Some Reflections on the Revolution in Libya
by Charles H. Featherstone
We live in an interesting historical moment.
Several things impress me about the uprising in Libya in particular. The first was the early realization that an uprising there would not simply oust Brother Leader Muammar Qaddafiy, and would not do so easily. In fact, in order for Libyans to remove their brutal and corrupt leader, they were going to have to break the state he created in the process. And it seems they are doing just that, even as huge elements of Qaddafiy’s state defect.
The greatest risk of this was a lack of institutions or structures to govern Libya once Qaddafiy was gone. A friend and I noted in a conversation a decade ago that Libya was the Arab state most like Mohammad Siad Barre’s Somalia – a nation-state in which the dictator had either destroyed or co-opted all social structures and institutions with the state. There was no alternative to Siad Barre’s Somalia (so several well-educated Somali refugees described to me) except the clan structure, so when Somalis rose up and ousted Siad Barre, they by necessity had to destroy his state. No alternative structures quickly arose, and Somalia has been officially “stateless” for the last 20 years. (For any number of reasons, which I won’t go into here.)
The risk, then, of Libyans ousting Qaddafiy (or his dying, because we didn’t see an actual rebellion as a possibility then) was the risk that in breaking the Libyan state, there would be nothing left except the clan structure of Libya, and the kind of perpetual struggle for control of the nation among the clans would arise. Libya would become a failed state. It seemed a remote risk, however, as Qaddafiy seemed fairly permanent. (Again, I’m often forgetting what is for me the great lesson of 1989 – no state or governing arrangement is ever permanent.)
But I don’t think this likely in Libya because of the exiles, who have done an amazing job at coordinating and probably planning much of the uprising. They will likely prevent Libya from becoming a Somalia-style failed state.