The Next Stop on the Arab Freedom Train Is Damascus

A critical mass of deposed Arab leaders is starting to form, but phase two of the Libyan revolution will prove to be harder than just ousting Gadhafi.

"The world would be a better place without Gadhafi, and our region is beginning to rid itself of those leaders who brought their citizens nothing but destruction," Tariq Alhomayed, the editor of the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote on Monday.

Alhomayed, whose boss is one of the princes of the Saudi royal family, surely does not mean to get rid of the Saudi king, whose regime symbolizes the exemplary model of autocratic rule in the Middle East.

libya - Reuters - August 22 2011

But today, when Gadhafi is slowly losing its grip on the Libyan capital, and the Arab revolution movement has checked off a third victory after Tunisia and Egypt, a "critical mass" of ousted leaders is accumulating, which may pave the steep slope for more leaders. King Abdullah, whose streets are absent of riots and protests, could also afford to have a look at Alhomayed's op-ed.

The following two leaders are already waiting in line: Syria's Bashar Assad and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh. Like their ousted predecessors, each of them is still certain that his own fate and luck are more successful than that of his colleagues.

Arrogant Assad has shrugged off with contempt demands made by the United States and European states that he relinquish power. He does not see any problems with continuing the crackdown on protesters, such as Saddam Hussein in his time, or like Iran under sanctions, and he continues to call the protesters "armed gangs."

Yemen's Saleh is convinced that his deviousness and his street smarts, which have held him in power for 21 years, will continue to serve him well in the future.

However, the toppling of rulers, which turned into the ultimate symbol of the revolutions, is not a sure recipe for a lifetime of happiness. Whoever is impressed by the coordinated operation of Western states and local resistance movements, cannot ignore the Western abandonment which characterized the revolutions that the West initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American foot-dragging on all that relates to aiding Egypt, and the panic that struck the West in light of the protests that arose in Bahrain. There are "convenient" revolutions for the West and there are "dangerous" ones.

Libya is a "convenient" revolution. After the West received a green light from the Arab League, and after it turned out there is an impressive military force in Libya that can carry out a violent offensive against the regime, and especially after the apathetic response toward the Tunisia revolution, the right circumstances have led to a Western intervention.
Here ends the role of outside intervention, and Libya, who got to topple its dictator after his 42-year rule, must now decide what to do with this tremendous victory. There are many options.

They can begin settling scores with Gadhafi's associates and to avenge the deaths of thousands of Libyans; they can embark on a diplomatic battle to cancel the authority of the regional councils that Gadhafi set up; they can revoke the benefits Gadhafi granted certain tribes, and therefore spark another civil war; and they can rule that only the Transitional National Council, which has already proved its military abilities, is the sole authority that could run the country, or to prepare the country for elections.

This could also give rise to an extended struggle over how to divvy up profits, because Libya, unlike Egypt, is a country rich in natural resources.

The country’s 6.5 million citizens are not only divided into tribes and sub-tribes, as Gadhafi well knew, but also into cultural groups, Arab and Berbers, into faith groups, religious extremists and secularists, and into judicial systems, presided over by the traditional tribes and by the state.

The opposition that brought down Gadhafi is also not woven of one cloth, and it does not include a single leader that can unite the factions, even temporarily.

Most of its functionaries and leaders were until recently loyal to Gadhafi, just like the Libyan army, defeated and now in need of a new mission: Will the rebels see it as a useful tool to control the country, or a traitorous body that must be purged of Gadhafi loyalists, as was done in Iraq?

Chapter Two of the revolution is likely to be even more critical than Gadhafi’s ouster. Its impact will not only affect Libya, but will also determine the Western and Arab countries’ stances towards similar interventions in Syria or Yemen.