Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two different lessons from Libya and Yemen

Sana'a- Mar 9, 2011- As much as the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have grown closer to their happy endings, the situations in Libya and Yemen seem to be getting more difficult and complex and are heading toward vague or foggy endings that might extend the suffering of the people. The reasons that have mobilized and are still mobilizing the street in these countries are almost similar, but the circumstances in them are different, as each enjoys a different history, social structure, relations, and a particular level of concord between the components of this structure. There are also different cultures and relations with the region and the international community, and this can clearly be seen in the Jamahiriya and Yemen. Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the outcome of the action in each of these two latter countries will have negative repercussions on the popular action of any of their neighbors. Consequently, the Algerians, the Moroccans and others, will not be able to know in advance the outcome of any uprising or revolution – as was the case in Egypt and Tunisia - and will have to draw the Libyan and Yemeni lessons.

It has become clear that the Libyan regime cannot be easily toppled due to numerous factors, namely regionalism and tribalism, which are strongly denied by the Libyans, as it used to be the case of the Iraqis who got mad whenever they were told they were growing closer to division, the Lebanese style. And here they are today, seven years after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, drowning in sectarian and denominational divide.

The rupture which currently exists in Libya between the East and the West, between Benghazi and Tripoli, brings back to mind a reality which prevailed not too long ago. Indeed, it revives the memory of the cultural, political and historical division between these two regions which were only unified mid last century, in light of the establishment of the United Libyan Kingdom proclaimed by King Idris as-Senussi to combine the three Libyan provinces. This is why the Eastern population rushed to restore the flag of the kingdom, leaving the flag of the Jamahiriya to the Westerners and South-westerners. This rupture divested the revolution of its peaceful character, as the Libyans aligned in two warring camps in a way rendering it difficult later on to come together again without there being bloodshed. Indeed, if the brigades and mercenaries of Muammar al-Gaddafi were to succeed – which is highly unlikely – the killing will continue. And if the revolutionaries win, they will also resort to retaliation against Gaddafi’s supporters who governed the country with steel, fire and humiliation throughout 42 years. In both cases, a lot of blood will be shed on the altar of change in the Jamahiriya, especially since the rebels are now carrying weapons and are training with army units that have joined their ranks.

Libya has entered a stage of mutual violence, which might take the shape of civil war if this stage proceeds without the rebels being able to settle the battle in their favor, using the support of all the measures adopted by the international community and especially the United States and the European countries. The problem with the Libyan rebels is that they want international help but not if it is similar to the one seen in the Iraqi case. They want the United States and the European countries to support them, but not in a way that makes them look as though they resorted to foreign assistance to topple Gaddafi. They want interference, but at the same time do not want it. Some are even cautioning that a foreign military interference will lead the situation in a totally opposite direction, i.e. that it might prompt the Libyans to rally around Gaddafi again! And although the Americans and Europeans clearly expressed their wish to see Gaddafi leave and are seeking his sanctioning and besieging, they are also expressing the difficulty of establishing an umbrella over Libya to prevent the regime from using its air force without there being a direct military interference by land or air.

Libya might turn into another Somalia on the shores of the Mediterranean, unless a rift occurs on the regime’s end at the level of the tribes which are still standing alongside it. Some Libyans – just like the Yemenis – are finding it difficult to relinquish a regime in which they have established power centers and secured the interests of the supporters, the fellow tribesmen and the sect. It is not easy for these beneficiaries to relinquish their interests, and they are as eager as the regime to defend the legitimacy which it no longer enjoys, neither domestically nor abroad. This is what implicated President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and later on President Hosni Mubarak, who tried to resist during the first few days of the revolutions in their countries while pushed by these power centers and the army of beneficiaries. However, their resistance came late. Today, the situation in Tripoli is similar to the situation in Sana’a, as neither Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi nor Ali Abdullah Saleh will leave power, as long as there are forces that still believe it would serve their interests to see these regimes remain, or at least to see the improvement of the conditions of their departure.

But while Libya has entered the tunnel of mutual violence, the situation in Yemen might remain distant from the use of arms, as no one seems to want to resort to arms in a country featuring nothing but weapons. Moreover, no one seems to wish to engage in such an experience, out of fear of waking up the demons of tribal retaliations - both the old and the new – considering that if this were to happen, there would be no meaning for the change or the revolution. The situation in Yemen has its specificities since it has nothing to do with what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and what is happening in Libya. Indeed, the talk about civil war in Yemen is closer to an empty threat than to a reality on the ground, and even division seems highly unlikely. Moreover, the secessionism inclination which characterized the action of the Southerners was toned down, seeing how the secessionists are awaiting the outcome of the change which will sooner or later be witnessed in the country. Anarchy might escalate if the regime is unable to conclude a deal with its opponents, considering that even the latter are being preceded by the street, which is increasing its pressures on them. Indeed, the angry people are now imposing their agendas, far away from the parties, forces and tribes, which is why these forces are changing, along with their positions, on a daily basis.

So far, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been listening without showing any cooperation with the proposals of the scholars association, as he does not seem to want to help find an exit to salvage the country from chaos or help anyone find a formula that would secure an honorable departure for him and maintain the dignity of his supporters. He can, instead of insisting on staying in his post until the end of his term, propose a middle ground solution and announce he will relinquish power before the end of this term. By doing so, he would be taking one step closer toward the proposal of the scholars association for him to resign at the end of the year, in the context of a timetable that will feature measures which will lead the country toward a climate of reforms, freedoms and participation in the authority and pave the way before parliamentary and presidential elections. Stubbornness will not to do the president any good, will prolong the suffering of the Yemenis and increase the problems of the authority which will not be able to continue governing no matter what it does and regardless of the enticements it offers – seeing how these enticements are no longer attracting anyone. Change in Yemen is inevitable, but in the context of a deal as it is recognized by the regime itself. Consequently, the question that is now on the table revolves around the timing of this change and the way it will be secured.

What is happening in Yemen may be getting wider international attention than what is happening in Libya, considering that the repercussions of the developments in the country on the entire neighboring region – from the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa – cannot be neglected. This is especially due to the fact that after Afghanistan and Pakistan, the country is almost becoming the number one base for Al-Qaeda organization. Chaos can only enhance the positions of the organization, which is something that cannot be accepted or tolerated by those engaged in a war against terrorism on the regional and international levels.

There is no arguing about the fact that the street will eventually win the wager, but at a very high cost. Neither Colonel Gaddafi nor Colonel Ali Abdullah Salah can stand in the face of the international will and the people’s desires. There is a particular social structure which is imposing its rules on the players in both countries, limiting their action, and setting difficult conditions in the face of the efforts to induce change. It also remains part of the balance of powers which extends beyond the domestic structure and affects the region that is subjected to an overwhelming storm of change which cannot be hindered by any obstacles or considerations, no matter how long it takes.

*Published in the London-based AL-HAYT on Mar. 8, 2011.

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