Arab Spring ripens with potential, but many fear summer will never dawn
Delegations pose for a family photo during the "Friends of Libya" conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris September 1, 2011. 50 delegations are attending to discuss the future of the country and offer some concrete aid to the transitional council.
Although, arguably, the latest words from Muammar Gaddafi that he will not surrender came as a surprise to no one, the revelation that there will be more bloodshed in Libya and that the strongman who felt he owned the entire nation during a reign of more than 40 years is still swearing to fight may give the world a moment's pause to think about whether the so-called Arab Spring is capable of being followed by a summer, or imminently doomed to merge back into a fall.
Developments in countries that are emerging out of the Arab Spring ring out the possibility that the structures replacing the dictators may not actually be what the people were campaigning for at the cost of their lives for months. Observers doubt ordinary people don't have a voice in the uprisings or representation in the opposition
“We won't surrender again, we are not women, we will keep fighting,” were Gaddafi's most recent words, as The Associated Press on Thursday quoted Kuwait's Al-Rai TV, which, partway through a women's daytime program, announced that it would broadcast Gaddafi's latest “address to the nation” as it had before. This time, there was no taunting footage or voice recording filled with showmanship but only a few words. Gaddafi's agitated condition despite his belief in putting up a just battle in the face of an enemy that is trying to invade his country seethed through with minimal signs of irony in the ex-leader's approach, given his reliance on female bodyguards and a phalanx of “amazons” all through his tenure. Although his “The Green Book” stated a similar discourse that women belonged in the house, for observers it is still quite hard to make sense of why Gaddafi, of all people, would mock something that is sure to come back and bite him.
What Gaddafi further mocked with his insistence on battle is the opposition forces' desire to end the conflict without further bloodshed, which could cause internal trauma in Libya that may not be easy to recover from. The National Transitional Council (NTC) had given three Gaddafi-controlled cities until last Saturday to end the resistance, although recently extending it by another week in an attempt to ease the atmosphere, but Gaddafi commanded that tribes loyal to him would not surrender without a good fight. The leader, almost gone as it is, is still for many the same person who decorated his compound with the statue of a giant fist crushing a US plane and, quite possibly, still with the same sentiment of a rightful defense.
Whether the controversial leaders of the Arab Spring are actually blind to the wishes of their people is a question many countries, including Turkey, have been asking from a humanitarian perspective. However, developments in countries that are already out of their Spring phase ring out the possibility that the organisms that are replacing the dictators may not actually be what their people were campaigning so hard for so many months against all odds. On top of it all, many ordinary people, according to observers, were absent from the demonstrations in the first place and had no voice in the uprisings or representation in opposition forces.
Most prominent of those voices was surprisingly world-renowned European philosopher Slavoj Zizek. He released an article last month of the meaning of the UK riots while brushing off the Arab Spring with disbelief and disappointment, which sparked intense criticism from others who spoke of thousands of lives lost in the cause, and a rash decision the famous philosopher arrived at while the Arab Spring was still at full throttle.
What Zizek voiced in the article, “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” on the London Review of Books website, could be the bolder version of the ideas of many others who remain suspicious of the outcomes of the spring. Zizek utterly bet on “a new explosion” in the particular example of Egypt, with masses, mostly the poor, being absent from the scene, as he rhetorically asked who would succeed in directing the rage of the poor, transforming their sentiments to the political agenda.
In the belief that an Egyptian Spring ended in just a different collaboration between (almost the same) army and opposition forces, with a similar deal that both sides will play along for mutual benefits, Zizek's article became an outlet of concerns that have been haunting the people who witnessed the events first-hand and are actually familiar with the history of these countries, unlike most of the foreign spring enthusiasts.
While Zizek abruptly put forward, without much consideration for sentiments, that “Mubarak will appear as having been a much lesser evil,” he brought in a big dilemma, although a conditional one, that could still prove profane to those who are trying to keep up the spirit of change for the better: “Better to stick with the devil you know than to play around with emancipation.” Zizek, however, added that it took one to be “unconditionally faithful to the radical-emancipatory core of the Egypt uprising,” to battle the cynicism, hinting that the philosopher is not one to keep high hopes regarding the Arab transition.
Spring runs risk of replacing bad with worse
Zizek could be claimed a radical in his opinion among many other academics and experts that feel on the contrary, based on the possibility that the phase might play out quite differently in every other example, or at least, the transitions may give these countries a chance to build institutions of statehood that never existed in some in the first place.
One Turkish expert who remained hopeful but still approached the Arab Spring with caution was Oytun Orhan of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), an Ankara-based think tank established in 2009. In a phone interview with Sunday's Zaman, Orhan spoke of the Libyan case as a turning point that would either prove to be successful to an extent, or fail completely. “It is one big question whether it is actually possible to establish a democratic system -- in the common sense of the phrase -- in such heterogeneous societies after the collapse of an iron fist,” Orhan said in reference to what might replace “the nothing” in Libya after Gaddafi left the scene. The Middle East expert also acknowledged the common fear that the strength of revenge, foreign abuse and the culture of violence in the region were worse obstacles for the people than the tyrants. “When the strong central authority diffused in Iraq after Saddam's fall, although it was to happen one way or another, the ability to keep the rough voices together also disappeared,” said Orhan and he added, “back in the day, it was up to one single man to kill, now it is every individual's initiative.”
In Libya, such initiative is already visible to the eye with discoveries of burnt bodies, mass killings and random homicides. With Gaddafi infuriated, his infamous son Khamis Gaddafi, a young man with military training from Russia and the control over the best-trained military force in the country, known as the 32nd Khamis Brigade, wrecks as he goes, already has a warrant for his arrest to stand trial beside his father for humanitarian crimes in the UN, unless the reports of his death proved false yet another time. More disturbingly, Khamis is not the only revenge killer in the country, with recent news focusing on the “mysterious deaths” among the Libyan NTC top brass, or clumsy but probably unavoidable rounding up of every black person in Libya with suspicion that they are Gaddafi's mercenaries.
With a certain sense of devil's advocacy behind these concerns and warnings, hearts are uniting for the better, but false hopes and unfounded pledges may be the last thing the Arab Spring countries need. What will follow the course of the spring is to be seen in the months and years to come but a conspicuous question from Zizek sums up all fears, “What new order should replace the old one after the uprising, when the sublime enthusiasm of the first moment is over?”