Ten years ago, if someone had said that key Arab countries would become fragmented into regions, it would have come across as the kind of political fantasy or conspiracy theory suitable for discussion at cafes rather than a serious subject worthy of academic study. But the seemingly relative calm concealed a different reality brewing under the surface, which has proven to be extremely fragile and incoherent.
With the wave of transformation that swept across several Arab republics in 2011, turmoil is becoming more of a reality. The risks of this reality are clearly demonstrated in Syria, now divided into rebel-held and government-held areas; in Yemen, which is seeking to contain the regional drive politically, through a federal framework; and in post-Gaddafi Libya in the aftermath of the downfall of that weird and illogical regime. There was once a conviction that Libya was going to be a good model for the wave of transformation that would follow in the wake of the Arab Spring, given that country’s oil resources and its relatively small population—two things, it was said, that would help it quickly overcome obstacles faced in the transition period and thus lead to rapid development. Libya is a prominent case, because what led to the revolution in that country was the lack of freedoms, rather than the moribund economy and poor living conditions that played a key role in the other Arab revolutions.
It must be admitted that hopes of modern, pluralistic and more open regimes being easily established following the wave of the Arab Spring were pretty much based on personal hopes, rather than on facts on the ground. This was demonstrated by an article published in the Financial Times in January this year, “Is it Time for the West to recognize Cyrenaica?” But instead of producing pluralistic and modern political regimes, the wave of transformation has created a regional pluralism, at the same time as it has redrawn the map created by the victors of the First World War.
Libya’s eastern province has become nearly autonomous and able to independently export around 500,000 barrels of oil per day, and Tripoli has essentially lost control of large parts of the country, including crucial oil installations. In this political and security climate, no one should harbor delusions that if a new reality were to be established on the ground, a world that builds its relations based on interests would not deal with Libya.
This new reality is not a product solely of the past three years. In fact, to a great extent it is the product of Gaddafi’s rule, which left no strong state institutions and deliberately weakened the military, highlighted by the fact that he named battalions after his sons and supporters.
But the Libyan parties celebrating the revolution’s third anniversary could change this chaotic status quo if they would only accept that a better future could be secured through an inclusive political system. They need to realize as well that no country can move forward in the shadow of militia rule, which is only a recipe for violence and destruction. Only the government should have the right to possess weapons, and state institutions should reflect the desires and interests of the public—not those who carry weapons and terrorize people.