It has been two years since the Arab Spring erupted. Starting on December 18, 2010, with Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in Tunisia, the Arab World has seen a revolutionary wave of demonstrations, protests, and wars, leading to the toppling of governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; civil uprising in Bahrain and Syria; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan; and minor protests in Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Western Sahara.
In Tunisia, it led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia, and the resignation of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi; in Egypt, it led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, who was subsequently sentenced to life in prison “for ordering the killing of protesters”; in Yemen, it led to the overthrow of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar; in Libya it led to the overthrow and murder of the Brother Leader of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi; in Jordan, it led to King Abdullah II dismissing Prime Minister Rifai and his cabinet; and in Kuwait it led to the resignation of Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.
By international estimates, between 60,000 – 70,000 people have died since the wave erupted. Beautiful cities have been reduced to rubble. Perhaps the most enduring, the most graphic and the most shearing images of the uprising so far have been the hacking to death of al-Gaddafi in Libya and subsequent display of his mutilated body for public viewing; and the carnage currently playing out in Syria.
On the face of it, this wave is said to have been instigated by authoritarianism, political corruption and human right violations on the part of the ruling class. The key aims of these violent acts have been to force regime changes, introduce democracy and improve human rights.
Two years down the line one wonders whether anything good has or will come out of the uprisings that could possibly justify the loss of lives and horrendous destruction we have witnessed. Are Libya and Egypt better today than they were two years ago? Has the overthrow of Mubarak and Gaddafi brought democracy and freedom to Egypt and Libya? Were these bloody uprisings the best way to deal with whatever deficiencies might have existed in the political systems of these Arab countries?
Looking at what is going on in Syria at the moment there is no doubt that President Bashar al-Assad has taken a cue from the treatment meted out to Mubarak and Gaddafi and has decided to use all the force at his disposal to fight on with the knowledge that nothing short of total victory will guarantee his safety. He knows very well that as happened to Gaddafi in Libya, he will most certainly be killed if he surrenders. In such a situation, survival instincts dictate that he fights on with every weapon at his disposal.
What happened in the Arab world, at least in Libya, had nothing to do with the restoration of democracy per se but everything to do with Western imperialist elements meddling in the affairs of nations of the third world in order to safeguard their selfish interests. Control of resources, and not democratic or humanitarian concerns, were the real impetus for the bloodshed we witnessed, and the earlier this issue is called out for what it really is, the better it will be for the safety and progress of those resource-rich countries of the third world who have refused to bow to the agents of western imperialism.
Gaddafi was not overthrown by the Libyan people but by NATO forces backed by America, pure and simple. It was the combined power of the Opération Harmattan by France, Operation Ellamy by the United Kingdom, Operation Mobile by Canada and Operation Odyssey Dawn by the United States of America that removed Gaddafi from power. For example, British aircraft carried out at least 3,000 missions and British naval forces fired over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles in Libya.
The U.S. military spent about $1 billion on the revolution, and secretly helped NATO with everything from munitions to surveillance aircraft. And all along the way, America and Britain were quick to recognize the rebels as the legitimate authority in each of these countries. Which makes one wonder: what would America think if any of the leading nations at the time had recognized the secessionist confederate forces as the legitimate authority during the American Civil War? The Western world used the pretext of popular uprisings to remove leaders they considered inimical to their cause.
There is no doubt that Gaddafi was no angel; he had grievous faults. But so were George Bush, Tony Blair and almost all leaders of the Western world, but nobody bombed them out of the way. George Bush sent American troops into Iraq in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and that led to the death of about 4,744 American and coalition soldiers and 150,726 Iraqis, which is far more than anything we have witnessed in Libya under Gaddafi, Egypt under Mubarak, or Iraq under Saddam Hussein but Bush walks a free man! The most important lesson that can be drawn from the history of revolutions is that overthrowing tyranny does not in itself establish democracy, but more often yields anarchy. And from anarchy and disorder come renewed tyranny.
The French revolution led to Napoleon and the restoration of the monarchy; the Russian revolution ended with elimination of their rivals by the Bolsheviks. The Iranian overthrow of the shah resulted in the rule of the mullahs. But America and Britain seem not to have learned this simple lesson and so they blindly support dictatorships whose depredations they underestimate and then blindly support revolutions whose consequences they misjudge, thereby bringing untold hardships to millions of people around the globe.
It is important to state that there is no perfect political system anywhere in the world; political systems evolve along different lines depending on historical antecedents and it is wrong for any super power to try to impose its ideas of good government on any other nation. The British, for example, have this wacky political system called a constitutional monarchy where an accident of birth gives a person the right to be Head of State and to remain so until he/she dies.
The Americans have an equally wacky system called the Electoral College system where it is possible for a person to become President without the support of the majority of the American people as happened in the electoral victories of John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000, and where the vote of a citizen in Wyoming is worth more than three times the vote of another citizen in California or Ohio. This system makes a complete mockery of the very idea of democracy which is based on the national popular will and the equality of votes. There are people in Britain, France and America who are not happy with certain aspects of their political systems and would wish to see major political reforms, but the best solution has not been to fire cruise missiles into Buckingham Palace or the White House.
For all his faults, Gaddafi did very well for Libya. Libya was a very beautiful and prosperous country under Gaddafi, far better than a lot of Western countries. Under Gaddafi, Libya had one of the best economies in the world, they had one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and they had one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Libya was the envy of most countries in the world. Nationals of Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries with full-fledged democracies trekked across the Sahara Desert into Libya in droves in search of greener pastures. Gaddafi would not allow Libyan resources to be plundered by Western powers as has happened in other African countries.
He had dreams of a united Africa that could no longer be taken for granted by any other nation in the world. He was prepared to stand up to the West. Unfortunately, standing up to the West has always been the gravest risk for any third world leader; Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana did it and suffered for it, Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea did it and suffered for it, Patrice Lumumba of the Belgian Congo did it and paid the ultimate price, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe did it and got his economy ruined for good.
Muammar al-Gaddafi has done some truly abhorrent things in the past, like sponsoring rebel activities in the trouble spots of West Africa but he had largely reformed. America, Britain and France have sponsored more rebel activity than most nations in the world! In every nation, there is bound to be disgruntled elements within the political system. Disgruntled elements should not be encouraged to start firing missiles into government buildings anytime they feel like it, like the Benghazi rebels in Libya did.
Anytime rebel elements resort to violence, the government has a responsibility to bring the insurgence under control through force of arms. That cannot be misconstrued to mean a government killing its own people. In 1861, soon after President Abraham Lincoln took office, a number of Southern States in the United States of America decided to secede from the Union over the issue of slavery. As a result, civil war broke out between these southern states (Confederate States of America) under Confederate president Jefferson Finis Davis and the rest of the United States under President Lincoln, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750, 000 soldiers.
Lincoln spared no effort to defeat the secessionist states and force them back into the Union. His message to them was simple: “You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I [shall] have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it." Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved American presidents to this day and a great American hero. When is the use of force by a government to preserve order right and when is it wrong? How would Americans have felt if some foreign power at the time had sent in troops to help the Confederacy defeat the Union?
Two years down the line, this much is clear: Libya and Egypt have not and will not become better nations with the overthrow of Gaddafi and Mubarak; Syria will not become a better nation if al-Assad falls; and all those who died in these uprisings died in vain. The ordinary citizen of Libya is poorer today than he was two years ago and generations of Libyans will look back to this as one of the darkest moments in their history. Let the leaders of the third world who stood by as NATO and America bombed Libya know this: it could be your turn tomorrow.
The third world cannot make progress if the West can pick and choose who to bomb without any questions asked. It was to forestall situations like this that Kwame Nkrumah pushed so hard for a united African continent. The actions of the United Nations in the Libyan crisis have been most unfortunate. United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 are simply incongruous with the founding ideals of that world body.
As for the African intellectuals who took to social media to blindly encourage the mayhem without understanding the real issues at stake and celebrated as each Head of State fell, I hope you learn your lessons soon. What happened in Libya was not a liberation struggle, it was criminal murder and Africa and the third world are the poorer for it.