North Africa: limits of social and political sustainability

Posted in 1 by Editor on February 20, 2011

The situation all across the countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean is critical. Although it is true that the insurrection of the Tunisian people against Ben Ali’s corrupt regime has inspired their sisters and brothers in all North African countries, the Tunisian example is not the ’cause’ of what has happened and what is continuing to happen in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. The process we are witnessing – in all of its dramatic immediacy as it unfolds hour after hour, yet from the safety and comfort of our homes and through the numbing  mediation of television and internet – is only superficially similar to a spreading contagion. What causes generally peaceful, all enduring and home loving populations to rise in anger and risk all, even their lives, is not an example, not even one as heroic as that of the Tunisian people. The causes are always to be found in the concrete conditions of each of the societies concerned. Some of these circumstances are common to all of these countries, others are specific to each.

Certainly one thing is clear. What yesterday we accepted uncritically, today sounds increasingly hollow. Our own (Maltese) experts of Libyan affairs – in both the academic and business worlds – assured us in private and in public that there was  “No fear of domino effect on Libya from Maghreb revolts” (Malta Today 5 February 2011). Ranier Fsadni, lecturer at the university’s Mediterranean Institute, said that Libya had in the past experienced internal discord, but it was common for an oil-rich Arab nation to “reach into its deep pockets” to quell revolt ( http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/no-fear-of-domino-effect-on-libya-from-maghreb-revolts ). Even Maltese business-persons with decades of experience of doing business in and with Libya failed to understand what was and is going on in Libyan society. All were unanimous in asserting that Tripoli is immune from the earthquake that is shaking the East of the country. They all quote friends of cousins of friends to confirm their views. But that is part of the problem. None are familiar with the real country outside of these networks. The situation so far has proved their conventional wisdom to have been built on shifting sand. But it’s a fluid situation, and it is a highly inflammable fluid.

Other, more ‘Western’ models have also shown themselves to be unsustainable. Only recently, we were impressed by the Tunisian authorities’ boasting that in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Tunisia “ranks 32nd in the world in terms of competitiveness out of 139 countries involved in this report, achieving the best performance, compared with the top forty countries and coming ahead of several countries members of the European Union […], of Asia and Latin America”. Today, the following words sound hollow: “The economic and financial policies that Tunisia has pursued have shown their effectiveness in achieving stability over the years and have proven their worth in the recent period by effectively shielding the country from the fallout of the global economic and financial downturn” (http://www.investintunisia.tn/document/554.pdf ). It is not that international competitiveness rankings such as the Global Competitiveness Index are based on unreliable data, but rather that what they measure may systematically ignore and underestimate the limits of the social and political sustainability of certain models of development, and of their corresponding models of distribution of power and wealth.










7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Lajla said, on February 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Read this!
    fresh from Benghazi’s Quryna newspaper!
    Minister of Justice has resigned.

  2. Laura Metelli Xuereb said, on February 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    is Quryna an independent online paper?

  3. Lorry Dimech said, on February 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Doesn’t it feel strange to watch some horrific clips from Libya, for example of the body of what is claimed is a foreign African mercenary in a blue fatigues with a green scarf, and blood all over the place, and to know that it is happening so close to us?

  4. Ramona Camilleri said, on February 21, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Can anyone suggest some serious study of Libya’s ‘tribes’? Everybody is mentioning these tribes but I cannot get my hands on anything substantial.

  5. Henry Mason, London said, on February 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    @ Ramona

    The evergreen classic study of Libyan tribes is de Agostini’s Le Popolazioni della Cirenaica, Notizie etniche e storiche raccolte dal Colonello Enrico de Agostini. Con annesse 12 carter. Benghazi-Tripoli. Governo della Cirenaica, 1922-1923, written during the early Italian colonial period. For a more recent study see Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, The making of modern Libya: state formation, colonization, and resistance, 1830-1932, State University of New York series in the social and economic history of the Middle East, SUNY Press, 1994. Ali Abdullatif Ahmida is Professor of Political Science at the University of New England. He is the author of Forgotten Voices: Power and Agency in Colonial and Postcolonial Libya and the editor of Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture, and Politics. Finally, beware of a lot of propagandist crap from various sources, including serious sounding institutes.

  6. Sammy Rahman said, on February 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    @ Ramona and Henry Mason

    Seeing the heart of the revolt is Benghazi, the Cyrenaica and the Jebel Ahdar, another still useful classic is Evans-Pritchard’s The Sanusi of Cyrenaica 1949. Look also at E. Peters’ The proliferation of segments in the lineage of the Bedouin of Cyrenaica, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1960, 90 (2953). Enjoy.

  7. Joseph Dalli said, on February 22, 2011 at 5:58 am

    Could it be wishful thinking that so many expected Libya to break away from the pattern in reform that is swiping North Africa? Not necessarily due to interests in the region but the fact that Libya without a central power is merely a tribal region. The fact that no constitution was ever enacted, or that no true governmental structure exists at all forces me to as: What should we expect if the Qaddafi’s are toppled? Which ‘branch’ of government would take over? Will foreign forces have to intervene? Will Al Qaeda further penetrate the region, considering some tribes already allow for training camps in their territories? Libya without Gaddafi presents a larger headache…

    I myself never expected Libya to undergo a revolt and I still find it hard to imagine a peaceful transition without the Qaddafi regime. Personally, I was looking forward to “the passing of the bout-ton”, shall we say, from the Colonel to Saif. May have been an idealistic expectation but for the sake of Libya, a slower but still progressive transition under Saif would have fared for a better Libya then what we are about to see…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: