From Libya to Palestine — Tyranny to Freedom


Dethroning Qaddafi was the easy part; the real struggle to build a new Libya begins now

by Aijaz Zaka Syed

We are living in truly interesting times, as the Chinese would put it.  What a remarkable year it has been for the Middle East, and the rest of the world! We will all remember and cherish these historic moments for the rest of our lives, wherever we are or whoever we are.  For it’s not every day that you get to see history being enacted and mighty men, who have ruled and controlled the destiny of millions of people for decades, come crashing down on the ground.

The Libyan people have finally joined the Tunisians and Egyptians in celebrations and are rejoicing the departure of their tormentor after four decades of vile, total tyranny.  And this isn’t just their victory or that of the people of the Middle East.  This is an epic triumph that belongs to us all—everyone who believes in freedom, human dignity, and an individual’s and people’s right to choose their destiny.

This is the best Ramadan the Libyans have had in decades. And this Eid the Libyans will have their celebrations doubled. Indeed, this will be a special Eid for the Egyptians and Tunisians as well.  For there’s not a greater gift than freedom—freedom from fear, freedom from tyranny and freedom from indignity.

However, this is also a critical point in the history of the liberated country—and the Middle East. Thanks to the decades of abuse of power and one man’s absolute tyranny, Libya today has no functioning institutions and infrastructure.  As in the other so-called Arab socialist republics, police and security forces and intelligence agencies have been so abused and accustomed to protecting the powers that be that they aren’t good for anything else.

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya, a largely tribal society, doesn’t even have a basic institutional framework in place.  On the other hand, this deficiency could also prove a blessing as Libya’s new leaders will not have to face the resistance of the forces of status quo as has been the case in the neighboring countries.

Libya’s new leaders and people won’t have much time to celebrate though. Dethroning Qaddafi may have been the easy part.  The real struggle to build a new Libya begins now.  The challenges facing the country on all fronts are daunting.  But for a people who have managed to surmount the greatest challenge to their existence with their determination and enduring faith in themselves and in a better Libya could transcend any obstacle.

While the Libyans are celebrating their hard-earned victory, there has been much jubilation and back-slapping in the West. Much is being made of the Western support to people’s revolt against Muammar Qaddafi. Of course, the NATO bombing targeting Qaddafi’s forces – and many innocent civilians – has played a significant role in tilting the scales against the tyrant.  However, the credit for this revolution in the end goes to the Libyan people.

Without their initiative, without their steadfastness, and above all without their monumental sacrifices, this dawn of hope would have never arrived.  It’s the Libyan uprising that persuaded the West to abandon its appeasement of the dictator for those handsome contracts and billions of dollars of deals and shift its patronage.

Again, it was the infectious courage and resolve of ordinary Libyans that forced the Arab and Muslim nations to give up their cautious indifference. Which wasn’t too difficult. Qaddafi had few friends and supporters even among his neighbors. Few tears will be shed for the despot. For all his rhetoric for the oppressed of the world, he offered his own people nothing but endless suffering.

His fate, and like that of his other disgraced peers, should be a wake-up call to others who have all these years abused the sacred trust and responsibility thrust on them. The ignominious end of Qaddafi is almost certain to hasten the departure of the Assads and Salehs. Their collapse is imminent, as inevitable as the sunrise tomorrow.  And the longer they drag their feet, the greater humiliation will be their fate.

All those sacrifices by the people of Syria, Yemen and elsewhere will not go in vain.  The dawn is nigh. And you could almost smell the sweet freedom, wherever you are and whoever you are.

As Faiz Ahmed Faiz, South Asia’s revolutionary poet, would put it, this is the time to demolish all tyranny and oppression:

Aye khaak nashinon uth baitho ke waqt karib aa pahuncha hai;

sab takht giraye jayenge sab taaj uchale jayenge

We shall see

When the insurmountable mountains of oppression

Shall blow as if cotton flakes

And beneath the feet of us common folk

This land will throb with a deafening sound

All crowns will fly

All thrones will fall

Let’s hope Libya’s new leaders will learn from history and do not end up as other wannabe revolutionaries of the Arab world have—assuming absolute power and turning on their own people to abuse it.

Let’s not forget Qaddafi, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Syria’s Hafez Al Assad, whose son is now trying to outdo him in cruelty, and many others had all thrown up previous regimes, promising moon to their people and look where and how they ended up. Road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

But the Libyans, or for that matter the Egyptians, Tunisians and others, are capable of dealing with future tyrants just as they have dealt with the just departed lot.  And they are equally capable of dealing with all those vultures waiting in the wings—waiting to move in for the big kill.

Western powers do themselves no justice if they believe they could arm-twist Qaddafi’s inexperienced successors into signing on the dotted line.  The people of Libya are watching. They are in no mood for more clever colonial games.  The West mustn’t squander the goodwill it has earned itself in Libya with such shenanigans.

The Libyan revolution for once saw the Western nations and Arabs and Muslims on the same side and, more important, on the side of justice and freedom. After a disastrous decade of wars and crimes against humanity, the West finds itself on the right side of history.  Which is to be welcomed even by cynics like us.

If this support for the Libyan freedom isn’t underpinned by the thirst for oil and all the riches waiting to be explored and exploited in Libya, let the United States and its comrades-in-arms across the Atlantic extend similar support to the Palestinians. Let Washington, London and Paris spread the cheer all around and bless the Palestinian demand for statehood when it comes up at the United Nations next month.

While the Libyans have struggled for freedom these past six months, the Palestinians have pined for it for the past six decades. And they aren’t any less committed and sincere in their aspirations for freedom and democracy. The Coalition of the Willing has an opportunity to redeem itself.

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