The First True Arab Revolution

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Euphoria, as it almost always is, is premature, fleeting, or both. This was the case on February 11, when Egyptians celebrated after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. They soon realized, however, that democratic transitions, even in the best of times, are messy, uncertain and occasionally bloody. As Adam Michnik memorably said: “The worst thing about Communism is what comes after.”

Unlike Egypt, Libya doesn’t have the benefit of established political parties, a largely independent judiciary, and a whole host of other weak but intermittently vibrant institutions. But, for these same reasons, Libya isn’t as weighed down by the past. The Transitional National Council does not have to contend with an old constitution or worry about hundreds of thousands of ruling party members. This, then, is the Arab world’s first true revolution; the old regime will soon find itself erased.

Libyans will go about creating a state more or less from scratch. Quite a lot is at stake. The T.N.C., a capable, impressive body, is neither cohesive nor unified. Qaddafi, as hated as he was, succeeded in uniting his own opposition. Without Qaddafi, though, the various elements within the T.N.C. will turn its attention elsewhere, and perhaps toward each other. The council includes every faction imaginable – liberals, mild-mannered technocrats, socialists, salafis and, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists, a relatively unknown quantity in Libya but by all accounts strong and well organized, will make their real presence known for the first time. The potential for factionalization is compounded by the fact that each of these groups have guns.

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