There was much celebrating yesterday as rebel forces, aided by increased NATO surveillance, moved into Tripoli. Though fighting continues in pockets throughout Tripoli—most notably over Gaddafi’s compound—the regime’s end is imminent and all but certain. Though Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown, his two eldest sons, Mohammad and Saif al-Islam, have been taken into custody by rebel forces.
A few hours ago, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Chairman of the Libyan National Transition Council, acknowledged the significance of the revolution’s early peaceful protesters. He warned against vigilante acts of justice and called for a peaceful transition, demanding that Gaddafi be captured alive and unharmed to be tried in Libyan courts. In a nod to Gaddafi’s history of interventionism in sub-Saharan Africa, he noted that Gaddafi would be remembered for the atrocities he committed against both the people of Libya and the world. Abdel Jilal promised that the end of the regime marked Libya’s emergence as a responsible member of the international community and closed by noting that the move into Tripoli represents a culmination of decades-long Libyan resistance against Gaddafi. Libyans, he said, “never submitted” to Gaddafi’s rule.
The National Transition Council may be a better mechanism for transition than the military-influenced transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The Council arguably represents a cross-section of Libyan society. As we are seeing in Egypt, militaries are not often good mechanisms of democratic transition. Though they can enforce order and the rule of law, they tend to protect their own interests at the expense of democratic reform. The National Transition Council, though comprised of elites, was not an already-existing institution with money and power interests entrenched in Libyan society. But because they do not have the resources to enforce law and order, they have to rely on the good graces of rebel factions; this means immediate risks of chaos and violence but may ultimately result in more comprehensive regime overhaul.
Philosophers and scientists have long proposed theories in which duality is the propelling force of movement and progress – the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s dialectic offered a process of change in which opposition between two interacting forces creates a thesis and antithesis to form a new synthesis, while physicist Isaac Newton demonstrated that in the Laws of Motion every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
U.S. foreign policy appears to follows the doctrine of duality, except for one factor – progress is frequently backwards. Exempting the Cold War, U.S. State Department history of the last sixty years has proceeded with bi-polar swings between action and reaction and rarely with satisfactory outcomes. Moammar Gadhafi and his challenges to western dominance are an excellent example of this backwards movement.
Would Gadhafi the authoritative, Gadhafi, the self-chosen defender of the world’s dominated, and Gadhafi the conspirator exist if the western nations, represented most by the United States, treated The Third World fairly and did not interfere in the affairs of other nations for their own interests? It is unlikely he would have any raison d’être.
“What has Muammar Gaddafi been up to for the past two decades? And who are these ‘African mercenaries’ who are killing civilians?” asked confused Western spectators as they watched the Libyan head of state begin a campaign of terror against his citizens.
Was this the same buffoonish character that we all watched in 2009 as he delivered that embarrassingly incoherent, bumbling address to the United Nations? He seemed so cartoonish, so ineffectual and irrelevant then—an aging despot too out of touch to pose a real danger to anyone. As such, we shoved the troubling elements of that speech aside—and decided not to worry about them.
To be fair, Arab governments weren’t paying much attention either. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Gaddafi was roundly mocked for an over-inflated ego of such grand proportions that he routinely spoke of himself in world-historical terms. A self-styled “Che Guevara” of the Arab world, Gaddafi mostly annoyed the neighboring despotic regimes.
Once Mubarak’s regime fell, and the celebrations in Tahrir Square subsided as Egyptians began to use Twitter to organize city cleanings rather than overthrow their dictator, the inevitable question of the hour became, “who is going to be next? Will the governments of the Middle East fall like dominos, one after another?”
Tunisia and Egypt have shown us that what was once inconceivable is now inevitable. However, many people have not acknowledged that Tunisia and Egypt coincidentally have remarkably similar populations. Both populations are overwhelmingly young, connected to the Internet, and most importantly united to overthrow the dictator that has presided over their country their entire lifetime. Their shared economic conditions and technological savvy fueled and expedited their respective revolutions. Many of the other Arab states lack this serendipitous national unity, making their hopeful future democratic transitions more challenging.