Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi remains an obsession for advocates of decency. He personifies what is unknowable about the uprisings roiling the Arab world. What does the revolution mean, besides being an outlet for rage? What new order might emerge? After unwanted leaders are removed, what is there to stop like-minded individuals from insinuating themselves into power? Of what enduring value could nominally freer societies be if tribalism and regional enmities inhibit modernization? Egypt and Tunisia, the first nations to have their leaders deposed, are finding it a struggle to get institutions functioning again and life back to normal. The Egyptian military’s undertaking to organize elections by the end of the year is going to be tested. That is only the first proof of honest intent the people will seek.
In the case of Libya, there is little disagreement that Colonel Gadhafi should just fold his tent. He has lost the support of many Libyans. Swathes of the country are in rebel hands. Yet as he digs in his heels, the more conventionally are interlocutors like the United States and the United Nations acting. The U.S. has sent a naval task force to the area ― to enforce a possible ‘no fly’ zone ― while calls for Col. Gadhafi to ‘just go’ are sounding desperate.
Bahrain, Oman and Yemen have faced stirrings of discontent. The hereditary ruling families of Jordan and Syria have taken preemptive measures to prevent rebellion. How many more nations will see leadership change, peacefully or violently, does not matter as much as knowing what will come after. Countries with a stake in the region ― the U.S. chiefly, but also China, Israel, Iran and the region’s former colonizers ― would be better off getting to grips now with post-revolution imponderables.
Energy security is one such. Disrupted output, control of damaged fields by fiefdoms within nations and new production negotiations will bring a repricing of oil. Another issue is the supposed bulwark against the breeding of Islamic militancy that now-tottering regimes were said to represent. At best, that thinking will need review when new leaders come in. It will have to be evaluated whether the ‘understanding’ the U.S. had with repressive rulers gave them cover. Most critical is the contest between Sunnis and Shiites. Shiites form about a tenth of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide but they are 80 percent of the population in the oil-rich, mainly Sunni-controlled Persian Gulf strip. The doctrinal dispute between these two branches is little understood by non-Muslims. Misreading the interplay of forces within the same faith could be costly when the world deals with a new-look Arabism.
(Editorial, The Straits Times)
(Asia News Network)