Sunday, August 21, 2011

Qadhafi Falls

As I write, it is crystal clear that Moammar Qadhafi's 42-year rule of Libya has come to an end, and he himself will likely be captured, killed or fled before the evening is out. Yesterday I commented that the best case scenario was for an uprising against him in Tripoli itself to go with the advance of the Free Libya forces. Juan Cole recounts how just that occurred:
"The underground network of revolutionaries in the capital, who had been violently repressed by Qaddafi’s security forces last March, appear to have planned the uprising on hearing of the fall of Zawiya and Zlitan. It is Ramadan, so people in Tripoli are fasting during the day, breaking their fast at sunset. Immediately after they ate their meal, the callers to prayer or muezzins mounted the minarets of the mosques and began calling out, 'Allahu Akbar,' (God is most Great), as a signal to begin the uprising. (Intrestingly, this tactic is similar to that used by the Green movement for democracy in Iran in 2009).

"Working class districts in the east were the first to rise up. Apparently revolutionaries have been smuggling in weapons to the capital and finding a way to practice with them. Tajoura, a few kilometers from Tripoli to the east, mounted a successful attack on the Qaddafi forces in the working class suburb, driving them off. At one point the government troops fired rockets at the protesting crowds, killing 122 persons. But it was a futile piece of barbarity, followed by complete defeat of Qaddafi forces. Eyewitness Asil al-Tajuri told Aljazeera Arabic by telephone that the revolutionaries in Tajoura captured 6 government troops, and that they freed 500 prisoners from the Hamidiya penitentiary. The Tajoura popular forces also captured the Muitiqa military base in the suburb and stormed the residence of Mansur Daw, the head of security forces in Tripoli...

"At one point an Aljazeera Arabic correspondent was able to get the frequency of the security forces and we overheard them fretting that they were running low on ammunition and fuel for their riposte to the revolutionaries’ advance."

That last paragraph calls attention to the critical role of international support for the rebels, seen most dramatically in the NATO bombardment which destroyed much of Qadhafi's military might. The NATO intervention was still a gamble, in that there seemed to be no plan for what would happen if a stalemate developed, but in this case it is a gamble that has paid off.

The history of the 2011 Arab revolutions now runs something like this: In December 2010, an uprising began in Tunisia, developing out of worker protests in the southern part of that country that may have been inspired by the culture of protest in neighboring Algeria. After a month, Ben Ali fled, and a massive uprising began in Egypt, which succeeded in ousting Mubarak just a few weeks. Tunisia's revolution had inspired protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world, and after Mubarak fell, these became much larger, as such a development in 1.) a second country and 2.) a larger, more culturally central country led people to see themselves as living in a possible age of revolution. However, other governments succeeded is using loyal security forces to crack down on their protest movements, and there have been no major developments since.

Until now. Does the success of the Libyan Revolution presage similar developments elsewhere, especially in Syria and Yemen? Not necessarily. Libya had a well-armed insurrection which succeeded with the aid of a significant foreign military operation. It is not clear that those conditions will exist elsewhere, and so the "Libya model," which as Robert Farley notes is really the Afghanistan model, does not seem a likely prototype for other countries. On the other hand, the fall of Qadhafi could inspire people elsewhere to resist their regimes to a greater extent than they otherwise might, against especially in Syria, and this in turn could ultimately lead to fractures in national security forces or between regimes and their security forces, and this could enable those revolts to succeed.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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