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A chilling Arab Spring

Some people call it the Arab Spring, a profile of the popular uprisings that broke out in Arab countries, namely Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In fact, the breeze of this spring reached even other countries but their governments succeeded in containing the waves of anger through policies they pursued.

I would have preferred not to be drawn into the controversy that arose in the Arab countries as to whether what happened was a ‘spring’ in the first place.

It is a controversial question that consumed a lot of the intellectual elite’s time and also led to comparisons being made with many theories including that of creative chaos and foreign interventions under many names but mainly for the sake of humane causes, to influence the course of events and transitions on the ground.

We can summarise what happened in the Arab region, and Libya was one of the countries affected, by describing it as the expression of the will of the people to renounce tyranny and clear the murky waters that had turned into filthy swamps as a result of extended sleep and brutal dominating forces that had attained power through undemocratic means and monopolised the distribution of the wealth of the country. The effects of this corruption was extended to many countries in different parts of the world, some of which are defined as being democratic, developed states and this reflects negatively on the state of transparency in all countries of the world, north and south.

Almost two years have passed since change struck the countries affected by the Arab Spring, including Libya, where things may have taken an extremely violent turn due to the ferocity and brutality of the former regime. This had led to a continuous state of war for more than eight months, accompanied with foreign military intervention under international cover, whose primary cause was Libya’s strategic and sensitive situation and its economic importance as a global source of petroleum.

The emerging situation brought back an elite, most members of whom had spent decades living away from home, having escaped the tyranny of the Gaddafi regime, which had not allowed any kind of opposition or dissent.

There is no point getting lost in the details of the transformation and its background and of the personal history of those who dominated the political scene in Libya at the ‘spring’ time.

What we can say, however, is that they have failed to provide an informed leadership that could have directed the popular revolution energies towards building a State of solid institutions and of established new democratic traditions, opposing the one-opinion-and-one –voice phase.

The present stage Libya is experiencing is accentuated by the spread of financial and political corruption and the phenomenon of accusations by members of the new elite. They are approaching a state of disability in attempting to build state institutions, notably the army and the official security structures.

Successive governments of the new era are isolated from managing the country’s affairs on the ground, where there are armed militias with different identities who refuse to be loyal to the “new and frail” government or authority to the degree that some researchers were wondering to what extent is Libya approaching the status of a failed state.

This is happening in an environment of armed chaos, absence of State authority from the streets and accusations of corruption among members of the political elite.

How does the elected legitimate authority relate to the distorted practices that are taking place on the ground?

Sometimes, the Administration in Libya appears to exist only on paper and on TV as its authority seems to be missing on the ground.

The armed forces, divided into different formations under the authority of the Government, are trying to impose their will, their visions and even their beliefs in different ways, including through force and violence, sometimes without any sanctions by a public or central authority.

It is no secret that among such armed formations are those that condemn certain ideologies, embracing ideas of freedoms and religious liberty that are not necessarily consistent with those preferred by the vast majority of the Libyan people, affiliated to the moderate Maliki doctrine.

Sustained by ‘political money’ on the one hand and by ‘political corruption money’ on the other, such armed groups use the advantage of their influence on the ground to extend their presence even in social life, with all the implications this may have in terms of concessions to extremist, closed visions and ideas, even if this is achieved at the expense of the law, citizens’ rights and restrictions to public and private liberties and religious freedom.

The use of force, armed confrontation and the imposition of imported and alien ideas on the community has resulted in the deterioration of the freedom that was achieved as a result of the fall of the former regime.

This is happening in favour of new emerging dictatorships that are influenced by foreign ideas and have access to financial sources that are suspicious.

This situation is leading to the formation of a new political and social phenomenon and presents a real threat to the building of a nation promoting concepts of modern democracy that is responsive to the aspirations of the people who revolted against the old tyranny.

Financial corruption, old and new, is the basic rule and the driving force behind all the ongoing distortions and deviations within the Libyan social and political landscape that have hindered and will continue to hinder the establishment of a democratic State.

Sponsoring transparency and fighting corruption with the help and guidance of organisations that enjoy credibility and are not subject to political bargaining and suspicious transactions is the way forward to support the democratic forces in Libya. It is also a means to spread the concept and culture of rights and public freedoms and the principle of citizenship.

The European Union can, of course, play an active role in this regard by helping Libya in enacting the necessary domestic laws, introducing stricter transparency controls and fighting corruption.

Overlooking economic and political corruption will inevitably result in substantial negative consequences, including the spread of unemployment and crime in the countries of the south.

It also risks giving rise to the outflow of swarms of illegal migrants in all directions in an attempt to escape from a bleak future and in search for a better destiny.

[email protected]

Mokhtar Ihsan Aziz is director of Islamic World Studies Centre – Malta.

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