Ann M. Lesch
Dr. Lesch is professor emeritus of political science at the American University in Cairo.
January 14. January 25. February 17. Historic days that marked President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's flight from Tunis, the start of the 18-day revolution in Egypt, and the Day of Rage in Libya. President Ben Ali's hands shook as he pleaded for more time to address the public's grievances. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak played the stern pater familias until he was unceremoniously ushered offstage by senior military officers. Muammar al-Qadhafi threatened to kill the drug-fueled "germs, rats and scumbags"1 who opposed him, but he met a bloody end months later. The overthrow of these powerful autocrats after 23 (Ben Ali), 30 (Mubarak) and 42 (Qadhafi) years of rule cracked sclerotic governing systems and brutal security structures. The uprisings opened up the possibility of futures free from oppression and corruption, futures the people would create themselves. Yet, it is hardly surprising that the transitions remain troubled in all three countries and have failed to meet the expectations of most citizens.
THE REVOLUTIONS' TRAJECTORIES
The Tunisian revolution began in the central hinterland, spread through impoverished farming and mining areas, and finally erupted in the Sfax industrial port and the capital city. Many Tunisians seized upon the self-immolation of the vendor Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010, as embodying their yearning for social and economic dignity. Protests spread from his hometown, the capital of Sidi Bouzid governorate in central Tunisia, to the already-mobilized miners of Gafsa in the south and residents of impoverished towns in the far north such as Thala, where security forces fired on school children and their parents as they shouted, "Yes to bread and water, no to Ben Ali."2 A lawyers' strike started in Tunis on January 6, followed by working-class youths' attacks on the police and businesses. They looted mansions, banks and stores in the wealthy Hammamet resort, especially targeting properties belonging to Ben Ali's notoriously corrupt relatives. After demonstrators flooded Tunis and Sfax on January 12, activists in the powerful trade-union movement declared a general strike for January 14, highlighting the interrelated problems of unemployment, poverty and corruption. Ben Ali hastily declared that he would create 350,000 jobs and undertake socioeconomic reform, but simultaneously ordered the army onto the streets to replace the exhausted security forces. The chief of staff, who headed a small and highly professional force, not only refused to fire on protesters but also asserted that the army would confront the police if they continued to shoot civilians. When he gave Ben Ali the choice of exile or prison, the end was clear.
In contrast, the Egyptian revolution was largely urban and essentially non-violent, focused in Tahrir Square in central Cairo — to which people flocked from provincial towns — and the gritty Suez Canal cities as well as Alexandria, the second largest city. Launched on the Police Day holiday to denounce the hated security forces and call for dignity and aish (meaning both bread and life), protesters quickly demanded the overthrow of Mubarak and his regime. In contrast to Tunisia and Libya, the only violence initiated by protesters involved burning the headquarters of the ruling party and many police stations, torched by nearby residents. Demonstrators did not damage shops or private property, but, rather, emphasized silmiyya (peaceful) acts and defensive responses. As in Tunisia, when Mubarak withdrew the security forces, who were overwhelmed by the street confrontations, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) refused to use force and compelled Mubarak to resign on February 11. Mubarak's fate differed from that of Ben Ali, sentenced in absentia, and Qadhafi, killed upon capture. Mubarak was detained in Egypt to face trial in civilian courts for security and corruption offenses.
The Libyan revolution, like Tunisia's, began far from the capital, in Cyrenaica, the location of most of the oil facilities, where people felt severely marginalized. Triggered by demonstrations in mid-January against delays in building public housing and fueled by anger at corruption, those protests quickly escalated into seizures of construction sites, attacks on government offices, and clashes with the police. Qadhafi tried to preempt protests by offering food subsidies, raising public-sector salaries, and promising infrastructure projects. But anger boiled over when a prominent human-rights lawyer was arrested in Benghazi on February 15. On the February 17 Day of Rage, protesters torched government buildings not only in the east, but also in heavily guarded Tripoli and restive Zintan. Residents sacked Tripoli's TV and radio station, the justice ministry, police stations and the Peoples' Congress hall. When Qadhafi sent the minister of interior to Benghazi to reinforce the police and armed forces, he defected and became the rebels' commander-in-chief.
Nonetheless, the security and military forces regrouped by early March, pummeled rebel-held cities with massive firepower, and regained control over the oil complexes along the coast. They nearly recaptured Benghazi before NATO aerial strikes in mid-March pulverized their armed convoys. From then on, most of Cyrenaica was autonomous, ruled by the newly formed Transitional National Council (TNC). But the rebels did not recapture the oil complexes and link up to besieged Misrata until August. Militias liberated Tripoli on August 22, but Sirte, Qadhafi's hometown and hiding place, held out until October 20. With his death and after months of militarized struggle, the TNC could attempt to rule a country devastated by the loss of perhaps 15,000 civilians and fighters (on both sides) in a population of six million. That was a significant contrast with Egypt, where some 900 persons died during the 18 days, and Tunisia, where perhaps 220 people died, out of total populations, respectively, of 82 million and 10 million. The degree of societal disruption was far greater in Libya. Nonetheless, the brevity of Egypt's uprising and the countrywide embrace of Tunisia's revolution disguised schisms that emerged afterwards.
CONTRASTING SYSTEMS OF RULE
In all three countries, the uprisings were triggered by a combination of resentment against repressive dictatorial rule and deep-seated socioeconomic grievances.
Libya gained its independence in 1951 after decades of repression and neglect by Italy. In Egypt, the Nasserite revolution of 1952 spelled the demise of both British influence and the monarchial system. And in 1956, France relinquished its protectorate over Tunisia to the charismatic politician Habib Bourguiba.
Libya's King Idris, installed by the World War II allies, had to start from scratch to create governing institutions, bureaucratic structures, security and military systems, and educational and health services. The new regime also attempted to promote an overarching nationalism across the three disparate regions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. In contrast, Egypt and Tunisia already had strong centralized bureaucracies and relatively sophisticated health, education and social services. Egyptians were familiar with multiparty politics, and Tunisia had well-structured political movements and a powerful trade-union federation.
All of the rulers curtailed democracy. King Idris banned political parties, resulting in elections to parliament based on kinship and locality. After Colonel Qadhafi overthrew the king in 1969, he closed parliament, banned dissent, and created neighborhood "peoples' committees" that nominally represented — but in fact controlled — the population. Qadhafi also continually altered administrative structures as a technique to maintain his exclusive behind-the-scenes power. The weak institutions and chaotic administrative processes in Libya were significantly different from the centralized bureaucracies of Tunisia and Egypt.
Tunisian President Bourguiba monopolized power for 31 years, forcibly sidelining other political and economic forces. Ben Ali ousted Bourguiba in 1987 and allowed opposition parties but, in practice, banned Islamist parties and ensured that the ruling party controlled nearly all the seats in parliament. In Egypt, the coup d'état by young military officers in 1952 led to 60 years of rule by presidents drawn from the officer corps. As with Ben Ali, Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak promised to promote democracy but, in practice, repressed opponents, tightened the grip of the ruling party, and reined in opposition parties and movements.3 Only two months before the January 25 Revolution, the regime made sure that the ruling party won 97 percent of the seats in parliament.
The three rulers had different relationships to their security and military structures. Qadhafi, given his fear of assassination and military coups, kept the armed forces weak, frequently changed military and security commanders, and placed his relatives in charge of the main security brigades. In contrast, Ben Ali's power base already lay in the security system, which he had founded and vastly expanded. The small Tunisian military remained outside of politics and developed a reputation for integrity, in part due to its participation in numerous UN peacekeeping missions. This differed from Egypt, where the president's power base was the armed forces, whose officers viewed themselves as guardians of the nation. They felt superior to the brutal security forces. Nonetheless, the huge military was enmeshed in the politicoeconomic arena, controlling vast areas of desert land, owning apartment and resort complexes, and manufacturing a wide array of civilian goods using unpaid conscript labor. Upon retirement, favored generals became highly paid "consultants" to government ministries, banks and businesses. They were a power unto themselves, separate from — and unaccountable to — the civilian political system.
The 2011 revolutions produced different results in these divergent systems. The Libyan security structures fractured. Units controlled by the Qadhafi family fought fiercely on his behalf, but some commanders defected to the rebels and some units disintegrated or joined militias. In Tunisia and Egypt, when demonstrators overwhelmed the security forces, the presidents could not rely on the army to stay in power. The high command in both countries turned their backs on the president. But their subsequent behavior was markedly different. The Tunisian army returned to the barracks; the Egyptian army became the ruler.
Although the economies differed significantly, all three suffered from mismanagement of resources and deep-set corruption. Libya had the potential to develop the most rapidly because of its immense oil deposits, but Tunisia and Egypt had the greater human-capital resources essential for sustained development. Tunisia struggled with severe trade deficits, despite its mines, manufacturing, agricultural resources, and income from tourism and worker remittances. Like Tunisia, Egypt had the potential for a diversified economy. In practice, however, revenues from Suez Canal tolls, remittances and tourism were more important than industry and agriculture. Both Tunisia and Egypt relied on foreign aid to cover deficits. Lacking resources to placate the public and not being willing to make themselves accountable to the citizenry, governments used the carrot of subsidizing basic goods and services — along with sticks. For example, Ben Ali repressed strikes in the phosphate mines in 2008 and 2010, and Mubarak sought to quell the labor protests that engaged three million workers from 2004 until the revolution. As a result, Tunisian and Egyptian workers served as the backbone of many of the protests during the uprisings.
In Libya, oil sales provided nearly all export earnings and 90 percent of government revenues. Qadhafi initially used this revenue to develop human resources, public housing, education and medical care. However, he later banned many forms of private ownership and stopped investing in infrastructural improvements. Instead, he engaged in costly interventions in Africa, supported radical groups overseas and wasted funds on resource-depleting projects such as the Great Man-Made River that siphoned water from oases for coastal cities. The tight sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the U.S. government (particularly after Libyan operatives were implicated in the December 1988 Lockerbie bombing) sharply reduced living standards and undermined the government's ability to buy public support through distributive policies. Not surprisingly, canceling international sanctions in 2003 unleashed huge expectations, but the increased oil income failed to trickle down to the poor and middle class.
Economic grievances and anger at degraded public services found an outlet in complaints about the corruption and unwarranted power held by the rulers' families. The ostentatious lifestyle of Ben Ali's family, to whom he transferred ownership of numerous state companies, infuriated the public. Mubarak's sons amassed fortunes from special relationships with Egyptian and international businesses and special deals on real estate. His younger son, Gamal, headed the ruling party's policy committee and packed the 2004 cabinet with like-minded business associates. The rigged parliamentary election of 2010 was seen as ensuring Gamal's succession in the presidential election expected in September 2011. Such a "presidential monarchy" angered not only the general public but also the armed forces, hostile to Gamal's crony capitalism and wary of a civilian president. In Libya, the roles of Qadhafi's sons were even more obtrusive. Khamis commanded Qaddafi's security detachment, and several sons controlled key sectors of the economy.4 Moreover, Qadhafi played his sons against each other. For example, Mutassim became minister of national security in 2009, just as Saif al-Islam was calling for constitutional and commercial reform.
The deeply entrenched authoritarian systems shared significant characteristics, notably rule by power elites who dominated the public through repression and whose self-serving corruption contributed to the countries' socioeconomic woes. Whereas Egypt and Tunisia (to a lesser extent) provided some opportunities for public participation, Libya lacked any formal mode to articulate grievances. When their uprisings broke out, Tunisia and Egypt had more organized channels for protest than did Libya; they also had autonomous armed forces that could act to minimize the level of violence by quickly removing the president.
Given the contrasts among the three countries' revolutions and prior political systems, their trajectories over the past three years have, not surprisingly, diverged. Yet all three face serious concerns about inclusion and exclusion that raise questions about their transitions.
Continuity with the Old Regime
The continued power of the old regime (the "deep state") is most evident in Egypt, where the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) seized both executive and legislative power on February 11, 2011. SCAF only removed the Mubarak-appointed prime minister three weeks later after continual public protests. Similarly, SCAF arrested the former president, his sons and key political figures only under pressure from the street. Even after a new parliament was elected, SCAF retained executive power and pressed (behind the scenes) for the election of Mubarak-era stalwart Ahmad Shafiq as president. SCAF reluctantly relinquished power in June 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi defeated Shafiq. SCAF insisted on its autonomy of operation, chafed at reporting to a civilian commander-in-chief and publicly expressed its concern about the new president's policies and alliances. As watch-dog for the nation, SCAF responded to (and encouraged) widespread protests in late June 2013 by arresting Morsi on July 3. Although SCAF then restarted the constitutional process from scratch, the generals ensured that the new constitution, promulgated in January 2014, retained their own and the Interior Ministry's special autonomy. In sum, Egypt has not experienced reform of the military and security systems, administrative changes, or meaningful restrictions on old-regime political and economic figures. With the head of SCAF expected to run for and win the presidency in spring elections, with the Brotherhood suppressed, with critical voices silenced and Mubarak-era figures dominating business, the media and the judiciary, the resurgence of pre-2011 power centers is strikingly evident.
This contrasts with Tunisia and Libya. In Tunisia, Ben Ali's prime minister was removed on February 27, 2011. His temporary replacement had been Bourguiba's foreign minister, but he was at odds with Ben Ali and therefore seen as untainted by his past. Politicians elected to the assembly in October 2011 came largely from parties that Ben Ali had repressed. Throughout, the Tunisian military remained outside the political fray, and the security forces retreated to low-key policing.
In Libya, change was equally quick. The self-appointed Transitional National Council (TNC) ruled the liberated areas, issued a constitutional declaration on August 3, 2011, and transformed itself into a formal government in November, led by an academic who had fled Libya as a young man in 1976. The TNC included former Qadhafi officials, long-term exiles, human-rights activists and newly emerging militia commanders. However, the collapse of the armed forces and security services meant that those systems had to be established entirely anew — a daunting task that has still not been tackled effectively and that has enabled the numerous militias to wield the most power on the street.
Subsequently, Libya and Tunisia instituted some transitional justice processes. Libya set up an Integrity Committee to vet candidates for election and high office. Tunisia tried old-regime security officers, whereas Egypt's recently-appointed minister for transitional justice seeks to limit his investigations to violations by Morsi's regime and the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, essential steps toward altering political and administrative systems were taken in Tunisia and Libya, but not in Egypt, where the deep state remains entrenched.
New Political Processes
Egypt and Tunisia had long experience with presidential and parliamentary elections and constitutions, even if the practices were distorted. In contrast, parliamentary elections were last held in Libya in 1965; even then, political parties were banned. Libya had to start virtually from zero to create political structures and parties.
The three countries opted for different paths in order to create representative systems. In Egypt, legislative elections came first, then presidential elections, and finally the drafting of a new constitution by a special assembly elected by the legislature. The constitution was approved in a referendum in December 2012. The process was complicated by the imbalance in representation in the legislature and the constitutional assembly — both heavily weighted toward Islamists — further compounded by the judiciary's annulling of the lower house of parliament in June 2012. Furthermore, when President Morsi feared that the judiciary would also close the upper house and the constitutional assembly, he decreed on November 22, 2012, that those assemblies were immune from judicial action and that his own decrees were immune from judicial review. This high-handed decree enabled him to push through the new constitution, but it set in process popular protests that culminated in SCAF's removal of Morsi the following summer.
Egypt has now reversed the order. An appointed committee drafted a significantly different constitution that was strongly supported in a referendum in January 2014, to be followed by presidential and then legislative elections in the spring and summer. The problem in Egypt has not been so much the process as the extreme polarization. For the first two years, political discourse (and then executive power) was dominated by Islamist politicians, with liberal and Christian citizens marginalized and alienated. This was reversed in mid-2013 with the suppression of the previously triumphant Muslim Brotherhood and the appointment of only one salafi representative to the constitutional committee. Rather than engage in dialogue, the Brotherhood and then the liberals stuck to polarized and polarizing positions that prevented any meaningful consensus building.
In contrast, Tunisia and Libya brought all political forces under one tent, enabling them to debate face to face and work towards solutions that a broad range of the public could accept. That slowed the process but enhanced the likelihood of stable outcomes. Tunisia started by electing a constituent assembly in October 2011 that both formed the government and embarked on writing a new constitution. In January 2014, after arduous debates and numerous interruptions, the assembly formally adopted the constitutional articles. A technocratic interim cabinet will then prepare the country for new legislative elections.
In Libya, the TNC also planned to make the General National Congress (GNC) elected in July 2012 serve as both the basis for a new government and the body to write a constitution. However, due to complaints about the GNC's regional and ethnic imbalance, the TNC decided that a separate elected body should write the constitution. Thus, although the GNC formed a government in November 2012, it had to go through the laborious process of agreeing on the composition of a separate constitutional committee. It was a year before the GNC agreed on the structure of that committee, which delayed the elections of its 60 members until February 2014.
Thus, in all three countries, the constitution-writing process has been fraught. Tunisia has just completed a draft constitution, Libya has not even started that process, and Egypt has oscillated between two dramatically different constitutions. A lesson from the Egyptian case may be that taking time and being inclusive are essential for a successful outcome. However, the long, drawn-out processes in Tunisia and Libya themselves exacerbate (as well as serve as a symptom of) insecurity, political anxiety and factional tension.
Submerged Political Movements
In all three countries, the broad consensus calling for freedom, dignity and social justice quickly (and predictably) splintered into demands articulated by multiple groups. Long-repressed forces asserted themselves in the political, socioeconomic and cultural arenas. In Egypt, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were in jail during the opening days of the January 25 Revolution and were slow to endorse the uprising, but the Brotherhood quickly emerged as the strongest sociopolitical movement. Its well-organized cadres, experienced in get-out-the-vote campaigns, enabled it to win 45 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament and even more in the upper house. Morsi then defeated the old regime's pick for president, with 51.7 percent of the popular vote. Similarly, Tunisia's Islamist-oriented Ennahda party reemerged after decades of suppression and the lengthy exile of senior leaders. Despite its previous absence in the street (in contrast to Egypt's Brotherhood), Ennahda won 41 percent of the seats in the constituent assembly and became the power broker.
In contrast to Egypt and Tunisia, Libya's National Forces Alliance (NFA), which represented most of the groups that had struggled during 2011 against Qadhafi, took the lead, winning half of the party-list seats in the GNC in July 2012. The Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, which Qadhafi had suppressed, gained 10 percent. The Alliance had proved its legitimacy during the struggle, whereas the individuals and small groups that had galvanized the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings lacked nationwide political standing and failed to unify. In Tunisia, a few liberal and leftist groups (the latter supported by the influential trade-union movement) made credible showings in the legislative elections, but their Egyptian counterparts overestimated their popularity and competed against each other rather than coalescing behind a common electoral list.
Salafi movements based on puritanical interpretations of the Quran surfaced in the political arena after all three revolutions. Previously, some had been quietist, preaching in mosques and gradually inculcating their religious values, but not challenging the state. Others had been jihadist, rejecting political participation under non-Islamic governments and doing battle to spread their beliefs. Many fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Iraq, and some joined AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). Governments tended to leave the quietists alone but crack down on jihadists. After the revolutions, a political trend emerged in some salafi movements expressing a willingness to participate in democratic politics in order to achieve immediate goals alongside promoting the long-term aim of an Islamic state.
The political trend has been pronounced in Egypt, where several parties created by previously quietist movements formed an electoral alliance that won a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament in fall 2011. Leaders of the Nour party, in particular, introduced legislation to promote their cultural and social values and ensured that the 2012 constitution endorsed their interpretation of Sunni Islam. Even the previously jihadist Islamic Group established its own political party and entered the competitive political arena. Nonetheless, some salafi preachers encouraged attacks on religious minorities, including calls to cleanse villages of Christians and lynch Shiites. Violent jihadists, who rejected democratic processes, found fertile soil in the Sinai Peninsula, whose residents had strongly held grievances against the central government.
Libya witnessed a split between political and jihadist salafism. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFP), whose leaders fought in Afghanistan and tried to assassinate Qadhafi, had been crushed by 1998. Released from prison in 2010 under Saif al-Islam's "de-radicalization" program, some LIFP leaders joined the TNC a year later and participated in the 2012 elections. In fact, a quarter of the members of that congress are independents of salafi orientation. However, jihadist militias quickly reemerged in Cyrenaica, including the group that killed the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi in September 2012. Based in the rugged Jebel Akhdar, they assassinate security officers and private citizens and adamantly reject electoral politics.
In Tunisia, at the time of the fall 2011 elections, no salafi political parties had gained official approval; they remained outside the political process and hostile towards it. Attracting marginalized youths and often led by men who had fought in Afghanistan, movements such as Ansar al-Sharia initially argued that jihad was justified abroad (for example, in Syria) but not inside Tunisia, where preaching, social services and pressure to enforce conservative social practices should be emphasized.5
Over time, salafis moved in divergent directions in Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt's Nour party broke with the Brotherhood government and supported its overthrow, arguing that the Brotherhood had alienated most Egyptians by its hunger for power and failure to solve economic problems. Nour remained silent when the military-appointed government banned the Brotherhood and launched a "war on terror" against it. Moreover, Nour supported the new draft constitution, even though it omitted most Islamic-identity articles. The party head argued, pragmatically, "It is impossible for each… faction to achieve everything that it wants. We have to distinguish between what we wish for and what is possible."6 Nour may hope to inherit voters who previously backed the Brotherhood, but there is no guarantee that such persons will see Nour as the sharia-oriented movement that is the Brotherhood's legitimate successor. Such voters may opt out of political life, move towards jihadism, or pragmatically support the new dominant group. Moreover, Sinai jihadists are increasingly active, even within the Nile Valley, seeking to gain support by invoking the forced removal of the elected president.
In Tunisia, salafis quickly became radical in their attacks on the emerging polity. Adherents attacked shops and cafes that sold alcohol and even burned cinemas and art exhibits, harassed female professors, and destroyed Sufi shrines.7 When, in June 2012, Ennahda leaders announced that they would not insist on a sharia-based constitution, al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri lashed out. He called on Tunisians to rise up to support sharia. Immediately, activists burned police stations, courts, public buildings and offices of the trade-union federation. That fall, Ansar al-Sharia was implicated in the attack on the U.S. embassy and subsequently mounted huge demonstrations against the labor movement. The group was assumed to be responsible for killing two outspoken labor-aligned politicians in February and July 2013. Only then did the Ennahda prime minister and interior minister crack down, branding Ansar al-Sharia "terrorist'" and banning its public gatherings. Thus, whereas in Egypt most salafis moved toward the pragmatic middle and Sinai jihadists remained a fringe movement, many Tunisian salafis quickly endorsed jihad. Whether future elections will draw some Tunisian salafists into the political arena remains unknown.
In Libya, political differences have been expressed more along regional and ethnic than Islamist/liberal lines, although the latter are also evident. Balancing regional representation became a key political concern. The east (Cyrenaica) covers the largest area, produces and exports the most oil, and suffered discrimination by Qadhafi, but it comprises only a quarter of the population. Cyrenaicans protested when the west (Tripolitania), with 70 percent of the population, was allotted more seats in the 2012 General National Congress (GNC). A compromise was reached to have the 60 members of the constitution-drafting body drawn equally from the three regions, mimicking the 1950 constitutional assembly. This formula vastly over-represents the third region, Fezzan, which contains 5 percent of the population. Despite the compromise, Cyrenaican "autonomists" seek to implement — prior to the constitutional debates — measures to guarantee federalism and a "fair" share of oil revenue. They asserted that demand by blockading three vital export terminals west of Benghazi. Overall, oil stoppages have reduced output and exports by 50 percent or more since early 2013, drastically cutting government revenue just when demand has escalated for the government to provide immediate tangible benefits.
Ethnic issues also bedevil the constitutional process. Amazigh (Berber), Tuareg and Tebu minorities demand more than two representatives each in the constitutional committee, fearing that they will be heavily outvoted on identity and political issues. Amazigh and Tebu boycotted the February 20 elections, which experienced relatively low turnout countrywide. Amazigh also pulled out of the GNC (in which Tebu has no representation) and take direct action by cutting gas pipelines. Tebu and Tuareg activists blockade roads and oil fields, in part to gain representation at the municipal level in their isolated localities, triggering intertribal clashes that the central government lacks the power to contain.
These problems reflect not only the deep-seated nature of the grievances (left unattended since independence and exacerbated by Qadhafi) and the overly long transitional period but also Libya's security vacuum, which is far more serious than in Egypt and Tunisia. Local militias that fought Qadhafi use force to press their demands. In addition to the jihadist assassination of security personnel in Cyrenaica, kidnappings for ransom are pervasive in Benghazi, Qadhafi loyalists engage in revenge-killings, and villages settle scores by force. In August 2013, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan exclaimed: "No police, no army, no institutions and no system. This is a legacy of 42 years of destruction."8 Six weeks later, he was briefly kidnapped from a Tripoli hotel. Despite pushback by a public anxious for normalcy, which resulted in the withdrawal of militias from Tripoli, the security situation remains dire. The one positive aspect is that Libyans in early 2014, for the first time ever, elected municipal councils that will provide opportunities for residents to gain a voice in issues of immediate concern and create mechanisms to resolve local conflicts.9
Exclusivity or Inclusivity?
One of the most important differences relates to the inclusivity of the new governments. Morsi's government was based solely on the Muslim Brotherhood. Aside from a few technocrats, the cabinet members, governors and mayors came from its ranks. Even salafi-oriented parties were shunned. The Brotherhood ignored pleas by the minister of defense to include a wide array of political forces, as Morsi had promised when he ran for president, which would have provided broad legitimacy by accommodating diverse perspectives. Instead, Morsi increasingly labeled his opponents "infidels" and "apostates." In June 2013, he even urged Egyptians to join the jihad in Syria against (Shiite) Assad, a call that crossed a red line for SCAF. With Morsi's popularity plummeting, it was not surprising that millions protested on June 30, the first anniversary of his presidency. Yet, with Morsi's overthrow, Egypt veered to the opposite extreme: the complete exclusion of the Brotherhood, mass arrests of its leaders and activists, and demonization of the movement through the interior-ministry-fostered "war on terror."
In sharp contrast, Libya and Tunisia formed coalition governments to manage the transitions. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, head of the liberal Congress of the Republic, was an acclaimed human-rights activist. The left-wing Ettakol Party (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) gained the speakership of the assembly, and Ennahda, holding a plurality of the assembly's seats, claimed the prime minister's post and key ministries. Under this "troika" formula, major issues could be debated within the transitional governing system, not only in the street. Over time, however, the troika frayed; liberal-left politicians accused Ennahda of wielding excessive power and making concessions to salafis. The assassination of two prominent politicians in 2013 and a subsequent general strike and boycotts of the constitutional assembly forced Ennahda to respond by banning Ansar al-Sharia and agreeing to form a national-salvation government led by an independent figure. It took months to agree on the minister of industry as transitional prime minister, thereby enabling to assembly to finally conclude debate on the constitution.
The Libyan government formed by the GNC in November 2012 was led by the broad-based National Forces Alliance (NFA) but included ministers from the Brotherhood's party as well as other liberal political forces and independents. Just as Tunisia's Marzouki had credibility because of his prior human-rights activism, NFA's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, in exile since 1980, was praised for founding the National Front for the Salvation of Libya and serving as a spokesman for the Libyan League for Human Rights. However, a year and a half later, the tensions within the governing coalition — in the context of the spiraling security challenges and concomitant economic crisis — threatened to unravel the political system. Delays in electing and convening the constitutional assembly resulted in the GNC decision in January 2014 to extend its own term until the end of December 2014 and to retain the Zeidan government until a viable successor could emerge. This triggered public protests against Zeidan, and the Brotherhood withdrew its five ministers from the cabinet. The most optimistic scenario involves, after constitutional committee elections on February 20, completing the constitution by July and holding the referendum on the constitution in August, followed by elections for a new congress in the fall. But the government remains paralyzed by internal conflict, and the viability of the constitutional process remains in question. Unlike Tunisia, where the political groupings ultimately opted for coexistence and mutual compromise, factionalism remains rife in Libya, and there is no authority that can impose itself by force majeure, as in Egypt.
As of early 2014, the three countries face daunting challenges. Egypt is experiencing the renewed confrontation between the military-security state and the Muslim Brotherhood, which also gives license to the deep state to silence independent voices. Libya is struggling to meet the demands of regional and ethnic political forces while gaining control over militias and jihadists and moving toward a new constitutional regime. In contrast, Tunisia's politically inclusive approach, although deeply troubled during 2013, shows prospects of succeeding.
All three countries face severe economic challenges, with weakened investments, virtually no tourists, heavy subsidy burdens, and — in Libya's case — drastically cut oil exports. Even if the political and security situations were less fraught, the governments would be hard-pressed to handle the socioeconomic grievances that were central to the 2011 uprisings. Transitional authorities lack the legitimacy to make tough decisions; only elected executive and legislative bodies, with their authority based on new constitutions, can attempt serious policy changes. Reestablishing basic security, improving the economy and creating inclusive and legitimate regimes are intertwined processes.
Their politicians can learn from each other's experiences. Ennahda's vice president recently reflected that there has been a steep learning curve for his party as well as for other political movements. The diverse political representatives had never been face to face, never debated issues inside their movements, and never had to take tough decisions that seemingly compromise their ideological stands. In his view, the often-painful process led them to realize that they must live with each other and master "the mechanisms of political coexistence in the country's interest."10 He further cautioned: "Islamists should realize that if they reach power, that doesn't allow them to monopolize power" — a pointed reference to Egypt's Muslim Brothers.
Indeed, Egypt's rush to establish electoral democracy before creating a broadly legitimate constitution and fostering the environment for a range of political parties to compete boomeranged when the elected government monopolized power, marginalized other political forces and hastily promulgated a divisive constitution. The Libyan and Tunisian approach — writing the constitution first, under inclusive interim governments — has considerable merits. And yet, delays in writing their constitutions and acrimony among the coalition partners have caused stress and generated their own problems. For Libya and Tunisia to move forward, they need to finalize the new constitutional systems during 2014 as well as find ways to incorporate a full range of religious, ethnic and regional voices into the political process. Tunisia is well on its way to such inclusivity, whereas Libya is still beset by internal conflicts. Without inclusivity, they could face even more acute polarization and social disintegration.
Three years after the overthrow of entrenched authoritarian systems, Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans are still struggling to define themselves and realize the hopes raised on the iconic dates of January 14, January 25 and February 17. As it would not have been possible to anticipate the post-revolutionary crises, people are experiencing powerful emotions — including anger, disappointment and fear. Transitional struggles take a long time to work themselves out, and the processes are apt to be tense and acrimonious. The more that there is face-to-face dialogue through inclusive political structures and constitution-drafting bodies, the more likely the long-term outcome will be systems that, however imperfect, will have sufficient legitimacy to tackle fundamental issues and represent diverse public interests.
1 Quoted by John-Paul Ford Rojas, "Muammar Gaddafi in His Own Words," Telegraph (London), October 20, 2011, from Qadhafi's famous "zenga zenga" speech in Green Square, Tripoli, on February 22.
2 "In the heart of Tunisia: Thala," April 24, 2011, www.anarkismo.net.
3 Ann M. Lesch, "Egypt's Spring: Causes of the Revolution," Middle East Policy 18, no. 3 (Fall 2011).
4 Ethan Chorin, Exit the Colonel: The Hidden History of the Libyan Revolution (Public Affairs, 2012), 94, 96, 103, 105, 165, 168. Chorin states that Qadhafi's wife Safia provided start-up capital for Buraq Air. Mohamed (the eldest son) ran the Libyan Telecom and Technology Company, the Libyan Olympic Committee and the Libyan Automobile Club and vied with his half-brother Mutassim for control over the Coca-Cola bottling plant franchise. When Mutassim became minister of national security, he also co-directed the Supreme Council for Energy and sought to encroach on Saif al-Islam's portfolio as manager of the Libyan Investment Authority, which handled the country's $200 billion sovereign wealth fund. Mutassim also sought to make his militia larger than Khamis's brigade. Saadi owned Ahly Tripoli football club and, in 2008, was tasked with creating an industrial and touristic corridor along the Mediterranean, which clashed with the interests of both Saif and Hannibal, who headed the General National Maritime Transport Company.
5 Stefano M. Torelli, Fabio Merone, and Francesco Cavatorte, "Salafism in Tunisia: Challenges and Opportunities for Democratization," Middle East Policy 19, no. 4 (Winter 2012).
6 Comment by party chair Younis Makhioun, "Salafist Nour Party: Will Vote 'Yes' in the Egyptian Constitution Referendum," Ahram Online, December 5, 2013.
7 For background, see International Crisis Group, Tunisia: Violence and The Salafi Challenge (February 13, 2013).
8 Quoted in Libya Herald, August 26, 2013. See International Crisis Group, Trial by Error: Justice in Post-Qadhafi Libya (April 17, 2013) for details on armed groups and patterns of violence.
9 Neither Egypt nor Tunisia has decided on the mechanisms for holding municipal elections as of early 2014.
10 Abdelfattah Mourou, quoted in "Ennahda Leader Says Compromises Serve Tunisia's Interests," al-Monitor, January 15, 2014.