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Arab Spring at 9 months — Helena Cobban

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Helena Cobban has a long and insightful analysis of the Arab Spring at 9 months. Some of her conclusions: 

    1. The overwhelmingly peaceable and overwhelmingly civilian mass movements that swept the dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt from power were unalloyed good news. The outcomes in both those countries may not be as truly wonderful as we might hope. But the peoples of the two countries have provided themselves with a decent chance of being able to build robust and largely accountable and democratic political systems, in place for the repressive systems they have labored under for so many years. Read this account, from JWB’s upcoming, Cairo-based author Issandr El-Amrani, on how exhilarating he found Tunisia’s recent elections… (Okay, Issandr is less optimistic regarding Egypt. But still, I am sure he would agree with me that the prospects for serious positive political developments there are still far, far greater than any of us would have imagined just one year ago.)

    2. The overwhelmingly civilian mass pro-democracy movements in Bahrain and Yemen also been deeply inspiring. Hey– I never gave a shout-out yet to Yemen’s fabulous, inspiring leader Tawakkol Karman for being a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Huge congratulations, Ms. Karman! despite the creativity and commitment of the members of the movements in those two countries, however, both have met serious resistance… And in both cases, that resistance has been supported by Washington. Shame, shame shame! (And something that all of us in the pro-justice movement here in the United States ought to be working hard to reverse.)

    3. In Syria and elsewhere there have also been large-scale civilian mass movements taking real risks to fight for political reform. But it’s been harder to gauge the real reach and influence of those movements. And in Syria, as in Yemen, there have been serious armed elements involved alongside the unarmed mass movements.

    4. Libya has been seen as a real test case for the whole western liberal notion of ‘R2P’– [responsibility to protect] which far too many western liberals take to mean that the “international community” (however fuzzily defined) has a prima facie duty to support the human rights of beleaguered peoples in all other countries. Actually, the UN’s R2P documents don’t say that. They say that governments everywhere have the first duty to protect the the lives and safety of their peoples; but that if they fail to do that, then the UN can step in to take such steps as are deemed necessary to save the peoples’ lives. Big difference.

    So what we saw in Libya was a UN-allowed, NATO-led military intervention that was launched in the first instance under the rubric of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya in order to protect the civilians of Benghazi from what was described to us all as a completely certain humanitarian disaster. The western leaders never paid any heed to the facts that– as I blogged at the time– the humanitarian situation in Benghazi was actually getting better in the days immediately before their bombings started; or, that the African Union leaders were poised to undertake the kind of tension-deescalating negotiations that resolution 1973 had also called for.

    Since March 19, Libya has seen scores of thousands of conflict-related deaths and maimings, and the country’s political space has been largely taken over by a clutch of mutually competing armed gangs. It looks very like Iraq in 2006 or so. And in keeping with that “Iraqi” theme, we saw the disgusting scenes of Muammar Qadhafi being brutalized while in captivity and then turning up shortly afterwards having been executed by a gunshot to the head.

Is this what the building a strong democracy looks like? No, no, no! I am in great fear as to the suffering and continued conflicts that the Libyan people will see over the months and years ahead.

Like Iraq before it, what happened in Libya is surely not a “model” for any people– in the Arab world or elsewhere– who seek a life of human dignity, security for their families, and accountable governance.

So the “balance sheet” for the Arab Spring is at this point decidedly mixed, but still on balance positive. What is clear is that the social and political forces that were unfrozen by Mohamed Bouazizi (and before him, to be fair, by Khaled Said in Egypt) have set the whole Middle East on a political course whose dynamism still has a lot more unfolding to do.

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18 Responses

  1. Walid
    Walid on October 28, 2011, 9:49 pm

    The only country where there was truly an Arab Spring and a call for democracy was in Bahrain but it was snuffed out by the Bahraini king with the help of Saudi and other Gulf royals to prevent it from spreading to neighbouring countries. Everywhere else, it was really a Muslim Brotherhood spring that at first was opposed to by the US and the West and later endorsed and actually helped by them when it became obvious that the Western-backed dictators were going down.

    Cobban is somewhat unsure about what happened in Libya as in one sentence she implies that Benghazi was a frame-up and in another she says Gadafi was a tyrant that had to be removed but on the whole, her information is incomplete. She had it right on the Benghazi turnaround that was made possible with the US and NATO bombing after BH Lévy and the French Zionists decided to back the Brotherhood rebels and falsely claim that Gadafi was bombing the civilians there. The first thing the transitional governement announced last week with the proclamation of the Islamic Republic of Libya was that Sharia law would prevail over the current Gadafi civil ones. For those hung up on the romantic Arab Spring tag but know little about it, Gadafi’s Libya, in spite of his clownish bahaviour, had the highest standard of living of all Arab countries, so most of the calls we heard from there for democracy and so on were bogus as was the intial first claim that Gadafi had been killed in a cross-fire. Now the UN is demanding an investigation into his assassination.

    Tunisia’s elections on Sunday gave the majority to the Brotherhood as expected and if elections are ever called in Egypt and the military decides to step down after 53 years in power, it’s expected that most seats would be taken by the Brotherhood, especially with the Brotherhood and the military now backing each other. Egypt’s military stood by during the Tahrir uprising because it was helping it move Mubarak out of its way but nothing has really changed in Egypt’s military rule.

    Same thing happening in Syria now where long overdue constitutional changes are being demanded by 3 separate opposition groups, of which 2 are within Syria with one of them in a Baathist-monopolized Parliament refusing to have any outside miltary interference that would destroy the country à la Iraq and Libya and the other comprised of Muslim Brotherhood elements being instigated, financed and armed by Western and Gulf interests that has been killing Syrian soldiers and provoking them to fire back at innocent civilians. The third opposition group is made up of academic and military exiles as well as Brotherhood members and cheered by the Zionists that are now operating as a pseudo government in exile that no one recognizes that is being hosted and encouraged by France and Turkey.

    Same thing happening in Yemen where the US and the Saudis were backing the dictator but now that the wind is changing, the dictator is being dropped like a hot potato like what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. There are other Brotherhood-led uprisings in Oman and Jordan but these are currently under control.

    So the only true Arab Spring with no Western or Brotherhood strings attached was the one in Bahrain that no one talks about.

    • yourstruly
      yourstruly on October 29, 2011, 11:13 am

      isn’t the statement by the leader of the mb in tunisia that he’s looking towards an agreement with secular parties to form a coalition government encouraging? and, yes, the counterrevolution is out to preserve the status quo or worse, but can it indefinitely suppress the “genie” that is the spirit of tahrir square? i hope not.

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 9:43 am

        yourstruly, careful with those genies you are wishing for; some of them are downright evil. We are told that we should be thankful for the freedom and all the other good stuff NATO has brought to Libya and for having taken away all the evil that Gadafi had instituted in the country.

        What evil had Gadafi set up that was removed by NATO? Stephen Lendman wrote up a short list:

        Under his (Gadafi)1999 Decision No. 111, all Libyans got free healthcare, education, electricity, water, training, rehabilitation, housing assistance, disability and old-age benefits, interest-free state loans, as well as generous subsidies to study abroad, buy a new car, help couples when they marry, practically free gasoline, and more.

        Literacy under Gaddafi rose from 20 – 80%. Libya’s hospitals and private clinics were some of the region’s best. Now they’re in shambles. Some, in fact, were bombed or damaged in other fighting. NATO lied saying only military targets were attacked.

        Before war began, Libyans had Africa’s highest standard of living. According to David Blundy and Andrew Lycett’s book titled, “Qaddafi and the Libyan Revolution.”,

        “The young people are well dressed, well fed and well educated….Every Libyan gets free, and often excellent, education, medical and health services. New colleges and hospitals are impressive by any international standard.” “All Libyans have a house or a flat, a car, and most have televisions” and other conveniences. “Compared with most citizens of Third World countries, and with many (others), Libyans have it very good indeed,” including decent housing or a rent-free apartment.

        Until Washington and NATO blocked its approval, the UN Human Rights Council Libyan praised Gaddafi in its January 2011 “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Libya Arab Jamahiriya.”

        It said his government protected “not only political rights, but also economic, educational, social and cultural rights.” It also lauded his treatment of religious minorities, and “human rights training” of its security forces.

        In eight months, NATO’s killing machine destroyed 42 years of achievements, benefitting all Libyans. Why else would overwhelming numbers support him?

        He had nothing to do with downing Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Neither did Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi. Scottish judges knew he was innocent but were pressured to convict.

        Gaddafi never admitted fault. He took responsibility solely to have international sanctions removed. To this day, he and al-Megrahi stand falsely accused. Likely CIA /MI6/and/or Mossad involvement is never mentioned.

        Gaddafi opted out of AFRICOM. It’s one of nine global Pentagon commands to control Africa and the Mediterranean Basin, including its strategic energy transit routes and choke points, crucial to keep open for world economies.

        All African countries participate except Sudan, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, and Libya until now. He also backed an initiative to create a United States of Africa, whereas Washington wants easily exploitable divisions. More on that below.

        Besides ranked ninth in the world with 42 billion proved barrels of oil reserves (and large amounts of gas), its untapped potential is believed much greater. Moreover, being nearly sulfur-free, it’s even more valued for its extremely high quality. At issue isn’t access, it’s control over who develops, produces and receives it in what amounts.

        In January 2009, Gaddafi wanted to nationalize Libyan oil, but his timetable faced internal resistance. According to’s March 25, 2011 article titled, “Reason for war? Gaddafi wanted to nationalise oil,”

        In February 2009, he asked for public support to distribute Libya’s oil wealth directly to the people. However, senior officials feared losing their jobs “due to a parallel plan by Gaddafi to rid the state of corruption.” Possible capital flight was also an issue.

        As a result, Libya’s Popular Committee voted 468 – 64 to delay nationalization plans, even though a 251 majority viewed doing so as positive.

        Libya’s Great Man-Made River (GMMR) was developing an ocean-sized aquifer beneath the desert for irrigation, human consumption, and other uses. At 2007 consumption rates, it could last 1,000 years. No wonder Gaddafi calls his Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS) the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

        At issue, of course, is privatizing it, making water unaffordable for many, including most Libyans. In other words, Western predators want it exploited for maximum profits, not equitable use as a public resource.

        Under Gaddafi, the Central Bank of Libya was state owned. In other words, it created its own money, the Libyan Dinar, interest free to be used productively for economic growth, not speculation, profits and bonuses for predatory bankers.

        However, after Washington’s led NATO intervention, the privately controlled Central Bank of Benghazi was established to let Western bankers, not Libyans, run things. Money control indeed appears an important reason for intervening, perhaps most important of all.

        On April 24, Manlio Dinucci’s Global Research article headlined, “Financial Heist of the Century: Confiscating Libya’s Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF),” saying:

        Besides money, oil, gas, water, and other reasons, the “Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) manages” an estimated $70 billion, “rising to more than $150 billion (including) foreign investments of the Central Bank and other bodies. But it might be more.”

        Confiscation gives US/NATO interests easy money for their own purposes. In fact, besides war, the business of America is grand theft in league with Western partners, Wall Street and other corporate interests.

        Gaddafi promoted pan-African unity, a United States of Africa he hoped to lead against Western powers wanting balkanized easily-controlled states.

        Libya was central to Africa’s independence, including freedom from predatory central banks and international lending agencies, acting as loan sharks of last resort.

        He also funded Africa’s only communications satellite. In doing so, he saved hundreds of millions of dollars for low-cost incoming and outgoing calls.

        In addition, he allocated two-thirds of the $42 billion needed to launch a public African Central Bank (HQ’d in Nigeria), an African Monetary Fund based in Cameroon, and an African Investment Bank HQ’d in Libya.

        The Obama administration stole the money and prevented it. If established, it would have provided low-cost (or perhaps interest-free) loans for health, education, and other social projects, as well as vital infrastructure development in participating African states.

        Washington and NATO partners destroyed his vision to rape Libya for profit and exploit its people. That imperialism’s core element. Gaddafi wanted none of it. As a result, he had to go.

        He advocated a new “Gold Standard,” replacing dollars with gold dinars. African and Muslim states supported it to provide real monetary wealth and value, free from predatory lending agencies and depreciating fiat currencies.

        Washington determined to prevent it to maintain petrodollar recycling and dollar hegemony as the world’s reserve currency.

    • Keith
      Keith on October 29, 2011, 8:56 pm

      WALID- “For those hung up on the romantic Arab Spring tag….”

      I don’t know who came up with the “Arab Spring” metaphor, but its use has been a disaster, tying together disparate events into a false and propagandistic imagery. The metaphor took on a life of its own, used to justify the unjustifiable by ignoring the facts in favor of the romantic image.

      Helena Cobban’s assessment of the Arab uprisings 9 months on, which is much longer than the conclusions shown, is overall quite good. I am a little surprised that there aren’t more comments on this thread. Perhaps Mondo’s humanitarian interventionists have belated realized that when empire intervenes, things usually, and predictably, get worse for the folks on the ground.

      • annie
        annie on October 30, 2011, 1:53 am

        keith, i kind of stayed out of the libya conversations here because it was very hot and i didn’t approve of our nato intervention (from day 1). i commented on helena’s site instead (including the thread of this post). i’m a huge fan of helena’s and completely trust her overall judgement and i do not say that lightly. she’s…she’s just helena. she’, prescient in ways that doesn’t defy logic but confirms it. there’s a simplicity and pureness about her application. in my next life i want the voice of aretha, the courage of huwaida, and the commonsense/brains of helena. that’s all there is to say about that.

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 5:48 am

        Annie, the first official words that Mustapha Abdul-NATO Jalil (as he’s now being called by those that have an idea of what really happened) was his proclamation of the ISLAMIC Republic of Libya. The second thing he announced immediately thereafter was that Sharia law will now prevail over all current Gadafi civil laws begining with the one permitting multipe wives that Gadafi, had previously outlawed. It gives you an idea what priorities these freedom-fighting Arab Spring gladiators had on their minds all along. But try convincing all those tripping over the use of the “Arab Spring” slogan. Shmuel should have taken my advice and gone into the burqa business when I told him to. Not that much different happened with the Arab Springs of Egypt and Tunisia.

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel on October 30, 2011, 6:14 am

        Shmuel should have taken my advice and gone into the burqa business when I told him to.

        Who says I didn’t? “Samwil on the Corniche”. Look us up next time you’re in Tripoli (Benghazi branch opening soon). Our motto is: Any colour the customer (or one of her male relatives) wants – as long as it’s black.

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 6:37 am

        Good move, Shmuel, soon millions will be flocking to buy your burqas, (if they dont want to stay locked up at home).

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel on October 30, 2011, 7:05 am

        Special discount for Mondoweiss commenters!

        BTW, any idea where I can unload 300,000 copies of Gaddafi’s Green Book (you know: “Men are male; women are female”)?

      • MRW
        MRW on October 30, 2011, 8:55 am


        Don’t choke, but download Atzmon’s latest book instead. You might like it. At the very least, read it for free in a bookstore.

        [He’s not the master of foreshadowing, so before you throw the book across the room, read another 20 pages. . . . ]

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 9:08 am

        Yes, Shmuel, with the rest of his follies like the tent he pitched in all the world’s capitals, he sure talked funny in his Green Book and even went into chapter and verse on how women menstruate and get babies and men don’t. But his funny talk aside, maybe in his own quaint way, he thought he was being a Mao, he stressed the importance of giving the woman the place due to her in society such as giving her automatic title to a house and guardianship of children unless unfit at which time the children would be placed in state-run and financed shelters. He also outlawed men’s right to have mutiple wives, which last week the new Jalal transitional government has quickly reversed because it went against Sharia law. This is an old Muslim tradition very useful to quickly increase the tribe especially in time of war with many men not returning from the battlefield.

        The Green Book for those with astrong heart:

        Lendman wrote that:
        “Gaddafi’s Green Book, in fact, states, “The house is a basic need of both the individual and the family, therefore it should not be owned by others.” It also covers other beneficial social policies, saying:

        • “Women, like men, are human beings.
        • ….(A)ll individuals have a natural right to self-expression by any means….;
        • In a socialist society no person may own a private means of transportation for the purpose of renting to others, because this represents controlling the needs of others.
        • The democratic system is a cohesive structure whose foundation stones are firmly laid above the other (through People’s Conferences and Committees). There is absolutely no conception of democratic society other than this.
        • No representation of the people – representation is a falsehood. The existence of parliaments underlies the absence of the people, for democracy can only exist with the presence of the people and not in the presence of representatives of the people.”

        Green Book ideology rejects Western-style democracy and predatory capitalism, especially neoliberal exploitation. It’s one of many reasons why Gaddafi was ousted.

        He provided impressive social benefits, including free land, equipment, livestock and seeds for agriculture to foster self-sufficient food production. Moreover, all basic food items were subsidized and sold through a network of “people’s shops.”

        Moreover, since the 1960s, women had the right to vote and participate politically. They can also own and sell property independently of their husbands. Under the December 1969 Constitutional Proclamation Clause 5, they have equal status with men, including for education and employment, even though men play leading roles in society.”

        Shmuel, keep in mind that in some Muslim countries, women aren’t even allowed to ride a bike in public (it’s really to protect you as you might see their ankles and go to hell), let alone drive a car.

        With the country’s new Sharia law coming into effect, the Green Book and all it stood for will be flushed down the drain. And you thought it was being merely medieval?

      • Shmuel
        Shmuel on October 30, 2011, 10:08 am

        Don’t choke, but download Atzmon’s latest book instead.

        Instead of what? Instead of The Green Book?

    • annie
      annie on October 30, 2011, 1:55 am

      Gadafi’s Libya, in spite of his clownish bahaviour, had the highest standard of living of all Arab countries, so most of the calls we heard from there for democracy and so on were bogus

      yes, that’s sort of my take on it and i posted an excellent article recently from asia times..(sorry, brain malfunction..having to do w/the banking..libya producing their own money…) expressing this precisely.

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 7:04 am

        Calling it an “Arab Spring”, especially as it applies to Libya, is using the old lipstick on a pig analogy and a convenient way of sweeping what the West really did under the rug. It’s said that Gadafi would have had a lot of embarrassing things to say about Sarkozy and Berlusconi but now that he’s dead, we’ll never know. Don’t be surprised if Seif al-Islam also becomes suddenly dead while trying to escape. Some rumours are saying that Gadafi had been captured for 48 hours before he was handed over to the rebels at Sirte to permanently silence him.

        Stephen Lendman has been blogging about Libya from the start; here’s part of his latest report:

        Libya: War Without End – by Stephen Lendman

        Libya will long be remembered as one of history’s great crimes. For over eight months, NATO’s killing machine ravaged the country, killing tens of thousands.

        Years of protracted conflict lie ahead. Libyans will keep struggling until they’re free from NATO’s scourge.

        UN Resolution 1973 authorized a no-fly zone. In fact, it lawlessly declared war. A prosperous, peaceful, nonbelligerent country and its way of life was destroyed.

        Civilians and non-military sites were deliberately targeted. Cold-blooded murder and mass destruction were planned.

        Sirte, a city once home to 100,000, symbolizes NATO’s depravity. Terror bombing destroyed it. Thousands were massacred.

        Under international law, it’s a war crime.

        Under the 1907 Hague Regulations, Fourth Geneva, Geneva’s Common Article III, and various other international laws, civilians are protected persons. So is civilian property. Attacking them is prohibited. War crimes are clearly defined. The principles of distinction and proportionality also apply

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 11:45 am

        Annie, send a note to your friend Helena to start following the Mondo thread at

        and pick up the video of Lizzie Phelan’s testimony of whatLibya was really about and the super con job pulled by the media and NATO at at the 16:48 mark

      • annie
        annie on October 30, 2011, 12:10 pm

        walid, just follow the link and go to her site and comment on her thread. anyone can contact helena, she is very accessible. i’m going to watch that video, thanks for posting.

      • annie
        annie on October 30, 2011, 12:40 pm

        at the 16:48 mark.

        thank you so much for posting this must see video walid. i hope everyone watches this section because her testimony is crucial. it confirms everything i believed was going on. everything. i can’t stand these imperial wars massacering people for finally getting one step ahead. everything goes into retrograde which is exactly what they want to accomplish all along while they peddle their lies promising democracy. vile criminal horrific.

        and the people gobbling up the lies. i posted that video of the toppling of romania during that time. i don’t know why people believe these media reports over and over again when it’s a very clear pattern of manipulated propaganda. it’s so infuriating. we don’t do humnaitarian missions, it’s not what our aggression is used for. and yet people fall for it time and again. drives me crazy.

      • Walid
        Walid on October 30, 2011, 2:25 pm

        Annie, people will go along with any news that’s in line with what they would want it to be. Mostly everyone here got caught in the sloganized Arab Spring fever and started seeing freedom movements everywhere simply because they wanted to. I didn’t like Gaddafi any more than I liked Assad but I still spotted what Jazeera had been up to eventhough I had been a big fan of its great reporting on Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Egypt. CNN and the rest of the American networks have been doing it to us for decades. For years I relied only on the news from PBS but now I’m wondering if it wasn’t like all the others and I simply wanted to believe it. Probably was.

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