Towards Better Democracy

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Libya: Speak Up!


Once again we have a chorus of Westerners, joined by myself, speaking on behalf of Libya (Libya: Rebels in retreat , Guardian, Comment is Free, April 11, 2011; The enemy we don’t know… , Independent, Jody McIntyre, March 31, 2011, among many examples)

Libyans, please find your voice and let it be heard loud and clear.

Only you can tell us and the rest of the world what it is that you want. The time to speak out is now. If you do not speak out you will watch as, an initiative which was taken by Libyans in the days leading up to February 17, 2011, slips from your grasp. You do not want your future decided by others. If you stay silent you can be assured that this is what will happen.

Najla Abdurrahma ‘s Libya: Making something out of nothing, Al Jazeera English, April 7, 2011, is a fine article, and she makes many good observations. Her point about Bernard Lewis and other Western so called experts on the Middle East is especially telling. I think that Ms Abdurrahma is far too kind to Mr Lewis: (He) “.. may be excused for his ignorance given that he hasn’t spent much time in the Arab world.” No he cannot be excused. His views have past their sell by date and that needs to be recognized.

AJE links the words “hasn’t spent much time” to a report, Resources of Hope published week of March 27, 2003 by Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, where the inestimable, irreplaceable and much missed Edward Said, and a number of political analysts debated the challenges Arabs faced at that point in time.

The link is to that article because Said says, “The two greatest outside influences on the [US] administration’s Middle East policy, are Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami. Bernard Lewis hasn’t set foot in the Middle East, in the Arab world, for at least 40 years. He knows something about Turkey, I’m told, but he knows nothing about the Arab world.” As it happens, the Al-Ahram report makes timely reading at this moment.

Would any of us listen to an expert from any other field who had no on the ground knowledge over a 40 year period? Can you imagine an expert on health? Forty years out of date?

What Said understood, and few, if any, in the Middle East have since understood, is that, if you wish for your views to be represented at the tables of discussion where policy is made, you have to make your voice heard.

It is no coincidence that Israel has the most powerful lobby in Washington after the AARP. You do not have to be eloquent, but you have to be there and to be heard. After all, perhaps Nikita Khrushchev’s most eloquent moment was when he banged his shoe on the table during the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly, held in New York on October 12, 1960.

Occasional heads of state visits to Washington won’t wash either. You need a lobby. Where is the Libyan lobby in Washington? And in Paris? And in Ankara?

Why do you need to be there?

Because, if you are not, the powers that be; the United Nations, United States, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, and so on, will make decisions on your behalf. They won’t be to your liking and they may be injurious to your cause and your nation. In fact, they may rebound on those making the decisions.

Dictators tend not to engage in this activity, which is why they are often at the receiving end of the expression of interests of powerful states. But democracies do. Democracies understand that points of view and causes have to be heard.

Democracy is about many things, not least of which is dialogue. The sooner the habit is engaged in, the sooner results are achieved.

The purpose of the dialogue?

To persuade! Libyans, you have a cause that is just, a cause that is right, a cause which most of the United Nations Security Council members feel sympathetic to, even among those who abstained from voting for the No Fly Zone.

So I say to you, Libyans, those of you who seek a Libya free of Gaddafi, you need to get your message out, and you need to get messengers out to convey your message. An envoy is not enough. It has to be a barrage.

Twitter, FaceBook, the Internet are fine at organizing protests. But they do not reach policy makers. Tweeting, “Gaddafi, go,” does nothing but further enrich the founders of Twitter. Saying so to the ear of the powers that be, who already have half a mind to help get rid of him, might clinch it.

Dictators live in isolation. That is a feature of their rule. Democracies do not.

Libyans, as you read this, you may feel that what is said in the Western, or world, press, does not matter. I say to you, “Yes it does.” You should be following what is said closely. Were you to be doing so, you would know that the prevailing view in the world’s capitals is; “We don’t know who you are, we don’t know whom to trust.”

Three countries have so far recognized the Transitional National Council in Benghazi. Do you know which other countries are poised, willing to recognize you? Have you a list of likely prospects?

Why are you not inviting government heads or their representatives to your council? Why should Colonel Gaddafi be favoured? Is his cause any greater or better than yours?

Why is Turkey brokering on your behalf? Why the African Union? And what is this nonsense, a Contact Group meeting in Qatar? Why is it not meeting in Benghazi?

Abdul Fatah Younis impressed many observers when he appeared recently at a press conference, April 5, 2011, which Al Jazeera carried. Why not daily press conferences? Why is the TNC not demanding equal air time every time Gaddafi or his henchmen speak? You are entitled to it and you will get it. You have to ask, you have to demand.

I offer no disrespect to Ms Abdurrahma when I say; Where are the Libyans who live in Libya? Why are they not writing in Al-Ahram, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, El Pais? Why are Libyans not appearing with Anderson Cooper and on all the other network channels?

You may ask once again, “Why do I have to do this?”

Because, “Libya is the only country where the Arab revolution became a military struggle …” (Libya: Rebels in retreat)

Your real audience is in Tripoli, behind a city held hostage by him, a human shield of 2 million people, plus 100 or so captive international press corps, with his own spokespersons commenting ad nauseam on this and that lie. Your situation is not like that of Egypt, or Tunisia, or Bahrain, or Syria , or Yemen.

It is more like that of Palestine, and the difference should frighten you.

Libyans speak up: you have everything to gain by doing so and everything to lose by not.

Malcolm D B Munro April 11, 2011

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