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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Tuesday, 24 May, 2005

OPPOSITION'S POW-WOW: Enchilada + Smorgasbord!

By: Ghoma

Is there a difference between an enchilada and smorgasbord? Definitely! However, both have something in common: both are collections of what's at hand. Just as the expatriates and exiles are, at least ideologically. A rainbow of interests, clans, and ideas; and, perhaps delusions! A normal occurrence with mortals. Not so if this reality is ignored, and must be lamentable. The same can be said about the worth of waging verbal battles and imaginary wars against a bankrupted and cowered regime. If this description paints a sad but a vivid picture of an aggregate of a heterogenous bunch against a degraded but well-entrenched regime, isn't that what exactly the "Libyan Opposition" groups are trying these days, with the proviso to avoid, perhaps, in words what they seem to be pressing in action? The seemingly wishy-washy attempt to be straddling both sides of the barricade is made even murkier by what they are about to cook. A pow-wow or get-together smorgasbord -oops! enchilada, pick your choice- in the coming month. To do what? Presumably to coordinate their scattered efforts and do a lot of things but effectively to jaw each other to boredom or sleep, whichever comes first, in a series of workshops [nice touch scientifying a yapping feast!], to issue once again what already has been chewed on time and again for quite sometime now.

One may ask why this pessimism about some event still on the drawing-board, on the offing? The answer, in part, is given by what the Libyans say, "the Spring can be seen from the house's gate." History and experience also have taught those who pay attention to them that the best way to dilute a problem is to ignore its causes and concentrate on its effects. What's the problem in the eyes of the oppositionists? Dictatorship. What's the solution? Get rid of this dictator! By simplifying a historical, actually civilizational, problem and reducing it to one cause, these groups are concentrating on the froth on the surface as a target and thus hoping, in the same time, to change the currents underneath it. To this hodge-podge groups the state is the beginning and the end of the opposition. The big question is it that simple and is it that all?

Time and again one sees in the developing world the discrepancy between the objective conditions, the way they were perceived and interiorized, and the tool(s) used to face them. This misreading ends up turning the fight into a squabble about which side, which group, or which tribe, lost more or gained less, and thus deserved more of the pie or had the more muscles to defeat the other(s) and thus sit on the button-seat. The dealing with is seen and immediate perhaps is part of the political process. To avoid generalities and to focus on what's practical and achievable in this fight, if it can be characterized as such, is understandable if the state and its institutions were built and legitimized and the playing field is leveled . However, that's not the case in most Arab states and Libya in particular. In the last half-century, one important fact has become clearer and repeated itself over and over again in many parts of the world: The fight over power in backward societies leads to more turmoil and more instability. It's also becoming clearer by the day that changing the state, without changing the conditions that gave rise to it and still feed it, has shown to have little if any to do for and/or with the lot of its people. The more the state changes the more the misery stays the same. That's because of a simple but profound fact: The frailty and clumsiness of the state are an effect of much more morbid diseases that are eating at the core of the society: Cultural decadence and backwardness.

One may say you're falling in the same pit you're warning the others not to fall into or to get out of. Diluting the problem by locating it in such an all inclusive yet unbreachable sphere as culture. Besides how to "cure' a culture and how to change it, and how to fight a cultural war? As a starter by admitting its problems. The state is a product of economics and culture and not the other way round. There's even a room to assert that the one overdeterming factor is the culture, stupid! And therefore, as long as the mental-ways, values, and relations remain rooted in a system of antiquated beliefs and practices that regulate every detail of daily life by stifling self-expression and individual creativity, the space left for maneuvers to rationalize the rules by which life is lived and to bring some commonsense to the relations regulate it is almost non-existent. It's a futile attempt, if not contradiction of terms, to try to build a modern state (that's what a democratic state is) on an antiquated and crumbling set of values and relations, culture. What's the state if not the ultimate machine and, the embodiment of a rationalized collective will? Some may say if that's the case, wouldn't the relation between culture and state be more of a chicken and egg type, which makes it difficult to pin down with certainty which one comes first? And isn't a matter of chance, of opportunity, and rarely if any by design, which one takes the precedence over the other? So, why spend valuable resources on something which is not clear whether or not can be controlled by human will? Historically, that might have been the case, when major changes occurred perhaps by chance until and up to the American Revolution, when the state became the product of design. Without going to all the details we're now at the dawn of 21st century facing the two humongous tasks at the same time -to change the culture and the state- and trying to find a way of how and where to direct the efforts so that we can affect the right proportions and hit on the right doses. To bring the picture closer we can compare society to a building, where the state is made up of all those parts that make the building functions, from mechanical equipments, elevators, stairs, entrances and exists, etc. to the people who man them. If the building is in bad shape and structurally unsound, that's in need of repair, it's better to start by looking for a way to prop it up and keep it standing before worrying about what inside it.

Oppositions of the political nature are usually in the habit, maybe because it's easier, to direct their attention to what they're looking for, the ultimate goal, that's power! Under this scenario and to this end they elaborate first and then direct their working assumptions, or better illusions. Among these: 1- Power, that's the state, is the ultimate goal; 2- The main important task of an opposition is to keeping the eye on the ball and never forget who's the target in the first place, keeping the pressure on the enemy as a unifying theme. 3- The hate of the regime unites us; what unites us is stronger than what divides us; that's, reconciliation of outlooks and ideology is relegated to the post -victory, when the regime's defeat. All these assumptions have shown their shortcomings in places such as Cuba and more recently in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and a host of other countries that historically had no traditions and lacked mechanisms of how to dialogue and reconcile differences through peaceful means.

Not to throw a stick on an already wobbling wheel or be a nitpicker but there's a pressing question: Who the heck thought of lumping these groups and individuals together and what are the expectations? Islamists, secularists, turn-about Marxists, and God-knows-what-else, Volta-facies of all colors and stripes,...! Is this for real? Or, just another one of those histrionics similar to the wisecracks - or just pranks!- Mu'ammer used to pull around -when he was still thought of as a sane gofer!- those groups or issues that dogged the light out of his dimmed tunnel vision. Didn't he also lock the different Palestinian factions in one room after telling them if they wanted to get out they must reconcile their differences? Well, maybe our friends here have learned one or two things from their nemesis, and plan that and much and even more. Stay tuned! The best guess is, from what it appears on the outside and at first glance, the get-together was prompted more by mere oh-gush-we-need-to-do-something to please their sponsors, than to any sinister motivations or a set of much more insidious bugs that may have been let to be surmised! It's just a hunch. Who knows?

The 2004 Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) described an apparently endless list of barriers, potholes, boulders, and trenches facing freedom and democracy in the "Arab Region"! Among these, just to mention a few: family, patriarch, clan, tribe, tradition, religion, social-, economic-, political-, educational- structures, etc....If one tries to find an overdetermining category that would include all of these and more, my guess is, again, will be CULTURE. The culture of backwardness, provincialism, and naivete, i.e.,tribalism, clanism, and crony-ism. It's evident even from the composition of the "Committee of Consultation" and its members; with the exception of one or two names the list is made up almost all from the eastern part of the country. Surprise! That's exactly the area still mired in the culture of tribes, clans, and Sidi this and 'Baati' that. The Report goes on to say: "freedoms in Arab countries are threatened by two kinds of power: that of undemocratic regimes and that of tradition and tribalism, sometimes under the cover of religion." [I don't know why the adverb sometimes was deemed necessary]. But the most pertinent to the issue at hand is the statement: "Opposition parts suffer from internal problems that are no less serious," than the regimes they were fighting.

The Arab world and Libya in particular are caught in the untenable position that of struggling for a progressive and liberal future with a mental set-up and tools of the Middle Ages! Isn't this a tragedy or just surrealism? To fight for political freedoms in the 21st century world with the tools and techniques of bygone times and traditions is somehow still part of the Libyan reality. It seems we adopted some of the medicine techniques, that's of fighting a disease by what caused it. The same causes, tribalism, clanism, nepotism, and "mujamalaat" that kept us where we are, are now employed to get us out of the jam and to usher us into the brave new world of freedom and democracy. Unbelievable!

Let's get serious now, folks! The interesting thing about the three points or demands is not what they've stated but rather what they'd left out. The "or else" clause! If Qaddafi doesn't listen and doesn't leave, then what? Or, how and who will be empowered to choose the transitional government of clean, honorable, and honest individuals? Aren't these by now an endangered species? It's helpful to know that such qualifications [of clean, honest, honorable, etc.] will definitely leave as many as, in the best statistical method, that of the margin of error, as qualified. We're optimistic here! The search will be long and exhausting. As for the finale: the fireworks! a "constitutional democracy," to boot. If one is to say, the idea of democracy at this point is a chance game, more a pipe dream than real expectation, one wouldn't be ruled crazy. It's relatively easier to make of Libya an industrial society than to make it a democracy. As the experience of those who've already trod their way to that stage has shown. The Arabs still say: "faqid ash-shay laa ya'Teeh," although wisdom was not their piece of cake, they were right on this, this time though. A tribal-religious society is not the best candidate for democracy. If democracy ever sticks, it'll be after an uphill battle.

The way these regimes and the groups that oppose them behave has something to do with, among other causes, the history of the area. Maybe the long, sad, and bizarre history of the way the area, the Arab-stans, has been handling power, has also bequeathed its lessons, on both the present regimes and their oppositions, the inheritance of politics as war -literally and not as Carl von Clausewitz meant it metaphorically! Politics as spoils. The vanquished have no rights and the winner takes all. These seem to be the working paradigms with which the so-called opposition is honing itself for the days to come. Confrontation is the strategy. Power is the goal. The struggle for power as the battles of war, when they have any rules, must be those of the jungle. The ends justify the means!

The opposition seems to have also adapted another famous cultural trait, attributed to the area: the enemy of my enemy is my friend -or if not a friend at least an ally! For, at the time when the area and its regimes are under an aggressive and vicious attack from outside, the oppositional groups are giving the impression, if not lending the attackers the services, of the traditional Fifth Column! For, what's all the fuss about democracy, human rights, etc. when the whole area is so screwed up that there's a good chance not to make it, that's to survive! The hoopla is, literally, about arranging the chairs on the Titanic.

Why is this so? Isn't the opposition supposed to be the blazer carrier, the lightning beacon? Not so, it seems, in the backwoods of the globe, where oppositions are hawking their wares in the spot markets of this world. And this isn't even that shocking when one looks to how these groups are made up, mostly out of the blind, the deaf, and the limey; the disgruntled bunch is in it only for, "what is in it for me"! Scattered, disillusioned, and desperate, the opposition attempts to build hopes out of thin air. By giving the illusion of being alive and united!

It was a time and somewhere is still the case, the opposition, more than even the regimes it faces, is expected, if not required, to lighten the path and hold the blaze for the future. This is in part due to the undeniable fact that the only weapon the opposition has of the moral persuasion's type. And for this reason it's expected to opt for the higher grounds. To stay down, on the ground, and to deal and wheel with the biggies and grandees of this world is basically leaving one's flanks open to all sorts of volleys. For, the tactics followed by Arab opposition groups have brought only desperation to the area rather than the waited for respite.

Libyans inside and outside are in a very critical situation and thus there's a need to review their tactics and recharge their batteries. The old lines of violence and confrontations have to be revised and new strategies have to be sought and worked out. The opposition of loyal citizens, if not patriots, which aims to change society at large and not only the regime. An opposition with imagination and foresight, which before it enters into the fray of politics must belabor its brains and come up with a worthy vision of the future to fight for, rather than parroting the neo-cons slogans and thus be one of their pawns. In other words, the opposition has to abandon the 'Third Worldism' brand and has to look to the Eastern European and China models for the way these societies are effecting the changes. Only by showing an honest, sincere, and genuine effort to be working for the benefit of the country, and not for a self-serving bunch of disgruntled losers, can the opposition gain the trust and the respect, it badly needs to continue its work.

Instead of building castles in the air and forming phoney groups, the opposition should concentrate on what makes each group different from the others and on elaborating their platforms and future scenarios that will attract enough people both inside and outside, so the opposition becomes a real and serious contender for the future. The repetitions of failed and discredited tactics, that's of giving the impression of being more than what they were, by holding unnecessary meetings, with the same faces and of the same whinings, neither giving hope to the disgruntled nor scaring the regime . So, there must come a time when old practices are discarded and new ones are sought and found. There must also come a time, which is now, when the upstaging and self-serving schemes will no longer be taken at their face value, and will only lead to further undermining what they purported to promote.

The real challenge for Libyans and Arabs are: how to get a slumbering bunch of people to wake up and start opening their eyes to look at the world head-on, before even asking them to walk the walk and talk the talk. Expectations should be re-directed to more fruitful steps and stages. We've to remind ourselves of that old sobering piece of wisdom: 'You can take the camel to the water but you cannot force him/her to drink." The limit becomes also an opportunity!


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