By Marion O'Callaghan
April 11, 2011 - newsday.co.tt
Benghazi is part of that province of Cyrene once with a substantial Jewish population and once part of the Greco-Roman implantation in North Africa. It was knocked together with two other quite different regions to form today’s Libya. Is this why the rebels, headquartered in Benghazi, were of interest to Bernard Henri-Levy? There he was on BBC, blushing before the compliment that it was he who had sold the Rebels to the French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
Bernard Henri-Levy was crowned by an American magazine as one of France’s “New Philosophers” and as one of the leaders of France’s 1968 students’ revolt. Both philosopher and 1968 student leader were disputed in some French intellectual circles. Well, here was Bernard Henri-Levy campaigning for Libya’s Rebels. Non-violence was one of the important factors in the student revolts of Tunisia and of Libya. As the revolt spread across the Arab countries, where did non-violence come in? Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King regarded non-violence not as a strategy, but as of a higher morality than was violence. It is this higher morality which, in removing the category of enemy, became the armament of non-violence. That both men were assassinated raised them to the status of martyr.
It is doubtful that this “higher morality” was ever accepted by the majority of any mass movement. In the case of the Arab revolts, it could have been foretold that the high percentage of unemployed youth, the stringent immigration controls in Europe, and the place of Europe as the model of modernity, were likely to produce the immigration chaos of the nearest European port: the Italian island of Lampedusa. In that chaos Lampedusans, outnumbered two to one, were consoled by Marine Le Pen, new Chairman of France’s Extreme Right Party, the Front Nationale. It raised the question as to the relationship of mass movements to a more doubtful phenomenon: Populism. Populism is not only likely to be a mass movement. It is marked by a popular dislike for intellectuals and of structured opposition. How far is this true of the Arab revolts?
Brothers of the Muslim Brotherhood
In Egypt the euphoria of victory quickly became uncertainty. With the collapse of Mubarak, interim political power was handed to the military. There are already complaints that people have been arrested and have disappeared. We rejoiced at the sight of Egypt’s Christians and Muslims together in Tahrir Square. Well, at the news that a Christian boy was in love with a Muslim girl, a church was burned down and the death toll was 15. It was, however, the referendum which illustrated one of the major problems of Egypt’s mass movement. In line with the demand for democracy the Army announced a referendum on whether or not Parliamentary elections should be held later this year. The Parties emerging with the Tahrir Square revolt wished elections delayed in order to give sufficient time for them to organise. Only the Muslim Brotherhood campaigned for a “yes” vote for elections this year. This would give the Brotherhood a distinct advantage: they are the only political Party which is organised country-wide. The yes votes won. The multiplicity of other parties with differing and little known policies, make it likely that the Brotherhood will be the largest single Party in Parliament and the only one with coherent policies. Who then inherits?
And Al Qaeda?
It is not only Tahrir Square’s mass movement which poses the question of who inherits. The mass movement in Yemen has been near to toppling Prime Minister Saleh. This mass movement is not only composed of the youth and the unstructured masses; there are also the Shi’a Zaidites, members of a secessionist movement situated in the north of Yemen. These had for seven years, fought against the Yemeni national army reinforced with Saudi troops. A ceasefire signed in February 2010 has been followed by occasional, but violent, eruptions and changes of leadership, putting in question the unity of Yemen and resulting in one area being, it is said, held by Al Qaeda. It is against this that the USA trained a portion of Yemen’s army in counter-terrorism and under the control — it is said — of Prime Minister Saleh’s son.
When Colonel Gaddafi announced that the revolting rebels were Al Qaeda I, like others, put it down to Gaddafi’s half-crazed self-delusionism. There were, nevertheless, some disturbing questions: What was Libya doing with a “Salvation Front” and with the “Libyan Fighting Islamic Group”, both of which had opposed Gaddafi and both of which were now part of the Democratic Mass Movement? What was this business, mentioned on BBC, of a small town near to Benghazi producing the largest number of “foreign Islamic Fighters” in Iraq? How to explain Bernard Henri-Levy’s attachment to Libya’s rebels? And who will inherit once Gaddafi is out of the way?http://www.newsday.co.tt/commentary/0,138723.html