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.