Archive for Libyan Revolution

Sleeping In the Same Bed Dreaming Different Dreams?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on September 4, 2011 by playthell

 Islamist celebrating Victory

Secular Democracy, Islamic Theocracy or Chaos?

As I pointed out in a previous commentary on Libya, “After the fall of Khadafy…What Next,” all mass movements are segmented into factions based on ideological differences.  These factions can be graded on a continuum from right to left: Radicals, liberals and conservatives.  This is true despite the fact that they all agree on the basic objective of the movement.  In this case the unifying objective is the overthrow of megalomaniacal tyrant Mummar Khadafy.

Yet as we get a closer look at the composition of the rebel forces we see that there are deep divisions based not only on ideology but also class, ethnicity, regionalism and theocrats vs. secularist.  At this point it is not at all clear just how profound the divisions are or whether there exist a leadership structure that can unify these disparate factions under the banner of Libyan nationalism.

If they cannot things will fall apart and, like Iraq, the ensuing chaos will be such a nightmare many Libyans will view the Khadafy regime as “the good old days.”  There are several critical contradictions coming to the fore with the fall of the ruling clique that has governed Libya for nearly half a century.  For instance the shallowness of national identity is beginning to manifest itself in the squabbling between the different armed groups who are vying for supremacy in terms of who shall have command of the unified armed forces of the new regime.  With reports of different factions marking off their territory by spray painting graffiti on walls, they look far more like criminal street gangs than members of a serious disciplined revolutionary movement

The normal problem of dealing with antagonistic factions in mass transformative  movements is magnified by the nature of the movement that overthrew the old order in Libya.  Unlike the great revolutionary movements we witnessed in the 20th century, which had strong vanguard parties guided by comprehensive ideologies that defined their objectives and a unified command over the military; the uprisings in the “Arab Spring” have no central leadership structure, no clear cut ideologies and are largely directed by dissidents using social media to direct the spontaneous combustion of the masses.  Hence, from the evidence I’m seeing, nobody is really in charge here so we have no way of predicting what course events will take.  And the fact that Khadafy is still at large and threatening to wage a clandestine counter-struggle further complicates and confuses the situation on the ground.

By virtue of the unique relationship between the army and the people in Egypt, the military was entrusted to maintain order and steward the nation into a new era.  The army that formerly served Honsi Mubarak has now sided with the rebels and arrested Mubarak, who will soon be put on trial for his crimes against the Egyptian people. This was a radically different outcome from previous popular movements that overthrew national governments.  It is a function of the fact that the movement had no established leadership and no clear vision of the new order they wanted to create.  If the Chinese revolution had taken such a course we would be witnessing endless chaos now, given the size and diversity of China.

However the movement that transformed China was a scientific affair artfully directed by the brilliant theoretician Mao Tse Tung, the greatest mass leader of the 20th century…if not in world history.  He certainly gets my vote.  Viewed in retrospect from the vantage point of the mass uprisings in the Arab world the Chinese Revolution is even more awe inspiring when you consider the vastness of the country, the many millions of people, and that they had no telephones, cell phones, computers, internet, social media, television or radio.  They communicated their complex ideology through written pamphlets and face to face recruiting.

We can see how this was accomplished through the voluminous writings of Chairman Mao, the supreme leader of the Chinese Communist Party.  In his three volume Magnum Opus “On Protracted Warfare,” and shorter works like “On Contradiction” and “On Practice” we see the blueprint for a scientific approach to revolution that was also successfully applied by the Vietnamese.

Of course they made necessary alterations to fit the particular conditions of Vietnam; Just as Mao had adapted Marxism/Leninism from the Russian experience to the special circumstances of China.  However these revolutionary movements took a generation or more to build!  As such they organized, mobilized and directed the entire society toward clearly defined objectives.  It is no wonder the Chinese people dubbed Mao “The Great Helmsman.”

 Chairman Mao


Father of the Military Science of Protracted Peoples War

In his seminal text on the role the CIA played in the evolution of American involvement in trying to suppress the Vietnamese revolution, “Dangerous Deceits,” former CIA agent Ralph McGhee provides us a first-hand account of the elaborate organization of the Asian liberation movements directed by Communist parties based on the Chinese model.  He shows how every identifiable social grouping was organized – workers, peasants, teachers, etc. – and explains that it was the American insistence on defining the Communist as a fringe element with “politicized intelligence” rather than the true representatives of the people that led us into a protracted people’s war in Vietnam and ultimately a humiliating defeat.  This grass roots organization by a disciplined revolutionary political party also accounts for the orderly governance of society after the war ended.  The long period of organization and struggle prepared the revolutionaries to govern.

This is a critical element that’s missing in the rebellions of the “Arab Spring” and in the case of Libya, a highly tribal society, it could prove disastrous!  A comprehensive report from the front lines in the August 31, New York Times, “Tripoli Divided As Rebels Jostle Over Leadership,”  points out the complexity of the problem.  “Rebels from the western mountains, the mid-coastal city of Misurata and the eastern city of Benghazi each fought independently, and often rolled their eyes in condescension at one another…Tripoli has become an early test of the revolution’s ability to bridge those divisions because in contrast to other Libyan cities liberated by their own residents, colonel Qaddafi was ousted from Tripoli by brigades from other regions, and most remain in the streets.”

When the Tripoli Brigade, which has five battalions and is the largest and best equipped of the rebel forces, chose Alamin Belhaj to lead the unified military forces – the Tripoli Military Council, which commands 8000 troops and is the largest of the rebel military formations – ideological divisions among the rebels quickly came to the fore.  The main objections to Belhaj is that he had been one of the leaders of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group, which tried to overthrow Colonel Qaddafi during the 1990’s and failed.  This organization has been known to have ties with Al Qaeda and is actually classified as a “terrorist organization” by the US government.

Hence many of the secularist who envision a liberal democracy as the ideal society for the new Post Qaddafi Libya view him with suspicion; a stalking horse for a takeover of the revolution by Islamic zealots.  And the fact that the Tripoli Brigade is largely trained and equipped by the government of Qatar, which also finances the Arabic news service Al Jazeera, feeds the suspicion that they are sponsoring “Muslim Extremism” in Libya.  One member of the Transitional Council – the civilian organization tasked with establishing a post Qaddafi government – reported “The revolutionary fighters are extremely unhappy and surprised.”   He said of Belhaj: “He is the commander of nothing!”

The danger of Islamic Jihadists subverting the popular movements for democracy into a movement to establish an Islamic theocracy under Sharia Law is a constant theme in my commentaries on the so called “Arab Spring.”  And that danger is clearly present in Libya.  The reason for this is that in a popular movement all elements that are opposed to the ruling elite are welcomed into the mass struggle.  But those factions that have superior organization and clear ideological objectives will eventually emerge as the dominant force.  That’s why when communist or Jihadist become part of a coalition they will eventually take it over.

They cannot accord equal weight to other ideas the way liberal democrats are inclined to do because their ideologies are absolutist.  The Communist views their ideology as “scientific,” which means that like chemistry, it’s formulas for change is universally true.  And the Muslims believe that their theology is the “word of God” which by definition is true for all times, places and peoples.

Hence the fear of a Jihadist takeover of the popular movement in Libya is justified by their history and present actions – I will explore their worldview in a forthcoming commentary.  The recent assassination of General Abdul Fattah Younes, who was the supreme commander of the rebel forces in Benghazi, a major theater of conflict, is a case in point.

Although the perpetrators of the murder remain a mystery it is widely believed among secular liberals in the rebellion that it was Islamist forces extracting revenge for the role the general played in suppressing them under Qaddafi.   As flags displaying the star and Crescent increasing unfurl, the Islamic zealots are beginning to openly assert themselves as the popular movement gets closer to taking power.

For instance, as the rebels debate about who should lead the military forces Alamin Belhaj, who is both a member of the secular/liberal dominated Transitional Council from Tripoli and a leader of the long suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, argues that the Islamist factions are best qualified to lead because they will be most effective at disarming the freelance groups running around with military weapons.

 Rebel Military Commander: Alamin Belhaj

 A Closet Islamist?

“They trust us more” says Mr. Belhaj, who argues that the street warriors are afraid that if they give up their guns the fruits of the revolution will be stolen by the rich westernized Libyans, many of whom are expatriates returning from exile in western countries.  This is a recurrent phenomenon in third world countries ruled by dictators where the educated or “westernized” elites fled the country for exile in the liberal democracies of the west, but returned to help rebuild the country after the fall of the tyrant.  It is a special problem in Muslim countries where militant Islamist are playing a major role in the new leadership.  We witnessed this in Iran, where many of the intellectuals in exile helped to overthrow the Shah and put Ayatollah Homeni in power and were then executed when the Mullahs took over.

My former colleague at the University of Massachusetts, Cherif Guellal, who had been a member of the Central Committee of the FLN during the bloody Algerian Revolution, told me very similar stories about the antagonism and suspicions toward western trained intellectuals after they took power.  The irony is that it is the western educated intellectuals who led the revolution.  The central theoretician of the Algerian revolution was the black Martinican Psychiatrist Franz Fanon, who was trained in France.

As a modern man committed to rationalism and science he had warned about the dangers of establishing an Islamic theocracy in the twentieth century in his famous essay “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness.”  Cherif once told me cynically “If you knew how to sign your name it was cause for suspicion by many of the fellahin guerillas.”

Dr. Franz Fanon

An implaccable foe of the Islamcist 

Cherif could sign his name in five languages and he was soon driven into exile; the memory of his close friend and revolutionary comrade Franz Fanon, who had died of cancer on the cusp of victory, was systematically eradicated from the memory of the nation.   And there has been a bloody protracted struggle between the secular and Islamic forces ever since.

That’s why it is a risky business for the US government to support the rebels that are overthrowing the established regimes in the Arab world headed by secular military strong men, even though they are all despicable tyrants who suppress the popular will of their people and fleece the nation of its treasure.  While the US cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history defending tyrants against a historic popular movement that is transforming the Arab world,  thus far history demonstrates that when the tyrants  fall the Islamist rise.  I fear that we may be witnessing a similar scenario developing in Libya, because all evidence suggest the rebels are sleeping in the same bed …but dreaming different dreams.



Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 7, 2011

After Kaddafi Falls…What Next?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , on August 24, 2011 by playthell

 The Triumphant Rebels burn Kaddafi’s Image and his Green Book!

Can the Emerging Coalition Govern Democratically?

Although I understood and sympathized with the Libyan people’s grievances – which gave impetus to the mass movement that is sweeping away the dictatorial Gadhafi regime – early on, I am not among those who are convinced that a secular democracy will emerge in the aftermath.  Since there is no institutional or ideological basis for such a development, chances are this will prove to be wishful thinking.  Libya is a largely tribal society that was traditionally ruled by sheiks and chiefs who view the world from an Islamic perspective – which means their heads are stuck in the Middle-Ages.

These people entered the modern world through anti-democratic European colonial rule, where the people had no say in governing the country, and they transitioned to autocratic rule under police state conditions in which the practice of pluralistic politics with competing parties was forbidden.  That has been their history during the entire post-independence period.  Therefore the critical question is: On what foundation is a modern secular democracy to be built?

The nature of violent revolutionary change creates the conditions for the rise of a dictatorship in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.  The revolutionary movement destroys existing institutions of authority in the process of seizing power, therefore the first task of the revolutionaries is to restore order and avoid chaos.  While they themselves are the source of the instability, once revolutionaries take power their goals change radically and the tactics they employed to seize power must now be ruthlessly suppressed.

To consolidate the gains of the revolutionary struggle, the maintenance of law and order must be the first priority.  The lights must be on, the water pumps working, the economy must be functional, and the distribution of its fruits more democratic. In the instable conditions following the violent seizure of power, dictatorship is more often than not the only way these things can be achieved.

That’s why many of those who supported the 1917 Russian Revolution were surprised and bewildered by the dictatorial practices implemented by the Bolsheviks.  No one expressed this feeling more poignantly than Emma Goldman in her revelatory book “My Disillusionment in Russia,” a text pro-Soviet Marxists choose to ignore.  Yet she identified the flaws in the emerging Communist order in post-revolutionary Russian that would bring about its collapse a half century later.

The experience of Iraq does not encourage hope for a democracy in Libya.  I believe that what is being called “democracy” in Iraq will quickly degenerate into a tyranny of the majority Shiites over Sunnis once American forces leave.  And the increasing cries of “Allah U Akbar” heard on the streets of Tripoli, strongly suggest that the road to democracy in Libya will be no primrose path.

Although Khadafy has fairly discredited himself on the question of the danger posed by Islamic Jihadists by blaming everything on Al Qaeda, trying to justify his tyrannical behavior by arguing that he was the last line of defense against them taking over Libya, there is more than a little truth to his claim.  As I have written for ten years now, the secular military strongmen have been the main deterrent to the Jihadists in the Muslim world

Beginning with a critique of the Bush Administration’s rationale for invading Iraq “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly,” I argued that Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were not allies the way the Bushmen were arguing in order to justify the Iraq invasion; rather they represent polar opposites in their vision of how Muslim societies should be governed.  Thus, given the repressive regimes run by these military men, Islamic organizations were forced underground and consequently we have no way of knowing the extent of their popular appeal.  But in the free flowing political environment created with the fall of Mummar we shall soon see. Until further notice, I’m down with what Mellin told Snellin: “Ain’t no tellin!”  Anything can happen.

One of the unpleasant truths we have learned from the fall of Sadam Hussein is that in a country like Iraq, where there are serious ethnic and religious divisions that could erupt in conflict, it may require a military strongman like Sadam to hold it all together and avoid the chaos of internecine strife.    For instance, under Sadam women were the freer than anywhere else in the Arab world, and there was no violent religious conflict.  The Christian community was far better off (see “Christmastime In Bagdad” and “Why some Egyptian Women Support Mubarak” on this blog)  It can also be credibly demonstrated that it was a lot safer in Pakistan when General Pervez Musharif was running that country. (see The Trouble With Pakistan” on this blog) In fact, it is fair to say that everywhere these military strong men have been removed the Islamist rapidly grows in power and influence – violence and chaos soon follow.

Given the fact that Libya is composed of 140 tribes, along with an organized Jihadist movement, removing a strongman like Khadafy who, through a system of sticks and carrots, rewarding those who support him and punishing those who don’t, managed to construct a workable system for governing, it is highly probable that the new rulers will find it necessary to impose order with the coercive forces of state power.

The critical question is: Can the ruling coalition that emerges from this turmoil actually muster the resources to govern.  If they can’t disaster will ensue, the country will fall apart, and then the question of whether removing Khadafy from power was a good thing will be on everybody’s mind.  One of the things that will complicate any attempt to govern is a failure to keep the rebel coalition together.

The nature of mass movements is such that its constituents are diverse and have different interests; they are united by a common enemy.  But once that enemy is defeated the difference between factions in the movement is magnified.  That’s why civil wars often follow national liberation struggles.  All the factions in a popular front agree on the paramount objective, defeating their mutual oppressor.  But once that objective been achieved the contradictions between factions sharpen.  How to resolve these contradictions peacefully and forge a working coalition that can actually govern, is the paramount problem facing the new leadership of Libya.


Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

August 24, 2011




From Rebellion to Revolution?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 23, 2011 by playthell

The Righteous Wrath of the People

As the situation in Libya rapidly deteriorates we are on the verge of witnessing the first of the populist rebellions in the Arab world rapidly metamorphose into a revolution.  In fact, the activist said they want to henceforth be called “revolutionaries” not demonstrators.”  However I use “revolution” in the narrowest sense of the term: to totally overthrow a system of power and authority and replace it with another.  Yet in its more expansive meaning Revolution implies a great leap forward in the socio/economic relations of a nation, progress; the creation of a new order which dramatically elevates the standard of living and quality of life for the masses.

By this definition we cannot say for sure that what we are witnessing unfold in Libya thus far is a revolutionary change that will bring true progress to the people of that country.  As the former Regis Professor of History at Oxford, Dr. Hugh Trevor-Roper, has reminded us: one barbarian succeeding another barbarian does not make history. In other words, there must be some movement in the ideas that shape our society to signify progressive development.  Likewise, in the case of revolutions, there must be a dramatic move forward in relations between those who held power and created the conditions that led to the revolution, and those who were the victims that rose up in revolt.  In the contemporary Muslim world it is hard to know what will replace the despotisms that are being overthrown by the confused headless host we call “the people.”  What is certain is that things are quickly coming to a head in Libya, as both sides are taking up arms.

There are reports from reliable sources that certain dissident elements in the army have opened their arsenals and are arming the rebels.  Other military men are deserting their posts or refusing to follow orders – such as the two Air Force pilots who defected with their planes to Malta rather than bomb their fellow citizens. Libyan diplomats abroad are defecting from the murderous Quadaffi regime and joining the rebellion.  Clearly the process of revolution has begun.  However it takes more than guns to make a revolution; once must have a revolutionary ideology that defines radical goals. Thus far I see no evidence of this.  Beyond toppling Quadaffi, the goals of the enraged but leaderless masses are a grand mystery.

Mummar Quadaffi – the military autocrat who has ruled Libya with an iron fist during its entire period of independence from France – which spans over forty years now, has vowed not to budge from his position as President of the nation.  Dressed in weird garb and looking every bit the space cadet that he is, Quadaffi called the protestors “dope addicts,” “American agents,” “and “traitors” and called upon his supporters to attack them in their houses!   Quadaffi has also vowed to martyr himself – which means he plans go out in a hail of gunfire – rather than leave Libya and retreat into exile! From the present  stage of the burgeoning crisis it looks like something akin to a civil war is rapidly approaching.

Given the violent morass that Libyan society has become, with all authority breaking down, the guys with the guns are emerging as the deciders of the future. This may yet turn out to be a situation where the autocrat you know is preferable to the theocrat you don’t know. This has been the basis of US support for these despotisms throughout the region, and it has served American interests well….until now!  This is because such arrangements never served the interests of the people in these countries…only a select elite, who were corrupted by the nature of the deal.  America entered into a Faustian bargain with these murderous blaggards and thieves and now there’s the Devil to pay.

Pan-Arabist Mad Man Mummar Quadaffi

The Masquerade is Over: But he doesn’t get it!

Of course, when this policy of uncritically supporting tyrants in the Arab world was formulated, the communist were the enemy of choice. The US even supported Muslim fundamentalist, because they were virulently anti-communist. That’s why the US government declared the Afghan Mujahidin – who became the “Taliban” – “freedom Fighters” and the CIA ended up training Osama bin Laden in terrorist tactics to fight the Russian communist.  Since the fall of communism the American elite quickly found another enemy, the Islamic Jihadists, which American policy largely created.

Not simply by their clandestine training and arming of Muslim forces to fight the Russian atheists in Afghanistan, but by the decision to garrison American troops in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, a man worth hundreds of millions who walked away from a life of luxury to fight for Al Islam, was enraged by the presence of swine eating infidels on sacred Muslim soil where the Khabba, Islam’s holiest shrine, is entombed.  This is when Osama declared the Saudi Royal family to be apostates and declared Jihad against them and their allies. As the foremost supporters and protectors of this moribund medieval regime we were first on his hit list!  The manifestation of his wrath was rained upon us on 9/11.  And thanks to the Republican blunders posing as tough guys “Osama been forgotten” is still running around in the mountains

However in the eyes of the Jihadists all of the regimes in the Islamic world who are not living under Sharia law are apostates!  Yet the only nation in the world that is living under Sharia, Iran, is also unacceptable to Al Qaeda because they are Shiites rather than Sunnis!  This kind of thinking is a measure of the madness we face in trying to evaluate the situation in the Middle East.  That Quadaffi is a mad man is apparent to anyone who does not suffer with madness themselves; yet he has maintained stability in a nation crisscrossed with clan loyalties and potential religious conflicts based on esoteric theological disputes that date back to the glory days of the Islamic Caliphate in the middle ages.

While right wingers in the US argue that the US shouldn’t support the popular movement sweeping the Arab world because they have been faithful US puppets to US interests, they offer no policy options to counter the policies of the Obama Administration. This is because their cupboard is bare; they don’t have any alternative options.  They fact is that the US is a helpless giant, a colossus with feet of clay, when faced with the present popular democratic upheavals in the Mid-East.  We are already bogged down in quagmires in two Muslim countries which we are trying our best to extricate ourselves from with some semblance of military honor.  So it is apparent to this writer that any thought of military intervention to suppress the popular uprisings is an insane and self destructive fantasy.

However the mindless cheerleading on the left, where the argument is that President Obama should inject the power and prestige of the US into this internal crisis of the Arab world, standing firmly on the side of the raging mobs, may also prove to be a castle built on shifting sands. The assumptions upon which this course of action is justified are as intellectually shaky as the mindless ranting on the right. With a Psychotic megalomaniac like Quadaffi anything can happen. For instance, he is quite capable of blowing up the oil pipe lines, which would drive oil prices through the roof and spark an economic crisis throughout the world.  Alas, preventing this from happening has been the principal objective of American policy in the region.  It is the source of all our sins against the Arabs…which are myriad and now have come back to plague us.

Portrait Of A Madman!

He has vowed to turn the streets red with blood!!


Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 23, 2011