Lessons from the Libyan uprising by Seifu Tsegaye

March 26th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

The Middle East and North Africa are now in the spotlight because these are places where dictatorships are being challenged, threatened and toppled. As many Ethiopian commentators have rightly stated, the popular uprisings in these parts of the World have inspired Ethiopians and can reignite the movement for change in Ethiopia too. I am following the uprisings and their aftermaths in North Africa and the Middle East as many other Ethiopians are doing.

One of the purposes of following these political upheavals is to analyse and draw useful lessons from them. These significant political upheavals are occurring in the parts of the world (North Africa and Middle East) where western geo-political interests are conspicuous. Ensuring energy sources or supplies and security against terrorism are the decisive elements in the relationships between the west and the regions. The geographic proximity of North Africa to Europe has its own bearing too. The United States of America has the additional and related tasks of guaranteeing the security of Israel and containing the influence of Iran in the region. There has been a growing unease in the United States and European Union concerning the Iranian nuclear programs. The west with Israel in the back seat are trying to stop Iran from developing and acquiring nuclear weapons (bombs).

Dictatorships and oppression are the political features and landscapes Ethiopia shares with the Middle East and North Africa. Broad western engagement especially that of the US is the other common denominator one sees in these parts of the World including Ethiopia. However, it is important to note that the repressive regimes in these regions and what is left of modern Ethiopia have a fundamental difference. The regime in Ethiopia does not identify itself as part of the citizenry or society it misrules and is fascistic in its nature. Meles Zenawi still treats Ethiopia as a domain of exploitation or pillage, not a country per se. The yoke of oppression forced on Ethiopians has a strong fascistic component and is the heaviest and worst.

The political upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt have succeeded in bringing about regime changes in their respective countries. Moreover as subsequent developments show, they have averted the much feared scenarios of civil wars and blood shed. This does not mean that costs were not incurred. Lives were lost and injuries inflicted. However, the future direction of these countries (whether the aspirations of their peoples will be fulfilled) remains to be seen. The west have also promised to accept and respect the aspirations and demands of the populace to exercise their democratic rights. One thing is certain, and that is the populations will not allow themselves to be governed and oppressed by dictatorships any more.

We see the apprehensive and watchful public determined to protect the gains they have made in Egypt and Tunisia. Thus the wheels of democratization are set in motion and seem to be unstoppable.

The public uprising and revolt against colonel Gaddafi`s long standing dictatorship in Libya has also the same goal of ridding the country of dictatorship and instituting a democratic rule in place. It is certain that the anti- Gaddafi forces in Libya have been inspired and motivated by the events in the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. The revolts have also similar patterns since they have begun with mass street protests demands for change. Notwithstanding these, they have not been able to topple Kaddafi’s regime and the struggle is going on with higher prices being paid in lives. In fact, Colonel Kaddafi’s forces were on the offensive and overwhelming the rebels or forces of change as recently as last week. Then the news coming out of Libya were alarming and spoke of colonel Gandalf’s scores of victories against the rebels. The rebellion was seriously threatened and there emerged the scenario of bloodshed in the rebel controlled cities and towns across Libya.

The French government has been swift to recognize the rebels in control of Benghazi as the legitimate political body or authority in Libya. Looking at his political track records, one can say that colonel Gaddafi is an enigmatic and erratic political figure. Though Colonel Gaddafi has been rehabilitated as the partner of the west in the region, he has not enjoyed the trust and warmth his counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia have had. In the end, western military intervention has become a necessity to support and empower the faltering rebels. It is important to indicate the factors responsible for the stalemate or apparent reverse of the gains the rebellion against Colonel Kaddafi had made. These factors exclude western military intervention and mercenaries hired by the Colonel and consider only the internal dynamics in Libya.

The first factor or the most significant one is the position or side the Libyan military has taken in the rebellion. Apart from some abandonments and desertions to the rebellion, Colonel Kaddafi has been able to muster and command military units or forces effective enough to neutralize or defeat the rebels. The pre-intervention period showed this situation. The pro-Kaddafi forces had outgunned and were advancing against the rebel forces. The Libyan armed forces have not been able to wholly rally behind the popular uprising and assist it. This does not mean that the part of the military loyal to Colonel Kaddafi will not crack or shift allegiance and side.

Hence, the situation in Libya brings to the fore the importance of winning the support or at least ensuring the neutrality of the military in the face of such uprisings. Despite this, the military under dictatorships can not stop or crush widespread, well coordinated, and led popular uprisings. Uprisings of this kind are very strong or invincible and can crack, split and weaken the army and security apparatus of dictators.

Libya is also a country where the primordial structures of tribal affiliations and allegiances continue to exist. These structures are very suitable for the divide and rule schemes and can be used by the besieged dictators as the weapons of first or last resort to crush uprisings. We are all aware of the fact that Meles Zenawi has been fostering and putting some modern faces on these similar structures as part and parcel of his divide and rule scheme.

There are some analysts who maintain that the rebels lack strong organisation and leadership and this situation has given the colonel the breathing space and time to reorganise and unleash his forces. Unlike the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the one in Libya is culminating in armed clashes and is getting bloody. It has also drawn western military intervention under the pretext of protecting civilians from Colonel Kaddafi’s forces. The superior firepower of Colonel Kaddafi vis-à-vis the rebels is now being significantly degraded and eliminated as the allies say. Nevertheless the events in Libya underscore the importance of a well organised and led popular uprising. The uprisings should also include the army and security as allies and partners in the process. The west will not have any choice but abandon Meles Zenawi in the face of persistent and widespread uprisings in Ethiopia. They will not send their bomber and fighter aircraft to support Meles Zenawi. They will not commit the silliest blunder to save the regime of Meles Zenawi. The ball is in our court and we should play well and win the game.

It is my firm believe that Ethiopians will draw on the experiences and lessons from the above mentioned uprisings, overcome the hurdles put up Meles Zenawi and undertake a successful uprising.

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