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Geopolitics

Islamist Autumn: Could Gaddafi's End, Tunisian Vote Radicalize Arab Revolution?

Analysis: The democratic wave sweeping North Africa is moving in a decidedly Islamic direction, with the Ennahda party's election victory in Tunisia and Libya's new leaders vowing Sharia law. Is it just a necessary phase toward pluralism

Alexandre Najjar

He could have ended up in exile in Venezuela, with Hugo Chavez; or followed Hitler and Goebbel's lead, and committed suicide. But he died in Syrte, his native city, where he had been hiding out for weeks, a bit like a "rat," his favorite word for the young insurgents demanding his fall.

He died, lynched by rebels who, applying the law of the jungle, weren't able to behave in a more dignified manner than his. Gaddafi died at the end of a siege that cost hundreds of insurgent and civilian lives, because, locked in the bubble that prevented him from looking reality in the eye and admitting his defeat, he continued to believe he would prevail. Until the very end he was convinced armies of African mercenaries would fly to his rescue and turn the situation in his favor.

Some people were happy with his violent demise, afraid that a trial would wake up too many old demons, throw oil on the fire. They forget that judging Gaddafi would be needed to shed light on the terrorist acts he committed over the course of 42 years, and to bring justice to the families of his victims. The tyrant is taking many of his secrets to the grave.

Today, everyone is turning the page. The liberation was just officially announced in Benghazi. But everything still lies ahead: national reconciliation, disarming of civilians and the creation of a regular army. Libya must also create a provisional government according to the terms of the constitution, elect an Assembly of representatives, write a constitution, choose a president, rewrite laws, reform institutions, execute an economic recovery plan and rebuild the country. Everything.

Will the National Transitional Council (NTC) be up to the task of uniting Libyans given that its detractors claim that it has no control whatsoever over the youth in the street? How can you build a democracy in a country where, thanks to the old system put in place by Gaddafi, people don't even know the most basic principals?

What will the role be for Western - and Eastern - powers, who have already decided to try to take a share of the economic pie? And what about the petro-dollars that the tyrant stashed away overseas, and his investments in Africa and elsewhere? Should it become property of the Libyan people, impoverished as they are by war?

But there is an even more worrying question to pose: Do we risk having the revolution hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists? The clumsy and premature declaration by the leader of the NTC regarding the implementation of Sharia law and a return to polygamy sowed worry in many - and scandalized the majority of Libyan women, who actively participated in the revolution.

Islamic sentiment had been building for years

Taken together with the success of Ennahda in Tunisia, and the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the declaration from the new Libyan authority is an eloquent illustration of the tidal wave of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping the countries recently liberated from tyranny.

Could we have seen this wave coming? Without a doubt. For years, soaring religiosity has taken over Arab communities confronted with the misery and suppression brought about by dictators. As both refuge and outlet, religion has become the lifeline for millions of Arabs who are at the same time subjected to a methodological televised proselytism brought by satellite TV.

In addition, many dictatorial regimes didn't hesitate to take advantage of the Islamic fundamentalists, using them both as a form of blackmail (dictatorship or fundamentalism) and as a strawman opposition to create an illusion of democracy.

Faced with this situation, opinion is divided. Some think that all revolutions have to pass through an extremist phase before democracy can take root. Others think the Islamists are backed into a corner and should work with progressive and modernist parties, following the Turkish model.

In Libya's case, the situation is even more precarious because the Islamic fundamentalists, who have long suffered under Gaddafi, are armed to the teeth and want to go even further than does the head of the NTC. Encouraged by the Ennahda's success in Tunisia, they would certainly like to impose their ideas on the moderates of the new regime.

Given all these new developments, what might the international community do next? Now that is has rid itself of Gaddafi, the international powers should run to the rescue of the Syrian insurgents, who have been crushed by tanks and airplanes, and forced into concentration camps. If it closes it's eyes to the crimes of the tyrant in Damascus, the international community risks losing all of the credibility it gained during the Libyan campaign. All things considered, these tyrants are not much different, one from the next.

Read more from Le Monde in French

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Ideas

A Writer's Advice For How To Read The Words Of Politics

Colombia's reformist president has promised to tackle endemic violence, economic exclusion, pollution and corruption in the country. So what's new with a politician's promises?

Image of Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaking during a press conference in Buenos Aires on Jan 14, 2023

Colombian President Gustavo Petro, speaks during a press conference in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 24, 2023.

Manuel Cortina/ZUMA
Héctor Abad Faciolince

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BOGOTÁ — Don't concentrate on his words, I was once advised, but look at what he's doing. I heard the words so long ago I cannot recall who said them. The point is, what's the use of a husband who vows never to beat his wife in January and leaves her with a bruised face in February?

Words are a strange thing, and in literal terms, we must distrust their meaning. As I never hit anyone, I have never declared that I wouldn't. It never occurred to me to say it. Strangely, there is more power and truth in a simple declaration like "I love her" than in the more emphatic "I love her so much." A verbal addition here just shrinks the "sense" of love.

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