Libya update – Feb. 24, 2011

The first part of this post is based on a Juan Cole post:

Cole reports that most of the country east of Tripoli is in the hand of popular committees who are allied with security forces.

Cole writes that:

“Aljazeera Arabic is making the point that a lot hinges on the Libyan tribes’ response to the crisis. The reporter says that the officer corps is actually an assemblage of tribal notables cultivated by Qaddafi over the years, and in the end tribal loyalties may win out. The BBC concurs.”

LSW appreciates this information about the nature of the opposition, which has not been detailed up to now, at least that LSW is aware of. While the term ‘public committees’ is not so very precise, one thinks of Egypt where the people organized themselves in order to perform tasks ranging from street cleaning to security checks.

This is a topic which LSW hopes will be looked at more closely after ‘the dust settles’, this public self-organizing. Did it occur out of the blue or was there some discussion of what ifs, what if the regime were to fall, how would we deal with maintaining public order and the like? Spontaneous self-organizing? Interesting.

LSW would also like to see more on the nature of Libya’s tribes and their part in the political life of the country. ‘The tribes’ are mentioned in passing in various news reports, but absent the necessary background information on them, it is difficult to understand their part in the present situation.

LSW is based on the idea that in order to understand the jillions of pieces of news to which we are submitted every day one needs sufficient background information in which to place the aforementioned jillions of pieces of news. LSW is not in possession of such background information on its own and thus accumulates the knowledge put forth by others in the hope of erecting suitable frameworks which can be used to understand the events in the world around us.

ProPublica has an excellent detailed look at U.S. diplomatic ties to Libya. The title, “As U.S. Rebuilt Ties With Libya, Human Rights Concerns Took a Back Seat” belies the focus of the article, which is the complexity of diplomatic relations with Libya.

To wit:

“The U.S. and Libya have a complicated history. Under the recent Bush administration, the U.S. lifted sanctions and formally restored full diplomatic relations with Libya after its government renounced terrorism and dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 2003. At the time, the shift was heralded by State Department officials as “a success in our foreign policy.” A BBC correspondent went so far as to call it a “fairy tale.””


“Critics, however, said that as the U.S. restored diplomatic ties with the repressive regime, it put narrow strategic interests ahead of democracy and human rights.

“The State Department continues to engage Arab dictators at the expense of dissidents who support transitions to peaceful, modern societies,” Libyan-American activist Mohamed Eljahmi wrote in a Washington Post column in 2008. “

The post continues with more nuance:

““It’s tricky,” Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, told me. Malinowski said that Human Rights Watch was not against diplomatic normalization, but said that “at times during that period, human rights were downplayed more than we felt appropriate to smooth the path to more normal relations.”

“Dealing with Qaddafi’s Libya was never easy,” he said. “The judgment was made that Libyans did not react well to public pressure. I think in retrospect that was a misjudgment.””

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