20 March, 2011

The Libyan conflict now calls for strong political and diplomatic action

Military action imposing a no-fly zone over part of Libya, would only crystallize a divided Libya, without an aggressive political and diplomatic campaign. Such a campaign should aim at promoting the conditions for a peaceful and free regime change in Libya.

Sergio Abranches

Military action can only be a means to a clear political goal. It has to support, rather than lead or replace a political and diplomatic strategy. In the case of Libya, I can identify only one sensible political goal: to create the conditions for regime transition under the control of the Libyan people. Such a goal implies an effective political and diplomatic work, mainly conducted by legitimate Arab governmental and civil leadership. This diplomatic offensive should seek to both convince Gaddafi to stop bloodshed by stepping down, and to empower Libyan society to choose the path towards a transition that could express the free will of the majority. Libya has other leadership than Gaddafi. Some are already known and active in tribal life and in the opposition. Others have emerged from the rebellion itself, as has happened in Egypt. Social mobilization is a demiurge of  legitimate, spontaneous leadership.

If political rulers sympathetic to the Gaddafis do want to help, they should negotiate with them a true cease fire, and an exit solution. It is pretty clear that there is no good, durable, legitimate solution with the Gaddafis in power. Arab supporters of the no-fly zone should start immediately political talks with the rebels, to identify leaders and spokespersons to articulate a political alternative. Dissidents with good credentials could also have an important role in this process of simultaneous regime transition and nation building.

These rather spontaneous, mass upheavals happened in countries dominated by ruthless dictators for several decades. Organized civil society has been dismantled through repression; persecution, imprisonment, torture, and execution of opposition leaders; censorship, among other authoritarian methods. Indoctrination through massive propaganda, content-controlled education, and in some cases religious manipulation, have demobilized society and acquired “alienated support” to the regime. Disillusionment, discontent and rage against the brutal regime, and the dismal economic performance led the youth to rebel. Social media helped to spread the word, and accelerate mobilization. Contagion not only took the rebellion beyond the country’s borders, but also across generation boundaries.

In a crucial sense these are societies with strong states but without civil societies, especially organized civil societies. Amorphous societies they are to a certain extent. Civil society rises or reemerges from the rebellion itself. That’s the major demiurgical effect of revolutions and rebellions.

When some persons start to create voluntary community councils, to manage necessary services be it on occupied streets and squares, like in Egypt, be it in entire cities, like in Libya, there is a spontaneous process of organization of a reborn civil society. In this movement of emergence of a new, more active and conscious civil society, new leaders are also spontaneously identified, and legitimated. These are the forces upon which Arab and North African democracies could be built. But they need political and diplomatic support, not only military protection.

The no-fly zone divided Libya into two territories, the one centered on Tripoli, controlled by Gaddafi, and the other based on Benghazi, controlled by the rebels, and protected by UN forces under the no-fly zone. A situation reminiscent of Italian occupation, in the 1940’s, when Rome divided the country into Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The rebels control the several cities of what once was Cyrenaica, as Benghazi, Ajdabiya, and Tobruk.

Such an outcome wouldn’t be either stable or acceptable. A new armed confrontation would be awaiting the lifting of the no-fly zone. The rebels would hardly be able to establish regular, well trained armed forces capable of opposing Gaddafi’s. A united Libya was one of the few durable outcomes of decolonization, under King Idris. The military coup that raised the young colonel Muammar Gaddafi to power maintained and strengthened unification. A divided Libya would only be acceptable and legitimate as a result of the free choice of the Libyan people, never as the outcome of military action.

The necessary political and diplomatic action required to maintain all choices open to the Libyan people to make in the process of regime transition is too timid so far, vis à vis military operations. I would say that political action is clearly lacking, while military intervention is already moving to phase two.

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