The world’s streets were particularly crowded in 2012, as cities across the globe ranging from Cairo to New York and Athens to Damascus became the scenes and stages of the largest social and political upheavals witnessed in decades. Libyan and Syrian rebels, Egyptian protesters, disillusioned Americans, and down and out Greeks earned 2012 its undeniable place in history, and the Middle East, perhaps above all, has occupied an especially recognized place on the canvas of recent revolutions and mass movements.
In particular, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and now Syria have been on the tongues of millions of people the world over, as reports and accounts of groundbreaking changes and transformations have captivated the world and confounded the many who claimed to understand the dynamics of politics and life in the Middle East in general, and these countries in particular.
The face and situation of the Middle East has been considerably altered since the beginning days of protests in Egypt and Tunisia – this is a fact that even the most modest and novice onlooker can realize. With Mubarak overthrown, Egypt has briefly experienced the rule of a military junta, and recent elections have confirmed the power of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. As for Tunisia, Ben Ali was ejected from power, the government was reshuffled, and then was finally replaced by a constituent assembly which has recently voted into plurality of power the Muslim Ennahda Movement.
These transitions have, more or less, been either to the dismay or congratulation of the Egyptian and Tunisian populations, and the actions and trajectories of the new powers-that-be will be played out in the near future, confirming or denying the Egyptian and Tunisian people’s rights to democratic systems. These aspects of the Middle East’s face lift have yet to unravel at more than just an immediate, bare surface level.
Far more desperate, treacherous, and of interest, however, are the situations that have unfolded and which are developing in Libya and Syria. These scenarios illustrate a glaring reality and dilemma that has faced the Middle East in the midst of all of the turmoil, upheaval, and uproar, as these countries stand out as examples of a very different phenomenon from the Arab Spring.
Rather than a sweeping wave of democratization and liberation that overthrew unpopular foreign-backed dictators, the Arab Spring has unfolded in the countries of Libya and Syria in the form of a counter-revolutionary assault on crucially progressive regimes. Contextualization reveals that the Arab Spring in Libya, and now Syria, is little more than a cover-up and disguise for unpopular, reactionary elements, blessed with the support of the US and the West as long as these groups commit to selling out the independence of Libya and Syria, to bid for power.
Although Syria is of no exception, this is most lucidly illuminated by the state of Libya before its subjugation.
As the leader of the Libyan Revolution in 1969, Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the despised King Idris and broke off Libya’s colonial dependence on Great Britain, opening up prospects for the independent and dignified development of Libya. Gaddafi’s 42 years of leadership turned out to be an historic renaissance for the people of Libya, full of revolutionary vigour and intensity.
A massive program of social, technical, and cultural development was launched and accomplished, and Libya achieved the highest Human Development Index (a measure of quality of life) and the fifth highest GDP in Africa by 2011.
Under Gaddafi’s leadership and in line with his political convictions, broad participatory democracy was established in the form of widespread local People’s Councils and Revolutionary Committees which openly and directly decided national policy to be adopted at the General People’s Congress, and the democratic achievements of Libya coupled with its tremendous economic expansion allowed Libyans to enjoy such benefits as free (or low cost) and decent housing, education, health care, and a comprehensive social welfare system that has brought Libya’s life expectancy to only 1 year less than the United States. Libya has, on the basis of independent and dignified development, become the wealthiest, and at the same time, the most egalitarian country in Africa in regards to the distribution of its national prosperity.
Judging by these unmistakable facts, the objective conditions of an absence of democracy or a scourge of poverty were not present in Libya to condition the same sort of uprisings that erupted in Egypt or Tunisia. Rather, the social groups involved in promoting and struggling for the overthrow of the Libyan government, and the Syrian government today, thus could not be, and are not the real masses of people. These groups have essentially constituted minorities of the population, who have banded together and made up a motley crew of paid mercenaries, radical religious fundamentalists, Western agents, Al-Qaeda provocateurs, etc.
This is being highlighted even more recently, as news coverage has begun to frequently reveal the true composition of the Syrian opposition and its increasingly terroristic actions with each passing day. And one has only to look at the violent atrocities being committed today in post-war Libya by the rebels, who have demonstrated their true colors in such actions as brutal, racist genocide against black Africans in Libya, to realize the realistic nature of the forces who have “won democracy.”
The fact of the matter is that the progressive regimes of Libya and Syria are being challenged and toppled by reactionary minority groups with the blessing and support of the West because they’ve committed the heinous crimes of maintaining the temerity to pursue independent and self-determined domestic and foreign policies, and because they’ve refused to allow American and European transnational corporations to loot their countries’ wealth and resources and line the pockets of corporate bosses in the West.
Rather than prostituting their oil resources, for example, Syria and Libya have chosen to support their own national sovereignty and wealth. None of this, of course, supposes that the Libyan and Syrian regimes were perfect or ideal before these tribulations of civil war, as Gaddafi, for example, credibly amassed billions in fortunes for himself, as has Assad, his family, and their connections. It is irrefutable that corruption was an undeniably considerable problem and plague of the Assad and Gaddafi apparatuses, but this does not obscure or detract from the fundamental reality that Libya and Syria have been targeted primarily because they have refused to kneel down to any sort of imperialist bullying or hegemony, and because they have focused their efforts on the development of their own sovereign nations and people in the interest of self-determination.
It is simply a fact, albeit one that mainstream Western media seriously ignored or downplayed, that throughout the whole course of the Libyan civil war, and even today during the violence and uncertainty surrounding the future of Libya, millions of Libyans proudly waved the green flag of the revolution, boldly held portraits of their Gaddafi for all to see, and gladly accepted what armaments the government could give them to defend the Gaddafi regime which had both perpetuated and embodied the successes and gains of the Libyan people over the past half century.
It is an unavoidable reality that the same demonstrations of loyalty are taking place in such cities as Damascus today, as Syrians, starving, bleeding, and crying in the midst of the tragedies of the civil war, are proclaiming their support for the Assad government and its attempts at conciliation and reform, which are a beacon of hope and salvation from the terrorism and murder of the rebel death squads.
The Libyan and the Syrian people have a right to uphold the governments that were established in their respective revolutions and which have brought them many prized social, political, economic, and cultural gains. They also have the right to overthrow them when the time is deemed appropriate and legitimate, but what is happening today in Syria, and what happened in Libya last year, is far from a genuine democratic upsurge of the Libyan and Syrian masses, but instead constitutes little more than an unpopular rebellion of malicious fanatics.
Today, judging by the pile of rubble that supposedly constitutes democracy for the Libyan people, and the horrid poverty, deprivation, and bloodshed which “democratic forces” are supposedly bringing to Syria, the vast importance of national sovereignty and self-determination is something that should be borne in mind by everyone looking to comprehend and assess the triumphs and tragedies that have raged in the Middle East over the last two years. Such encroachments upon and gross violations of the right of nations to self-determination and sovereignty, especially aimed at countries like Libya and Syria which have, despite the problems and shortcomings, credibly cared for the vast majorities of their people and pursued popular domestic and foreign policies, is, regardless of whatever phrase mongering may be used to cover it up, imperialism short and simple, not humanitarian intervention, not democratic internationalism, and most certainly not progression.
Widespread destruction, poverty, dependence, and humiliation are the results of the invasion of Libya, and the same will be for Syria if the rebel forces and their foreign allies succeed. These are crucial realizations that have come out of the experience of the last year’s Middle Eastern affairs, and hopefully all the peoples of the world will learn some truth out of such reflections.