Between hope and history
By: Rasheed Abou-AlSamh
From Libya to Egypt, continuing through Iraq and Iran, some elements seem to be prisoners of their prejudices and the power networks of the past. Despite the upheavals of the Arab Spring — that brought a glimmer of hope that finally would end backward social customs — we are seeing that the grip of the past, both political and social, is not so easily thrown off.
Former Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar — who was born in Benghazi and helped Muammar Qaddafi overthrow King Idris in 1969 — on May 18 launched an offensive against the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, killing two people, abducting 10 and leaving 55 injured in the ensuing violence. Before that, his forces attacked by land and air the militias in Benghazi. This violence is a struggle for power after more than 40 years of dictatorship and a highly centralized state ended when Qaddafi was killed in 2011 and his government overthrown. Since then, Libya has been wracked with instability, caused partly by an extremely weak central government and heavily armed local militias in all parts of the country.
The German political analyst Wolfram Lachter thinks the political stalemate in Libya is due to the adoption of the Law of Political Isolation in May 2013, which prohibited the hiring of any high official who had worked during the Qaddafi years in any public or political office. In a highly centralized state like Libya, one can imagine the hundreds of thousands of ex-Libyan officials who are now forbidden to serve in the new Libya. For Lachter, even with new parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on June 25, Hiftar and the Zintan brigades with their attacks want to force the suspension of the GNC. The hope is that if they achieve the suspension of the body, government control would be passed to a non-elected emergency committee, which would then cancel the Law of Political Isolation with an executive act. But Lachter does not think that Hiftar has a chance to see that happen because of widespread opposition to such a move, and that even an amendment of the law would have much difficulty to be approved by the GNC.
In Egypt, former field marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sissi has been elected the president after months of chaos. What Egypt needs now is stability to attract foreign tourists and investments, freedom of expression and association, economic growth and the creation of new jobs and the rule of law.
In Iraq, an extremely retrograde law is being debated in Parliament in Baghdad. It would lower the legal marriage age for girls from 18 to 9 years. The Iraqi Ambassador to Brazil, Adel Mustafa Kamil Alkurdi, made a lamentable defense of the law this week in the Folha de São Paulo, arguing that this was the desire of the population and that it could not be so bad as it would be approved by democratically elected politicians! Now, I do not know any 9-year-old girl or boy who is physiologically or psychologically prepared to marry. It is widely known that 9-year-old girls are usually married to much older men, usually in their 30s, 40s or 50s. The truth is that this practice is usually undertaken by poor families who feel compelled to “sell” their daughters to older men for economic reasons.
Finally, Iran’s conservative bloc of hard-liners in the government is doing everything to embarrass President Hassan Rouhani in front of public opinion for being too liberal in their view. The Iranian analyst Meir Javedanfar says conservatives need Rouhani to reach a nuclear deal with the West, but that he is being surrounded and contained so as to have little power to act in the arena of social problems, such as easing access to the Internet, in which Facebook and other western social networks are blocked by the government. Four young Iranians were arrested recently in Tehran after posting an Internet video in which they appear dancing to the song “Happy” by the American singer Pharrell Williams. Three of them have already been released, except for the director of the clip, and all are facing legal action by the state. Javedanfar writes that the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will continue to shield Rouhani from hard-liner attacks only until they reach a nuclear agreement.
It is sad to see all these setbacks in the Middle East. We need to move forward and get rid of the sticky cobwebs of the past that are holding us back. Unfortunately, the reactionary forces are too strong to be easily defeated.
The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.