Bad stuff is happening in Libya. Protesters have been fired upon:
The bodies of protesters shot to death by forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi were left on the streets of a restive district in the Libyan capital Tuesday, an opposition activist and a resident said, while the longtime leader defiantly went on state TV to show he was still in charge.The eruption of turmoil in the capital after a week of protests and bloody clashes in Libya’s eastern cities has sharply escalated the challenge to Qaddafi. His security forces have unleashed the bloodiest crackdown of any Arab country against the wave of protests sweeping the region, which toppled leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing sources inside the country, said Tuesday that at least 250 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in the crackdown on protesters in Libya. New York-based Human Rights Watch has put the toll at at least 233 killed. The difficulty in getting information made obtaining a precise figure impossible.
An editorial in this morning’s Washington Post calls for Gaddafi to pay for his atrocities:
Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain all employed violence against their popular uprisings. But the actions of the Libyan regime are on a different scale. What is occurring in Tripoli and other cities is not only lethal repression but also crimes against humanity. The United States has used its influence to restrain such violence by allied governments, most recently in Bahrain. Now it should join with its allies in demanding that the Gaddafi regime be held accountable for its crimes.
The first way to do that is a public call for regime change. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that it was “time to stop this unacceptable bloodshed” in Libya; European leaders made similar statements. But the regime’s actions demand much more forceful action, including an immediate downgrading of relations and the raising of Libya’s case before the U.N. Security Council. The United States and the European Union should make clear that if the regime survives through violence, it will be subject to far-reaching sanctions, including on its oil industry.
Whether or not the Gaddafis remain in power, they should be brought to justice for the bloodshed they have caused. If a new government does not emerge in Libya, the Security Council should request that the International Criminal Court take up the case. Arab authoritarian regimes, and dictatorships around the world, must get the message that they cannot slaughter their own people with impunity.
I don’t like all this talk about the International Criminal Court (the U.S. does not recognize its legitimacy), but I agree that Gaddafi must be condemned for his actions. Just don’t get your hopes up about freedom coming to the Middle East. STRATFOR’s George Friedman explains the danger of chaos:
There have been moments in history where revolution spread in a region or around the world as if it were a wildfire. These moments do not come often. Those that come to mind include 1848, where a rising in France engulfed Europe. There was also 1968, where the demonstrations of what we might call the New Left swept the world: Mexico City, Paris, New York and hundreds of other towns saw anti-war revolutions staged by Marxists and other radicals. Prague saw the Soviets smash a New Leftist government. Even China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution could, by a stretch, be included. In 1989, a wave of unrest, triggered by East Germans wanting to get to the West, generated an uprising in Eastern Europe that overthrew Soviet rule.
Each had a basic theme. The 1848 uprisings attempted to establish liberal democracies in nations that had been submerged in the reaction to Napoleon. 1968 was about radical reform in capitalist society. 1989 was about the overthrow of communism. They were all more complex than that, varying from country to country. But in the end, the reasons behind them could reasonably be condensed into a sentence or two.
Some of these revolutions had great impact. 1989 changed the global balance of power. 1848 ended in failure at the time – France reverted to a monarchy within four years – but set the stage for later political changes. 1968 produced little that was lasting. The key is that in each country where they took place, there were significant differences in the details – but they shared core principles at a time when other countries were open to those principles, at least to some extent.
I suspect some regimes will fall, mostly reducing the country in question to chaos. The problem, as we are seeing in Tunisia, is that frequently there is no one on the revolutionaries’ side equipped to take power. The Bolsheviks had an organized party. In these revolutions, the parties are trying to organize themselves during the revolution, which is another way to say that the revolutionaries are in no position to govern. The danger is not radical Islam, but chaos, followed either by civil war, the military taking control simply to stabilize the situation or the emergence of a radical Islamic party to take control – simply because they are the only ones in the crowd with a plan and an organization. That’s how minorities take control of revolutions.
All of this is speculation. What we do know is that this is not the first wave of revolution in the world, and most waves fail, with their effects seen decades later in new regimes and political cultures. Only in the case of Eastern Europe do we see broad revolutionary success, but that was against an empire in collapse, so few lessons can be drawn from that for the Muslim world.
In the meantime, as you watch the region, remember not to watch the demonstrators. Watch the men with the guns. If they stand their ground for the state, the demonstrators have failed. If some come over, there is some chance of victory. And if victory comes, and democracy is declared, do not assume that what follows will in any way please the West – democracy and pro-Western political culture do not mean the same thing.
The situation remains fluid, and there are no broad certainties. It is a country-by-country matter now, with most regimes managing to stay in power to this point. There are three possibilities. One is that this is like 1848, a broad rising that will fail for lack of organization and coherence, but that will resonate for decades. The second is 1968, a revolution that overthrew no regime even temporarily and left some cultural remnants of minimal historical importance. The third is 1989, a revolution that overthrew the political order in an entire region, and created a new order in its place.
If I were to guess at this point, I would guess that we are facing 1848. The Muslim world will not experience massive regime change as in 1989, but neither will the effects be as ephemeral as 1968. Like 1848, this revolution will fail to transform the Muslim world or even just the Arab world. But it will plant seeds that will germinate in the coming decades. I think those seeds will be democratic, but not necessarily liberal. In other words, the democracies that eventually arise will produce regimes that will take their bearings from their own culture, which means Islam.
I’ll have more on the situation in Egypt on tonight’s KaibCast at 6 PM Eastern.