tools of the regime — many sheikhs, for example, were elevated to their position by Saddam. They were discredited, and also disempowered by the Coalition’s decision to dissolve the army. This cleared the way for radical movements like the Sadrists or al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad (the al-Qaeda affiliate) to come to establish themselves as the dominant force in towns and neighborhoods. Traditional Iraqi local leaders included colonels, local businessmen, tribal sheikhs, and senior religious scholars, and many of these turned themselves into insurgent commanders or insurgent backers. But because their traditional authority was so greatly weakened, they had difficulties competing wth more radical movements were often led by NCOs, charismatic former criminals who found religion, passionate village schoolteachers, and back-alley mosque preachers.
The social revolution, plus the other crucial factors of foreign occupation and religious division, produced the perfect storm which brought Iraq to the brink of failed statehood in 2004-2006. You don’t need a social revolution to have civil war, of course — Lebanon managed to have a long war with the old elites still firmly in their place. But the role of the traditional elites, and the opportunities for any radical groups to emerge to supplant them, is something to watch in Libya in the weeks ahead.

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2 Responses to Feb 27: A provisional government in Benghazi

  1. Guillermo Ramón Castro Reyes says:

    Señor Director.
    Este proceso que más que revolucionario, lo considero “evolucionario” porque los pueblos cayeron, muy tarde, en razones de que una banda de aventureros y ladrones se había apoderado no solo del poder político sino de su vida y de todos sus derechos.
    Me atrevo a pensar que hasta usaron los sentimientos religiosos del pueblo como otra forma más de dominación.
    La hora llegó, y el ciclo de la mentira y la satrapía terminó y vendrá otra nueva realidad con nuevos actores en otro escenario. Deseo fervientemente que los aires de libertad permanezcan para siempre, dejando atrás todo peligro de autoritarismo sea clerical o laico y que la tan esperada democracia llegue para quedarse.
    La paz que sobrevendrá solo tendrá permanencia si la distribución de la riqueza es justa, sin corruptos y con honestidad administrativa.
    Saludo reverentemente al pueblo de Libia que asombra al mundo con su decisión y valentía de la misma forma que antes lo manifestó el Egipcio.
    Muchas gracias.-

  2. larye daniel says:

    there are people who have been paid to fight the libyans.
    fighting will only kill Libyans let the people of Libya freely decide their lives
    anybody who fought the Libyans would not be tolerated.
    we support the freedom of Libya in a proper democracy with all forms of liberties in security and rule of law in all fundamental rights for its people.

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