Monday, August 22, 2011

Gaddafi’s Fall Will Renew The Arab Spring

By Philip Zelikow
The situation in Tripoli finally seems to be breaking the way I hoped it would when I wrote about Libya for the FT in March. Much of the debate about this, in the US, at least, characterised the Libyan intervention as “liberal interventionism.” People chose sides based on what they already thought about that notion. This was always a mistake.
As I argued in March, however, it was – and is – wrong to see the Libyan case as a generic case to evoke such well-conditioned responses. Libya’s circumstances and Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s tyranny has a history and a geography that would well justify hard-headed calculations by the US, Britain, France, and many other countries that they should seize this opportunity to help the rebels get rid of this regime.
Much of the conventional wisdom in recent weeks has been that the Arab spring has been turning into a dreary summer. Not so dreary now. The fall of Col Gaddafi will renew a sense of momentum. The ongoing struggle in Syria, which seems to be slowly escalating, will move even more into the foreground.
My sense is that much of the drive in Arab spring policymaking is now actually coming from the Persian Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. This is now their hour. I would feel better if France, Britain, the US and those three countries were having regular working group discussions at the political director-level on a nearly daily basis. Perhaps they are.
The consensus now seems to be that there are three major possible outcomes to all these revolutionary situations. One is that a new group of authoritarians take control — the forces of reaction reassert themselves. Second is that Islamist extremists take control.
Then, as usual, there is the hope for the “third way” – of more open and democratic societies along lines familiar to citizens of Western societies. At the moment it looks like the betting has been on track one, with the assumption that this is also the option being backed by the Arab Gulf money, which has been flowing much more freely than funds from the constrained American and European coffers.
My argument is only this: don’t downplay the chances that a new and distinctive way can emerge, one that doesn’t fit into these preconceived categories. It may be crafted by exhausted cadres of newly successful revolutionaries in tiresome bargaining with wary existing elites, worrying over how to fuse concerns about traditional values, stability, and more open societies. There are intriguing developments going on across north Africa and south-west Asia, not yet quite comprehended or digested by many observers, in places like Morocco, Turkey, and even inside a seemingly conservative emirate like the UAE.
Many leaders in Arab and other Muslim communities know that, somehow, it won’t do just to create a new oligarchy of cronies controlling all the key jobs and lines of credit. Multi-ethnic communities in countries like Libya, Iraq, and Syria are and will be experimenting with federal or perhaps even confederal solutions that grant greater room and delegated authority.
In this part of the world it is the “total state” model itself that is crumbling, the decrepit son of decolonisation. That unitary, statist model has been the vehicle for all the cronyism and it is giving way to something new. Outsiders can be enablers for all this, offering information, tabling menus of ideas and incentives. The efforts so far have not yet jelled into a coherent framework. But the outsiders will not be the deciders.
-This opinion was published in The Financial Times on 22/08/2011
-The writer is a professor of history at the University of Virginia. From 2005 to 2007 he was the counsellor of the US Department of State

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