What Will Libya Look Like?

Iran once had a revolution, too.

Reportage surrounding Libya suggests that everything will be sweetness and light once sadistic madman Col. Muammar Qaddafi is ousted permanently.  “Who, today, does not thrill to the spectacle of freedom in Tripoli?” asks Fouad Ajami in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.  “A brave people, civilians in the main, exiles who returned to their devastated country, students with no military skills – all headed to the front in their pickup trucks to reclaim their homeland from a tyrant who had turned it into a laboratory for his mix of megalomania and derangement.  These are the people who have made this rebellion.”

Really?  Is that who they are?  Ajami himself seems to doubt it.  “There is no way that a blanket assertion can be made that this massive Libyan upheaval is free of Islamists,” he admits.  His only evidence to the contrary is “the more compelling evidence of the rebellion itself – its composition, the earnestness of the professionals and civil libertarians active in it, their promise that the terrible autocrat will not be replaced by a zealous, unforgiving theocracy.”

Sparse evidence indeed, and a promise unlikely to be kept, particularly when the first purported draft constitution for the reconstituted Libya centers around the primacy of Islamic law.  The document has all of the flowery buzzwords the foreign press loves to focus upon: “justice, equality … progress and prosperity.”  But the first General Provision of the draft constitution reads, “Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Shariah).”  Article 8 of the draft Constitution is purely socialist in nature: “The State shall further guarantee the fair distribution of national wealth among citizens, and among the different cities and districts thereof.”  Article 10 guarantees the “right of asylum” – a right that has been used by Libya in the past to protect murderers like the Lockerbie bomber.

Forgive me if I do not “thrill” to the spectacle of such “freedom.”

We were supposed to thrill to the spectacle of Egyptian freedom, too.  Instead, Egypt has been largely in thrall to the Muslim Brotherhood since the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, and is now involved in border skirmishes with Israel.  Egyptians in Cairo have scaled the Israeli embassy and ripped down the Israeli flag.  One Egyptian presidential candidate sent a “salute of pride” to the “public hero who burned the Zionist flag that spoiled the Egyptian air for 30 years.”  Egypt has since been funneling weapons and supplies into the Gaza Strip.  Is this the freedom we were supposed to cheer?

And what of Tunisia?  Everyone seemed endlessly enthusiastic about the deposing of secular dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.  Now, we hear nothing about progress in that powerful source of the so-called Arab Spring.  Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi took over for Ben Ali, but Tunisians believe he is a representative of the old guard – and now it looks as though there is a serious shot that Ennahda, an Islamist political party, will win the next open election.  Says one Ennahda opponent, with Ennahda in power, “It would be Iran.”  Ennahda pays lip service to openness and moderation, and the world press seems to have bought the line – but that doesn’t mean there’s any evidence at all for it.  Ibrahim Letaief, a radio host in Tunisia, says, “They’re doing doublespeak, and everyone knows it.”  According to the New York Times, Letaief says Ennahda “has only tempered its rhetoric in a bid to win votes, but in power would impose strict Islamic law.”

Should Muammar Qaddafi have been left in power?  Of course not.  But the fault here lies with the Obama Administration, which did nothing to find US allies in Libya and forward their agenda, rather than following the chaos from behind and dropping bombs from on high.  The Obama Administration chose the same path in Egypt, and the result has been their strong move towards Islamism; the Obama Administration did the same thing in Tunisia, and now they too stand on the brink.  Should we find comfort in the idea that the Obama Administration is now calling for the ouster of Syria’s President Bashar Assad?  If past history is any indicator, Assad will be replaced by someone even worse.

There are three real victims in all of this.  The first is the moderates in these countries, who fight for their freedom, only to fall victim to the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood-backed movements that usually take power.  They simply transition from life under tyranny to life under more strict Islamist tyranny.  The second group of victims is the world markets, which are now subject to the oil whims of Islamists.  The third group is the Israelis, who are the scapegoat for all Islamist racism and ire, and whom the first two groups are only too happy to blame for all of their problems.

So, should we celebrate with Ajami?  Not yet.  After all, Iran once had a revolution, too.  Not every revolution is the American revolution.  In fact, very few are, and none have been in the Muslim world.