Stealing Libya's revolution


We hardly know it, but the revolution being played out in Libya is actually about the aspirations of the country's youth. It is not about Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who is yesterday's man. Yet he has been front and centre of international media coverage of the revolution. He has even claimed that he is the real revolutionary.

One reading is that for him, any publicity is good publicity, because publicity contributes greatly to keeping him in power. By that logic, western media are complicit in keeping him in power and disenfranchising the Libyan people. He is egged on in his extreme barbarism by international media fascination with the extremes of his colourful personality.

His eccentricity, coupled with uncaring ruthlessness, is the act that keeps us transfixed. 

It is refreshing to read the analysis of the Jesuit Islamic scholar Samir Khalil Samir, who does not even mention Gaddafi.

Putting the Libyan revolution in the context of those of Tunisia and Egypt, he suggests western countries have been caught napping in their preoccupation with economic investments. It is true that maintaining economic relations involves honouring the dictators rather than the people. But this causes western nations to overlook the youth movements that are energising these nations.

Samir describes what is happening as a 'springtime in the Arab world'. The demonstrators are predominantly young people under 30. They keep in contact with each other and the outside world through social media.

Their ability to communicate is their power base, but their number is also significant. Half the population is under 30. The common thread is the desire to have a job and get married in the midst of economic hardship, and their motivation is overwhelmingly practical. Samir writes:

These young people are focused on national and social problems, they are not demonstrating for any ideology, right wing or left wing. In all these months, no American or Israeli flag has been burnt; no-one has made claims in defence of an Islam that must rule the earth. They do not want ideologies; they want realism.

Samir's Jesuit colleague in Alexandria, Henri Boulad, painted a similar picture earlier this month when he wrote that Egypt's revolution belongs to the young people, not the Muslim Brotherhood, which is attempting to appropriate it for their own purposes.

Samir is confident that the young people will not be manipulated by extremist religious or ideological movements, though he does admit he is worried by the absence of leaders. The danger in this is that western countries only know how to relate to leaders. They will relate to bad leaders rather than seek out authentic would-be leaders who often do not put themselves forward.

If the motivation of western nations is economic rather than humanitarian, they are only too willing to deal with rogue leaders who suit their purposes.

This is how the Muslim Brotherhood and similar hard-line groups could steal the revolutions courtesy of western nations. It is frequently western patronage that keeps corrupt regimes in power. Samir suggests that now is a good time for the west to do some soul-searching:

It is time for Europe to take advantage of this new situation to examine its conscience. What did we do with these regimes? We supported them.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Gaddafi, Libya, revolution, Samir Khalil Samir



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Existing comments

So if some hard line groups step into the power vacuums of the Arab world, it will be the fault of the West by either sins of commission or omission. I think that Michael Mullins credits the West with far too much influence in the internal affairs of the Arab nations. Whilst I have not seen any Israeli or American flags burnt, disturbing signs of Jew hatred have been evident. Lara Logan was raped in Cairo while the crowd chanted "Jew! Jew!" Protestors in Libya have painted horns and the star of David on the hated Gaddafi. I am not confident that the Arab youth are necessarily free of the age old hatred of Jews.
John Ryan | 28 February 2011

There are at least some news sources keeping all this in mind. For example, the BBC website has an overwhelming amount of information, updated every few minutes on their live coverage page, with probably less than half of the coverage directly about Gaddafi or his family. The reporting is broad, including updates from the UN by Barbara Plett and a few other reporters covering regional protests. (Today this included the Vietnam-based protests.) And what fascinated me the most today was this story about Gene Sharp!
Clair in Canberra | 01 March 2011

Michael, I think you are 'right on' re. the revolution in Libya. Far too much attention on Gaddafi and not enough on the young people on the protest lines.

Bob Shank.
Bob Shank | 04 March 2011


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