Friday, October 28, 2011

Starting From Scratch In Libya

Anne Applebaum of the WaPo is a scholarly journalist, an historian of the Soviet Union and its revolution.  And her column today on Libya shows how the dictator Gaddafi did not do his people any favors.

...Libya’s late dictator, Moammar Gaddafi, has left an unprecedented, even weird, vacuum in his wake. Post-revolutionary Libya is truly a desert, not only in the geographic sense but in the political, economic, even psychological senses too.

Look, by contrast, at Libya’s post-revolutionary neighbors. Egypt has a sophisticated economy, a middle class, foreign investors and an enormous tourist industry, not to mention a long history of financial interactions with the rest of the world. Tunisia has a highly educated and articulate population, which has long been exposed to French media and political ideas. More than 90 percent of Tunisians voted in the country’s first free elections last weekend. Outside observers proclaimed the voting impeccably fair.

Libya, by contrast, has neither a sophisticated economy nor an articulate population, nor any political experience whatsoever. There were no political parties under Gaddafi, not even fake, government-controlled political parties. There were no media, nor even reliable information, to speak of. Libyan journalists were the most heavily controlled in the Arab world, hardly anyone has Internet access,and there is no tradition of investigative reporting.

During four decades in power, Gaddafi destroyed the army, the civil service and the educational system. The country produces nothing except oil, and none of the profits from that oil seem to have trickled down to anybody. Some 60 percent of the population works for the government, but they receive very low salaries — a few hundred dollars a month — in exchange. There is hardly any infrastructure, outside of a few roads. There is hardly any social life, since so many young people were too poor to marry. There wouldn’t be any public spaces to enjoy social life even if it existed: Trash is scattered along the undeveloped beaches, and old plastic bags blow back and forth across weed-clogged city parks.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and of course, in the absence of an army, militias may step into the breach: At the moment, some 27 of them, from cities all over Libya, have taken up residence in Tripoli compounds and spray-painted their names on the barricades....
She does admit they have lots of money. But it's hard to tell if that is good or bad, actually.

Unfortunately, this all sounds like a recipe for anarchy, which is probably the only thing worse than authoritarian rule.  When chaos reigns, people want 'law and order', so that they can at least survive. 

What a mess!  I hope that NATO is up for the challenge, because this struggle isn't over yet.

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