Can the North African country of Libya offer hope for reforms elsewhere?
On March 16, a new national unity civilian government took power in Tripoli. In the words of a recent Washington Post editorial: “After a decade of chaos, the oil rich nation has taken a significant step toward a new political order.”
Libya’s recent history
The new government led by Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah has a huge challenge to confront. Since 2011, Libya has been engulfed in civil war, intensified by support from rival local factions spurred on from other Arab countries and even further abroad.
Finally, last October, the futility of the seemingly unending conflict produced an agreement between fighters in eastern and western Libya that it was time for a ceasefire. That led to the election of the Dbeibah reform government, including Libya’s first female prime minister.
Still, a rocky road ahead: things to watch for
- How soon will foreign mercenaries, mostly from other Arab countries, withdraw?
- How soon will fighters from eastern Libya return from west to east, their original homes?
- Will Russian forces, who sided with rebels in the east, withdraw as well?
- How soon can the incoming reform government renew basic services, unify the central bank and other essential services?
- The new government has promised its first free elections for December, 2021. Can that goal be kept?
Looking beyond Libya
Libya’s adjacent Mediterranean neighbor to the west, Algeria, has recently cracked down on members of its pro-democracy movement, Hirak, yet another setback in North African stability.
According to Voice of America Geneva correspondent Lisa Schlein, United Nations human rights officials have denounced Algerian security forces “for using unnecessary or excessive support and arbitrary arrests to suppress peaceful demonstrators.”
As U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville put it: “Algerian authorities are reacting to the protesters in the same repressive manner seen in recent years. These developments echoed what happened in 2019 and 2020.”
Then, the U.N. spokesman added: “At least 2,500 people were arrested or detained in connection with their peaceful activism. Similarly, Algeria’s criminal prosecution in 2019-2020 of human rights defenders, students, journalists bloggers and ordinary citizens expressing dissent continued during the first two months of this year.” The U.N. Human Rights Office is calling on authorities in Algiers to stop using violence against peaceful protesters and to “immediately release those arbitrarily arrested.”
Half a world away, protests continue
The Associated Press reported March 21 about protest demonstrations in Bangkok, where “scores of people were injured or arrested after police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets to break up a rally by pro-democracy protesters calling for the release of detained activists and reform of the nation’s monarchy.”
The riots took place in Myanmar, previously known as Burma. Anti-regime demonstrations have occurred regularly and continue to grow nightly, aimed at a new military regime which seized power by ousting the duly elected government of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and detaining the prime minister since February 1.
People power, it seems, is beginning to make a difference in challenges to authoritarian rulers. China’s abuse of Uighurs in the northwestern PRC is a focal point for a new Western coalition — the European Union, the U.S, Britain and Canada. The EU was first to move, announcing it would impose travel bans against four Chinese officials and its public security office. Beijing responded quickly, announcing retaliatory measures against the EU.
Shortly thereafter, the Washington Post reported March 23, the U.S., U.K. and Canada jumped in, adding asset freezes and travel bans on the same Chinese officials as the European Union did. Beijing denies human rights abuses in Xinjiang, despite extensive reporting in the West and witness testimony.
Post columnist David Ignatius attributes the Biden administration’s fresh look at an allied approach to confront China at least partly because of “the Quad”, an informal U.S. partnership with India, Japan and Australia. Mr. Ignatius believes that the four powers, working together, has at least modestly bolstered the West’s position in south and southeastern Asia. In his view, India in particular, has moved further and faster than Washington expected.
My take on all this is that “people power” — democracy-inspired citizen street protests in countries like Libya, Algeria, and Myanmar — also contributes significantly to a fresh commitment to human rights around the world.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More