A friend of mine recently argued to me that Egypt showed that police power is not enough to prevent a revolution, therefore the Arab countries that have not yet seen widespread protests must be doing something right. Not so my friend – Egypt and Tunisia were very different cases to the rest of the region.
Tunisia is the most modern, and most secularised Arab country, with the highest level of economic development out of all of them. Egypt has a 6,000-year history as a proud nation and the Egyptian army is made of Egyptians, who are patriotic and love their country, their people and their nation. This is why Egypt’s military response to the protests was muted, despite Mubarak’s best efforts; even though he was a military leader originally, he did not have the sufficient influence over his army to make it brutal enough to stamp-out the unrest that his country was seeing.
Contrast this with Libya. Gaddafi was not a patriot and he was not about making his country great, he has always been concerned with power and power alone. He changed the flag and changed the army – relying less on Libyan recruits and more on imported mercenaries to make-up his military and his secret police. These are not loyal Libyans serving their country; they are career thugs, loyal only to the man who pays them. This is why they have few qualms about firing indiscriminately on “their” own people and why more is needed than just protests to take Gaddafi down.
It is obvious now that “people power” was not enough to depose Gaddafi, and those opposing him have realised this. Having taken a significant chunk of the Libyan coast, they have begun forming and training a militia in order to pose a challenge to Gaddafi’s private army.
Subtle details in the media’s language says everything in a story like this. Originally, the Libyans filling Benghazi’s centre were “anti-government protesters” or “demonstrators”, similar to Egypt and Tunisia, as well as Bahrain, Yemen and all of the other countries seeing unrest. One month on, the Egyptians and Tunisians are “revolutionaries” – having protested their governments down. In Libya, they are now “Libyan rebels”.
WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he would appoint a special representative to Libya’s rebel leaders and that the Treasury Department had placed sanctions on nine more family members and friends of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in an effort to force the Libyan leader to resign.
What’s the significance of this? Revolutions have revolutionaries, and Libya is no longer seeing a revolution. Rebels belong to a different class of event: a civil war. The “demonstrators” have become a bona fide militia and are now battling Gaddafi’s forces for territory, taking the country city-by-city and struggling to hold on to what has been gained. Unfortunately, people power is not enough to overcome a true dictatorship – what has yet to be seen is whether or not the West needs to step-in and help drive Gaddafi’s forces out of Tripoli*.
*Or if you’re Paul McGeough, whether the Zio-Crusader Empire is going to occupy Libya like it did Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine…
Photos: from this awesome photoessay in The Atlantic.