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Harsh lessons from regime change

Published Apr 01, 2013 05:00am


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ALTHOUGH the event went largely unreported in Pakistan and elsewhere, a Coptic church was burned down in the Libyan city of Benghazi on March 4. Earlier, there was an assassination attempt against the Italian consul, and attacks on the British and Tunisian consulates in the same city.

Benghazi was also the site of the murder of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, last year, together with three of his colleagues. Libya’s eastern city is controlled by a bewildering medley of militant groups, and is almost completely out of the control of the fragile General National Council. Most recently, a Gaza-bound relief convoy of trucks was detained, and three British women of Pakistani descent gang-raped.

This complete breakdown of authority and decent into anarchy underlines the perils of toppling dictatorships. While the Nato campaign to oust Muammar Qadhafi had considerable support in and out of Libya, the consequences have been dire. Recently, there were reports of tribal battles near Tripoli that left some 3,000 homeless. One police chief has been murdered, and another kidnapped.

And the fallout has not been limited to Libya: the upsurge of Islamist-led violence in northern Mali can be directly traced to the arms and mercenaries pouring into the country from neighbouring Libya after Qadhafi was removed from power. The fact is that Libya is a fractious country that was held together for decades with an iron fist by a psychotic dictator who used ferocious violence to stay in power.

Iraq, too, is the scene of unending violence. A decade after the US-led coalition removed Saddam Hussein from the scene, and less than two years after the American pullout, suicide bombings and shootings continue to rack the country. Although an elected government is in power, tensions between Shias and Sunnis continue to fuel violence. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes, and Iraqi women, once the most emancipated in the Arab world, have seen many of their freedoms snatched away by an increasingly religious state and society.

Egypt has seen two years of chaos and confusion, despite holding free and fair elections. Mubarak’s exit has not been followed by the smooth transition to a liberal democracy many in the West had hoped for. The Tahrir Square revolution has instead led to a deeply polarised nation where secularists are fighting the religious right represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. No resolution is in sight, and as the economy sinks into a deepening recession, there are Egyptian voices calling for military intervention.And Syria, another key Arab state, has been in the grip of a murderous civil war that has taken upward of 80,000 lives over the last two years. No end to the killing seems imminent, and nor is a political solution. The recent rebel mortar attack on Damascus University underscores the increasing disregard for human life demonstrated by both sides.

As the fighting intensifies with more sophisticated foreign arms available to the Free Syrian Army, both the rebels and government forces are resorting to inhuman means. Civilians caught in the crossfire are being forced to flee to neighbouring states. Bashar al-Assad is being propped up by Iran and Russia, and shows no sign of quitting. The opposition is fragmented, with extremists acquiring increasing power.

One thing these ruling and fallen dictators have in common – and we should include Tunisia in this discussion — is that they were all secular, and kept Islamic parties and groups on a tight leash. After the exit of these autocrats, Islamists have surfaced to claim power, elbowing out liberals who had initially spearheaded the Arab Spring. This rivalry is threatening the nascent democracy that had held so much promise. Indeed, it might even pave the way for another round of military rule if the two sides cannot negotiate a power-sharing formula on broadly secular principles.

Another lesson here is about the dangers of removing a strong ruler without thinking the consequences through. While most of us abhor dictatorship, how prepared are we to cope with the fallout of an autocrat’s fall? And outsiders, as we have seen in Iraq and Libya, have very little idea about the internal dynamics of Arab states. The path to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

And the intentions behind foreign intervention have often been less than honourable. The disastrous invasion of Iraq, justified by non-existent WMDs, has opened the door to endless violence that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Oil was a factor there, as it was in Libya. Both countries continue to struggle to restore the writ of the state as militias and terrorist groups wreak havoc.

The whole concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) needs to be revisited in the light of recent experience. While protecting people from dictators is a worthy ideal, what follows next needs more thought than it has received thus far. A further lesson is that there are limits to power, and it is easier to topple a nasty regime than it is to put a legitimate, effective one in its place.

It seems that Obama has learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, and hence his reluctance to get dragged into Syria, despite the urging of allies like Turkey, Britain and France. One reason the US has refused to supply the rebels with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles is the fear that these weapons might fall into the hands of extremists who could use them to attack civilian aircraft.

All too often, one dictatorship is replaced by another, as happened in Iran when the fall of the Shah has been followed by more than forty years of a repressive theocracy. In Iraq, too, the Al Maliki government is being increasingly accused of torture. None of this is to suggest that dictators ought to continue ruling. However, regime change should come from within, and not imposed by outside forces.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

VictimOfDemons-cracy Apr 01, 2013 01:21am
This is very planned orchestra funded by the west just to impose their rule over the world, to loot the oil wealth of these countries and to justify for the illegitimate rule of Israel over Palestine. All these countries were peaceful under those cruel dictators some instances may be there of injustice but the situation now is hopeless.
Ahmed Apr 01, 2013 02:08am
All the more reason to make sure democracy is here to stay in Pakistan. One of the lesser appreciated benefits of democracy is that power takes place peacefully, not through bloodshed followed by lawlessness that is standard practice for dictatorships. Also important to remember that all these dictatorships started off claiming to be "revolutionaries" and then proved mere incompetents whose only goal was to stay in power with fiery rhetoric and harsh crackdowns on individual freedoms and when they grew old to pave the way for a favorite son to succeed them.
Aslam Khan Apr 01, 2013 02:32am
'Regime change should come from within and not imposed from outside. We, the Pakistanis understand it quite well in another way. The dictators dying to imppse their versions of Basic Democracy, Real Democracy or Genuine Democracy brought more harm than good and died their own death. Its a public domain and it evolves given the freedom to people to make independent choices.
Raj Apr 01, 2013 02:48am
Congratulations Irfan for writing so boldly about regime changes ie, rule by people BY rule by representatives of Allah. Now it is time to wait and see who in the end wins!
Rajeev Nidumolu Apr 01, 2013 04:13am
When you have repressive dictatorship it is impossible to have peaceful and orderly transition to democracy.When you use violence as means to make the transition , violence becomes the end
Keti Zilgish Apr 01, 2013 05:28am
Freedom has to be taken. If it is given it cannot possibly make 'independent choices'.
Pradip Apr 01, 2013 05:30am
Dear Sir/Madam, This same mentality of 'Western hand' in all problems is the root cause of all the problems, every citizen in every country is responsible for his own country. A sunni majority country would interefere in Shia dominated country and vice-versa, so what to talk of interference from other countries. This is geopolitical game, and very country would have to live with it. Why can't the citizens elect proper government with personnel having no religious affiliation, all muslim countries can take example from Turkey and be like them. Every cruel dictator has a hand in genocide, which is mostly unearthed after he is deposed, do keep this in mind.
Keti Zilgish Apr 01, 2013 05:45am
The problem is that the word 'regime' is too ambiguous and has therefore already been dicarded from affective modern political discourse. It has negative connotations but they are not negative enough. A regime, whether from internal or external force, is eventually vulnerable to being 'accused of torture'. Regime change is a game of musical chairs. The only lesson that Obama has learnt is one that he has done so by robbing a little bit from the anarchist history of America.
rich Apr 01, 2013 06:01am
almost all muslim majority countries have these islamic terrorist problem,if ruled by seculars or non islamist parties, except if they have dictator who equally ruthlessly crush these islamist terrorist eg ksa and gulf states even pakistn faces these problem bec islamic parties do not rule it
K G Surendran Apr 01, 2013 06:52am
The people in the Middle East have been repressed for so long that they, possibly, go overboard when given freedom. Today we have suggestions that dictatorships appear to be a better option in this region. Besides this concept of religious unity should be debunked since Iraq is a classic example where the country is virtually divided among three groups (Shia, Sunni, Kurds), and outside forces have nothing to with this division which comes from within, and violence is the order of the day.
Rashid Sultan Apr 01, 2013 08:51am
Agree with Irfan Hussain on his analysis. Is there a way to counter Islamic fundamentalists from securing power in these Muslim majority Arab nations? Answer: secular and brutal dictatorships?
malik butta Apr 01, 2013 09:17am
The smoothness of transition from a dictatorship to democracy is inversely proportional to the duration of the dictatorship, the type of dictatorship and the state of human development indicators in the country. It is a complex question and even a change from within is not without challenges as we know. Most dictatorships result in seriously diminishing the intellectual and moral capital of a nation and leave deep scars that take time to heal. What we are seeing in all the countries that Irfan has talked about is, ironically, quite normal.
Leo Apr 01, 2013 09:21am
I agree for the most part. I vehemently disagree on the notion that oil was a key motivation to invade Iraq or help the Libyan militants. This can be easily refuted. The money spent by the American government for its military conduct and the reconstruction efforts in Iraq have risen up to trillions of dollars. No amount of oil can compensate for that, even if the US would apportion all the Iraqi oil fields. Moreover, most oil companies that drill in Iraq are Chinese as of today. The same can be said for Libya. Oil concessions could easily have been negotiated with Khaddafi, who was not an outcast in the international community anymore. Why would the West conduct a expensive military operation, when they could get the oil the easy way, if that was the primary goal?
Cyrus Howell Apr 01, 2013 09:29am
"We are not surprised that a Sheikh in Egypt issues a fatwa during a television show to murder those who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood's rule." Al-Arabia
aziz Apr 01, 2013 12:25pm
The people replacing the old regime, undeniably are even more odious than the previous ones, Because they serve the geopolitical and economic interests of regime-change proponents they become their new darlings. Where exactly has regime-change benefitted the people or their consent taken?
Najeeb Khalid Apr 01, 2013 04:12pm
The intention did not give the desired results, that is no reason to doubt the intentions.
aditya Apr 01, 2013 04:36pm
any common denominators here?
Gerry D'Cunha Apr 01, 2013 05:10pm
name one muslim country where there is peace? and where there is peace in western countries,muslims try to sabortage
abbastoronto Apr 01, 2013 06:50pm
No matter what the outcome, every event is a progress towards a better future.
john Apr 01, 2013 07:24pm
oh yes. poor you..always the victim.
ga Apr 01, 2013 08:25pm
Mr. Pardip Turkey is interfering in Syria. She cannot be an example.
Ahmed Apr 02, 2013 01:04am
In other words, you think people in muslim majority countries dont have a right to a democratic government. And you also think that crime (which is basically what terrorism is) is not present in non-muslim countries. People like you remind me that Pakistan does not have a monopoly on geniuses.
kayman Apr 02, 2013 05:37am
Regime change, what regime change and why even the LIbya, Syria and Iraqi's are discussed. If we don't do anything the west has the same plan for us. Its pretty much in process. You guys keep blaming each other and all politicans are same. No one is punished who has done wrong so far so what happens next..Next is fallout situation which can happen to Pakistan.Journalism has no vision, Political parties have no idea how to combat west plans and security and Justice system is no more a system so.... Imagine the rest.
Asif Apr 02, 2013 06:55am
Asif Shame on Muslims, Muslims country armies are interfering in other Muslim countries and media is portraying them as freedom fighters, rebels etc. I believe that only 2% of local population is with rebels otherwise these all rebels are foreign army men of Muslims countries. what you think the rebels in Libya, Syria, Iraq etc are local people. No, these were army personal from other neighboring Muslim countries. I think Muslims deserve this blood bath. Feeling pain but can't explain.
ahmed41 Apr 02, 2013 02:21pm
It could be mentioned that the *LEGAL* Taliban government in KABUL was toppled by the US. The the WEST tried to transplant **DEMOCRACY** to Afghanistan. Will it be a success story ? Perhaps yes Or maybe NO~~~lets wait for 5 years.
Agha Ata (USA) Apr 02, 2013 07:10pm
TRUE, that "..regime change should come from within, and not imposed by outside forces." And also that a change should evolve. change should come slowly. Even the best change coming too quickly can have bad result!
AHA Apr 02, 2013 07:45pm
Lack of tolerance, lack of humanity, lack of acceptance of the fact that others can be different.
Maximas Arkelias Apr 02, 2013 08:01pm
This must be your April fool joke? If there is no peace in muslim countries then USA and its allies are responsible for it. Tell me any single country where USA is not involved in undermining its sovereignty through its agencies. Are you that much blind?
Razzaq Apr 02, 2013 08:07pm
You are absolutely right SIR.