After America

Hello everybody, and merry Christmas. Before we start, apologies for the lack of serious blogging; my writing has moved to Prospect of late. Still, I haven’t been writing enough, and I intend to rectify this over the Christmas break and into next term (when the writing will probably be of essays and sets of notes, unfortunately). I am enjoying writing for Prospect, and it is nice to receive feedback on what I am doing, having been going along in the dark for several years. But is comforting to come home to Topical Creativity, where it all began three years ago.

Not long after I began writing journalistically, the Arab spring exploded onto the news. Its prominence continued as I really began to take interest in politics and current affairs, as we watched in awe as change swept over Egypt and Tunisia. Then the bloodshed began in the civil wars of Libya and Syria, and the spring became the world’s problem. This culminated in the chemical weapons attack by Syria’s President Assad on civilians in August. For a few weeks, it looked as if the West would finally intervene, until Russia seemingly saved the day.

Since then, the Arab spring and its aftermath have somewhat fallen off the radar. The media have relegated the Syrian crisis to third-place importance, after the economy and immigration, so that we now have to rely on reporting in specialist publications and the middle pages of broadsheet papers. How can the story which defined my immersion into politics and drastically altered the international system become old news even as Syria’s death toll exceeds 125,000?

Maybe it’s because we are, collectively, embarrassed by our inability to do anything. As I have written before intervention in Syria is both logistically difficult and politically troublesome, as both Obama and Cameron found out. Harsh facts are hindering our ability to act on our humanitarian instincts.

This is not a feeling the West is used to, especially not Americans. In the past decade, the public has become accustomed to seeing Western power brandished at their leaders’ will. Now, the West’s foreign policy wings seem to have been clipped. This links in with another prominent theme of my political life, the economic and political decline of the West. China is increasingly flexing some pretty scary muscles, and Russia’s President Putin is causing all sorts of problems in Eastern Europe by trying to create his own ‘Eurasian Union’ to rival the EU.

My first term of university has focussed on basic international relations (which, by the way, is really interesting – I still can’t decide if I am a realist or a liberal, a pessimist or an idealist). No good study of the modern world can be conducted without a serious discussion of the decline of American hegemony. As we go forward with our studies and explore the world through journalism, we should probably find an answer to the question: if we don’t want dictators to gas civilians, who is going to replace the US?

Obama in the lead?

The recent killing of America’s ambassador to Libya after a crowd set fire to the Benghazi embassy in protest against an American film said to criticise the prophet Mohammed does not bode well for the teetering new country. But ramifications may also be felt miles away in Washington, particularly on 6th November – election day. Americans will want to know how Obama will react to what will be seen as an attack on America itself.

So far Obama has been measured in his response; promising to prosecute those criminally responsible for his ambassador’s death while staying out of the debate about the film. This is a sensible approach and one I hope the American electorate will support. In fact, this spell of trouble in the Middle East may help Obama. Americans will see that their President can stop a situation escalating and will have to accept that a Democrat will be able to exercise more soft power in the Middle East than a Republican.

But that’s not the only reason for the Obama machine to remain hopeful. History shows us that the benefits of incumbency are huge and that re-election is statistically probable. On top of this historical precedent, Mitt Romney – the Republican candidate – is not seen as a nice guy by the general population, and his own party is suspicious of his changing opinions and apparent liberalism. Indeed, as Governor of Massachusetts, he once implemented a version of Obama’s health care reforms – to which he is now vehemently opposed. He is known as a ‘flip-flopper’.

But Obama can not celebrate yet. As a Democrat supporter, I still see much cause for concern. Obama has ended up being in favour not because he has been successful, but because so many people abhor the Republican party. He has become known as a great orator who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk – four year’s later Guantanamo is still holding prisoners without charge. Some of his failings are undoubtedly of his own making, but more are down to a militant Republican Congress and a never-ending financial crisis.

As Bill Clinton knew, the key to political success is the economy. This is the case even more so when people are worried about their jobs and trying to pay their mortgage. Unless the unrest in the Middle East escalates dramatically, the economy will be the deciding factor in these elections. This is Obama’s main problem. Although voters don’t like Romney, they trust him with the economy because of his plans to cut the debt and his history in the business world. Luckily for Obama, Romney is thought to be responsible for a huge number of job losses. And jobs matter in America – more than any other economic indicator.

In a cruel coincidence of dates, the third quarter’s job figures will be released a few days before the elections. If they are good, Obama will be set to win. If they disappoint, Romney’s main fault won’t appear so important. Worryingly, the job figures are normally revised upwards a week after their original release – after the election. Obama and his supporters will be hoping that this time the statisticians get it right the first time.

2012 – another year of change?

Welcome to my 2012 predictions post, where I’m going to detail how and why I think things are going to go this year. I’d love to get some debate going, so please comment to tell me why I am wrong – there’s nothing better than an argument.

The Arab spring
I think 2012 will see a divide emerge in the Arab spring countries, with some moving ahead whilst others struggle and still others beginningh the process. There seems to be general agreement that Syria is heading towards civil war, which I think is likely. The Assad regime is in no mood to go, whilst most of the population is against it. Add to this the religious tensions – the Assad regime is comprised of members of the small Alawite sect, while 80% of the population is Sunni – and strife indeed appears inevitable, especially as more and more armed men defect from the army. Who will win any civil war is hard to say, but it is unlikely that it would be Mr Assad. By 2013, Syria will have a new leader. Howeverr, those most likely to suffer under a new government are Christians and women, because Islamism will definitely flourish. This means the West is being cautious in what it wishes for. Sadly I think 2012 is going to see a lot of bloodshed on the streets of Hama, Homs and Damascus.
Although Lybia has already toppled (and killed) its dictator, 2012 is not going to be an easy year here either. The country is critically divided into tribes, who, without a strongman’s military control, are not likely to get on with each other. The civil war has resulted in a large number of guns being in civilians hands, which is not really a recipe for stability. And no one has a clue how to deal with the large numbers of Gadaffi loyalists who are very annoyed with life. However there is some hope that the National Transitional Council will draft a half-decent constitution and hold some fully-decent elections, providing the country does not erupt again. Even in this case, the road ahead is rocky. The NTC is by no means a legitimate body, and that makes criticism of its ideas legitimate. Islamism will grow here too, because there are not any other political parties. The different tribes are likely to start bickering about representation and oil interests. There is hope, but it’ll take hard work to fulfil it.

In Tunisia and Egypt, however, democracy is making slow but steady process. Elections have just been held in both countries – although the process in Egypt was slightly dubious. I predict that the new Constituent Assembly in Tunisia will actually get its job done, and that we will see proper elections under a good constitution sometime this year. Of course, Islamists will do well, but Tunisians are naturally moderate and I can’t see them putting up with extremism. It also helps that Tunisia is a very homogeneous country, which promotes secularism. Egypt is not extremely fractious either, but it does face more problems than its neighbour. The main one is the army – which has entrenched itself into the workings of political power and is loathe to back out and make room for civilians. It had a crucial role in Mubarak’s regime and has run the country since he fell, which means it has the power to do what it wants. When the election results are worked out, it is doubtful that the army will simply go away. Therefore I think Egyptians will spend most, if not all, of 2012 trying to get its generals back into their barracks. Once they have succeeded in this, I see no reason why they should not follow their Tunisian counterparts to democracy.

Bye bye Putin
It is not often that one witnesses 80,000 people chanting ‘Russia without Putin’ throng the streets of Moscow. Twice. It just doesn’t happen. Nor do people boo the Prime Minister when he appears at over-staged sports fixtures. Apart from now – they do. That’s why I say that Mr Putin’s days are numbered. He brought all this on himself, by taking natural Russian apathy towards politics for granted and treating his people like idiots. They are used to him fiddling elections – but he was so blatant about it that they felt that he was laughing at them (probably). They are used to him bending the rules of the constitution, but his use of Dimitri Medvedev as a pawn in his games was just too ridiculous. Patience snapped. It’s not only his fault though – it’s hardly been a good twelve months for corrupt rulers. It seems that the Arab spring has slapped Russians round the face and forced them to ask ‘why are we putting up with what they’ve succeeding in bringing down?’ And found no answer. Now Putin needs to realise that his people aren’t sheep. Theoretically, he has every chance of surviving 2012. But I don’t think he will. He is so self-assured that he is probably yet to realise how much trouble he’s in and therefore won’t make the liberalising changes that could save him. That will be his downfall. How a Russia without Putin functions will be interesting too see. In a way, it will be harder for Russia to achieve democracy than Arab countries. This is because Russia technically already has a democratic system, but it’s completely corrupted. It will have to take this structure apart before it can start building a new one.

China
Now this is not something backed by anything I’ve read, but I think the Communist Party of China is in line for a shock. I’m not saying that ‘Communism’ is going to fall in 2012, far from it. What I am saying is that it will become a lot harder for the Party to control dissent. We’re already seeing protests in Mongolian areas of the country and international anger at the plight of Nepal, and the internet is causing a stir. Not only can people from these areas post evidence of confrontation online, they can also debate and form ideas with people on the other side of the world. The government is trying to limit and control the internet, but its very nature mean that they can’t keep up. Liberalism is (maybe) coming to China.

The US Republican race and elections
It was a good day for liberalism and sanity when Michelle Bachmann bowed out of the race to become the Republican presidential candidate having come sixth in the Iowa caucus, and I for one breathed a sigh of relief. Looking forwards, I think Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum will be the people to watch. Mr Romney has been a favourite for a while and is vaguely normal. He has the most moderate social views, which is why Republicans might settle for him – he might be able to appeal to voters who would normally be Democrats, but are disappointed with Mr Obama. The right of the party don’t like him, but the more strategic may convince them. Mr Perry is the only darling of the mainstream right left in the race and therefore has a fair chance, because he can appeal in some way to most Americans. But he is a worrying figure. He would not only ban gay marriage, but even gay relationships. Under his presidency, abortion would be illegal. He is, quite frankly, very scary. Mr Santorum is even more conservative, and reading his website makes me actually angry. So what do I think will happen? Mr Santorum won’t make it, because moderates will balk. So it’ll end as a race between Romney and Perry, which is likely to be very close. Mr Romney is most likely to win but Perry’s right-wingers might pull their weight. And then what? If Perry wins, Obama has more hope than if Romney does. But Mr Obama is not popular – the unemployment rate is stubbornly above the 9% mark, he has not been as revolutionary as his most die-hard fans hoped, and many of his promises have not been fulfilled. Against Romney, he will have a fight on his hands. For that, I almost hope Perry wins the nomination.

Europe
Undoubtedly, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel will be seeing a lot of each other this year. Against the will of Sarkozy’s own globalisation-hating citizens, the pair will have to implement a strict regime of fiscal integration in order for the markets to give any credit to the Euro. They will get there eventually, but it will take some fighting for. As Cameron has dug himself into a hole, it is likely that Britain will become isolated and will be unable to affect EU policy. This will cause a shift of power to the East, where France and Germany will find themselves confronted with the autocratic President of Belarus, Alexander Lukahenko, whose policies are threatening the democratic values of the Union. The powers of Europe will have to decide what measures should and can be taken against on of their own members. However, I think it sadly likely that the Euro crisis will blur matters of politics and morality into the background.

Happy New Year! 2011 in review

It’s been quite the year. Let me take you back in time and show you how the world changed – mostly for the better.

January and February saw most of Europe glued to its television screens as people in the Arab world joined together in open rebellion against the despots who have ruled the Magreb for decades. At the very beginning of the year we watched first Tunisians and then Egyptians throng the streets of their capitals in huge and unprecedented numbers. We watched in awe. By the 14th January, Tunisia’s President Ben Ali had resigned and he quickly fled to Saudi Arabia. The Arab spring had been born. Within a month Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s long-serving strongman had suffered the same fate. Millions of people leaped up the ladder to democracy. What I think captivated the West so much was the sheer power of people. We hadn’t seen popular anger erupt like that since the end of the Soviet Union in 1989, long before I was born. We were fascinated by so much change.

As Winter turned to Spring, Japan was hit by an immense earthquake and tsunami – the strongest on record. Supply lines were destroyed and thousands of homes were destroyed when whole villages were washed away. As if that was not enough, it was not long before a new disaster unfolded. The tsunami had critically damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which soon began to leak radiation. Fears of meltdown and comparisons to Chernobyl resonated. Thousands more people were evacuated and, as other nuclear power-plants were shut-down due to public pressure, northern Japan started to suffer power cuts. Obviously, the disaster was awful for those whose lives were destroyed, but the real tragedy for the wider world might be the political shift away from nuclear power. This is sad, considering well-managed nuclear power production is one of the cleanest and greenest forms of energy. It’s bad name – which it had nearly lost – has now been reinforced by natural disaster and political failure.

In the same month, NATO launched its mission to protect civilians in Libya by creating a no-fly zone. Many warned that the problem was similar to that of Iraq in 2003 and that intervention would lead to the same disasterous consequences, which caused America to take a back-seat. Operations continued throughout the Summer, with NATO strikers disabling Colonel Gaddafi’s military capabilities in a bid to help the rebel fighters. Libya sunk into a deadly civil war.

April was gobbled up by the royal wedding – which rendered BBC News unbearable. Along side such important news the battles in Libya rumbled on. It seemed that the advantage switched sides almost daily – but the deathtoll mounted swiftly and steadily. As anger mounted against Gaddafi, Syria’s President Bashar Assad also saw increasing dissent on his streets. The military were sent in to cities, and have been engaged in running battles with peaceful protesters ever since.

May saw the Liberal Democrats destroyed by a referendum on the Alternative Vote, which also exposed the worst of British political campaigning. It also saw the arrest, after 15 years on the run, of Ratko Mladic – the Bosnian Serb general who was responsible for the Srebrenicia Massacre of 1990 in which 8,000 died. He went to trial in the Hague, raising the possibility of some justice finally being served. Then there was the big one – the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks of 2001. He was killed by US marines in a raid on his compound in a military town in Pakistan. The location of the West’s most wanted man raised some eyebrows and the once forced-cosiness of American-Pakistani relations has completely disappeared, with the US doubting the loyalty of its key ally in the so-called War on Terror. News of the death spread a somewhatd disturbing joy in America and scenes of people partying at Ground Zero raised fears of revenge attacks. Even if the press and politicians mismanaged the event, Osama bin Laden is unlikely to be missed.

The Summer was dominated by a few major stories. Fighting in Libya and Syria continued, as NATO dropped more bombs and Gaddafi looked weaker and weaker. The quick and relatively peaceful ends of Tunisia and Egypt’s regimes seemed from a different age. Closer to home, the phone hacking scandal put an end to Britain’s most-read rag, The News of the World, whose reporters had hacked the voicemail messages of – well – everyone, but things really came to a head when it emerged that they had access the messages of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager. Public outrage gave the paper’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, no choice but to close the paper. It also lead to a review of the relationship between media moguls and politicians, the police’s relationship with journalists, and the standards of the press industry as a whole. The Leviston Inquiry into all this is ongoing. The media will never be the same again.

July and August were stressful months for Northern Europe, which was having a bad time of it anyway (see below). In July a far-right extremist, Anders Behring Brievik, set off a bomb in Oslo, the capital of Norway, before going on the rampage at a youth camp for young members of the Norwegian Labour Party. He killed 77 people. Amongst the horror, grief and anger, another emotion was present – surprise. The ‘War on Terror’ lead by America and Europe has concentrated so much on Islamic jihad that people could not believe that a European country had been attacked by a Christian native. It later emerged that Brievik had been protesting against the adoption of a multicultural society in Norway, and particularly the tolerance of Islam. This shocked the country, which prides itself on its acceptance and peacefulness. August saw violence erupt again, this time when several English cities witnessed mass riots and looting, reminding on lookers of the 1980s. The riots started as a protest in Tottenham, London against the police shooting of Mark Duggan in mysterious circumstances. Anger broke out into violence and the looting started. The police reacted poorly, and with a sense of hopelessness. It seems that people took this as an allowance to break the law, and over the next few days riots erupted all over London, as well as Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Although community leaders continued to blame the shooting, most of the rioters were just out to get free stuff and enjoy breaking the law. The Labour Party took the opportunity to do some cuts-bashing – blaming the lack of youth centres and job opportunities. The Tories responded by putting their tough-on-crime hats on, and got down to the business of putting people in prison. The political fall out was almost entertaining, but the violence was not. For four days the authorities had no control of the streets, and communities suffered arson and looting that destroyed homes and businesses. Whatever your political views, no one can disagree that these were sorry days for England.

Over the latter half of the year we were repeatedly shown the uselessness of the European Union as well as the incredible and unnerving power of the financial markets. European leaders repeatedly failed to reach an agreement to sort out the continent’s sovereign debt problems and save the Euro, but did manage to prevent complete collapse. Summit after summit ended in bitter political wrangling. Eventually the EU managed to force out the Greek Prime Minister, whose country’s debt was threatening to bring down the Euro. Many worried that the Union was showing too much control over the domestic politics of its member states, but the markets calmed. Not long after, the crisis claimed the premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s maverick Prime Minister. The failings of the Euro had a silver lining after all. Both countries now have technocratic governments which are working to reduce their deficits. Although this state of affairs is democratically questionable, the markets seem a little happier. A deal to write-down some of Greece’s debt has also been reached, finally. However, the Euro is not safe. Talk of increasing fiscal unity and even a ‘two-speed’ Europe is both pleasing to the markets and terrifying to politicians. The Euro will (probably) survive 2012, but whether it is recognisable in a year’s time is anybody’s guess.

In Autumn the Arab spring was renewed. After the fall of Tripoli (Libya’s capital) into rebel control in August, the country was nearly free. However, Gadaffi loyalists continued to put up a bloody fight, especially from his stronghold of Bani Walid and his hometown of Sirte. It became clear that, to get anything resembling peace, Gadaffi had to be caught. Questions bounced around the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli: would he be found? would he be tried in Libya or at the Hague? was he even in the country. It was widely known that members of his family had fled into neighbouring Nigera, but no one knew if he had been among  them. However, in late October these questions proved futile. Sirte and Bani Walid fell, and Gadaffi was found by rebels hidng in a gutter in his hometown. He was killed in the chaos of his arrest (according to the rebels, although supporters say he was shot on purpose). The political arm of the rebel movement, the National Transitional Council (NTC) now had full control of the country. There is now a long road ahead – first to reconciliation and then to democracy. This may be harder for Libya than for other Arab countries, as it is deeply divided along tribal lines and because the civil war has brought a lot of guns onto the streets. However, the dictator is dead, and that is no bad thing. In Syria, on the other hand, things are still very grim. The army is still fighting with defiant protesters and the Assad regime is showing no intention of relaxing its grip. Thousands have been killed, with tens of thousands more arrested. As international sanctions begin to bite and the violence gets ever worse, it looks as if Syria is heading towards civil war. Because it is such a big regional power, such a conflict will have untold consequences. However, the Arab spring has also seen some successes recently. Tunisia held its first elections in four decades, which were said to be free and fair by international observers. The event passed without violence and all parties accepted the results. They will now begin to draft a constitution. The West will take heart that although an Islamic party secured the most votes, it is of a mild nature and did not win a majority. It has pledged to work with secular parties. Democracy in the Middle East does work.

2011 also saw the end of both American and Brittish military action in Iraq, nine years after the bombing of Baghdad and the end of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Since then, Iraq has been battered by sectarian violence, which the coalition troops have failed to stop. However, Iraq is now more stable than it has been since the invasion, so in some ways the mission has been a success. With the end of Labour governance in the UK, questions about the ethics of the Iraq war have become muted. One thing is clear, however, the Iraqis – for all the problems they face – are glad to see the end of foreign occupation. Politics in Iraq is still fractious. As the last US troops crossed the border into Kuwait, the main Shia faction pulled out of Parliament, leaving millions of Iraqis unrepresented and destabilising the government. A few days later, the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant on charges of terrorism for the Vice President, Tariq al-Hushemi, after he declared that bomb attacks on Baghdad were so organised that they must have been carried out by the government. Mr al-Maliki is a Shia, Mr Hushemi is a Sunni.

Many, many other events have shaped 2011 – from the start of the Republican nomination race in America, to the creation of South Sudan, to the threatening of Putin’s power in Russia, and finally the death of Kim Jong-il. These events will be changing the world for a long time – stay tuned for my predictions for 2012. Happy New Year.

The dictator is dead

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is dead – killed by one of the Lydian rebels after his hometown of Sirte fell, officially freeing the country after his 42 year dictatorship. The moment, although important, was largely symbolic, as the rebel forces have been in control since they took Tripoli – the capital – in late August. It only remained for them to oust Gaddafi’s forces from his two remaining strongholds Bani Walid and Sirte, both of which are now in rebel hands. The fight is up.

Or is it? Militarily yes, but Libya has a long way to go. Having been under a dictatorship for more than 4 decades the country has no civil infrastructure – no independent
judiciary, no political parties and no electoral system. That means that all of these things have to somehow spring into existence before an election can be held. And that won’t be easy.

The people responsible for all this are the members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), a body of assorted technocrats and politicians that represents the political wing of the rebels. The NTC’s Prime Minister, Mahmoud Jibril, has pledged elections within 8 months of the killing or capture of Gaddafi. We will see if this happens – but it is unlikely given the amount of organisation that will be needed. It is also questionable whether, having fought so hard for power, the NTC will want to give it up.

Having said all that, there is reason to be optimistic. Libya is on the right track. The NTC are making all the right noises at least, and with Gaddafi out of the picture it is hoped that his supporters will give up and go home. If elections do happen, however slowly, Libya will finally be a democracy.

Even elections pose threats, however. Libya is a deeply divided country, both along ethnic and tribal lines. How this would translate into a stable and representative government is hard to envisage. The other problem is the popularity of Islamists. An Islamist or Islamic party is likely to play an important part in the new government. That would potentially endanger the hard-won freedoms of Libyans, especially women, and sour relationships with the West. And yet there is hope. People have died for freedom, their relatives are unlikely to give it up now.

This is a brief article, written from the poolside of a hotel and for my school’s newspaper. Proper blogging will resume shortly, Luc

Hello all

Just a quick catch up. I don’t know about you, but I’m not finding the news too inspiring at the moment. The goings-on at the Ministry of Defence which have put Dr Liam Fox in the metaphorical dock are at once laughable, bad, and not at all shocking. Overseas, the battle for Sirte (Col Gaddafi’s hometown in Libya) is very important and the fall of the city would officially end his regime, but from a journalistic view it is not much different from August’s battle for Tripoli. Later this year, it will be interesting to see whether democracy is finally achieved, or whether chaos and despotism reign again. But for now, I feel inclined to wait out the grisly last days of fighting.

I also find myself in the disconcerting position of having not read or seen the news for a couple of days. Thankfully my politics lessons are keeping me somewhat connected to current affairs, although we only discuss domestic issues, so I’m feeling a bit bereft of my main interests.

On the happier side of life, I have just been named co-Editor of the current affairs section of my school’s newspaper, The Marble. This is very exciting and will hopefully provide me with some tangible experience. I am looking forward to getting stuck in.

To make up for the brevity of this piece, here is a story.

Through the window

One of the things I love about being retired is that I can finally put some order into my life. Now that I am not rushing up and down my busy ward I have the energy to do some much needed spring cleaning. I decided to start with the most daunting task this morning – clearing out the attic, where it seems all the detritus of life has been building up for the last twenty-three years. I can not put into words how surprised I have been by the things I have found, least of all the small pocket book that fell out of a pile of work papers that I was just about to throw away. On the front, etched somewhat erratically into the fake black leather, is the name Edith Manning. I had no idea who Edith Manning was, nor how she made her way into my life. So, with curiosity and boredom making themselves felt, I sat down on a box and began to read in the gloom. I shivered slightly – suddenly I was cold.
***
I woke up early this morning because the chinks of light coming through the metal shutters were so bright. I sat up quickly and stared at the wall in front of me. It was so white. Too perfect. It made me itch to see the unblemished smoothness. It revolted me.
I blinked. I wondered how a window had opened itself. Maybe it hadn’t. But now I could hear the babble of a child. My child. Now I could see her, playing outside, with her hazelnut bunches dancing as she ran on the baked grass. All of a sudden she began to scream a scream that I could feel strip off my skin so that I was bare, naked. She continued to run, but now it was a deliberate run, not wandering, but straight lined. She was running away. I strained my neck to see what had scared her but nothing was there.
I blinked and now she was older – eight or so. Her face, although delicate, was bruised and swollen on one side. She looked ugly. Her top lip was split in the corner where dried blood made a lump. She flinched and I heard the sound of flesh being slapped. Harsh. Her white cheek turned instantly crimson, I could imagine blood rising under her skin. I had no idea how that had happened – nothing had touched her.
I blinked again and the window had gone. I was staring at that heinous white wall again. An unnoticed door opened and a woman appeared. She was wearing very odd clothes – a white pinafore over a white shirt and blue skirt. I shuddered from the crisp order of her outfit and the meticulous arrangement of her black hair, which was done up in a tense bun. I looked for the window again, but still it was not there. The woman was approaching me very slowly. She looked a little worried, haunted even. She had something in her palm, which she eventually handed me and instructed me to swallow. I inspected the small, white, white, legless insect in my hand. Not to be trusted. I had a feeling she would force me to take it, whatever it was, so I pretended to place it on my tongue. I gulped loudly. She relaxed, instantly, and bustled off out the door. I unclenched my fist and stared at the satanic thing for hours.
***
The dim light bulb above my head blew with a sharp click and I jumped, startled by the darkness. The outlines of my surrounding blurred but I continued to stare at the diary in my hands. Now I understood why it was that Edith never improved. I shook my head; I should have made sure she had taken her pills. Even now I could see her in that up-right chair staring at the wall. She used to pick at her hands and make them bleed. I could not say how many times I had pleaded with her to stop. She never ate, I remembered that too – how thin and emaciated she had been. If she had carried on like that, she must have passed away years ago. I suddenly felt that I should have stayed at the mental health facility. I did not believe that I could have saved her though. I was not that naive. Some people do not want to be saved.

Words

Hello readers, thanks for your patience. The recent horrendous lack of blogging has one fat culprit – ASs. I have just started sixth form, and am taking some pretty time-eating subjects: history, English, politics and economics. I am enjoying it, I guess, but I have been pretty snowed under.

Anyway, let’s catch up. I was sad that I could not do a detailed piece on 9/11 ten years on, but the subject has been quite exhausted by the mainstream media. However I must say one thing. During our assembly on the subject I was suddenly shocked by one realisation: the people in the year bellow mine at school have no recollection of the actual events. The rolling television pictures from that day will forever be engraved on my then six-year-old brain, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to be witnessing the fall-out of the attacks while unable to remember them. And the fall-out has been dramatic, comprising of two wars and an upsurge in religious hostility.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya is slowly moving its operations from Benghazi to Tripoli, as the last of Gaddafi’s forces are being rooted out. Supposedly, it is planning to call elections by the end of the month, but I see that as highly unlikely. However, the intention is a good one – and as long as progress is being made there is reason for optimism.

As I still have some reading to do for English I had better go. Please bare with me.

Is Libya free?

On the face of it the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Dig a little deeper, though, and the conviction behind the answer wanes a bit. So let’s evaluate.

Yes, Col Gadaffi no longer holds power. Therefore, Libya is free from the tyrant who ruled it by fear for the past four decades. He is no where to be found but his spokesmen still say that he is in Tripoli, while a few members of his family have escaped to neighbouring Algeria. More likely he too has fled, or returned to Sirte – his hometown – where his loyalist troops are expected to regroup and make a last stand. The rebels and the NTC (their government) have issued an ultimatum to the fighters in Sirte: give up, or face an all-out assault. With Tripoli firmly in rebel hands, it is almost impossible for Gadaffi to come back, but people are still scared. That fear will not abait until he is either captured or killed. Again, Libyans are controlled by fear.

So if Gadaffi can not come back, why is there so little international celebration? The world, and many Libyans, are daunted by the problems that could now arise – primarily, what to do with Gadaffi loyalists. Even without their leader, Gadaffi’s army pose a huge threat. For many years they will remain the best trained and best armed men in the country. Naturally, they will do all they can to derail the NTC and any following government in a bid to reinstate Gadaffi or various members of the old regime. They may disrupt elections, or attack ordinary civilians. In short they are dangerous people. And yet there is very little than can be done with them. An Iraqi-style devolution of the army would no doubt lead to the same sort of insurgency as in Iraq, further destabilising the country. It is better to keep the army in its official role, but the NTC will have a lot of reconciliation to do. Libyans, meanwhile, may feel that they have been let down by the keeping of Gadaffi loyalists in positions of power.

Another forceful blow to freedom has not been given much press time. The NTC is not an elected body. It is the self-proclaimed political leadership of the rebel forces. Not one vote helped it into power. This is a big deal. If Libyans did not elect the NTC, how are they ever going to remove it from power? And having fought so hard to gain office, why would the new politicians willingly leave? Luckily the Council is so far making all the right noises (some may say to secure the release of frozen assets). They have promised free and fair elections within eight months of Col Gadaffi’s capture. This is undoubtedly a good sign, but seeing as no one knows where Gadaffi is the Council could conceivably be in power for years before an election is held.

And even if elections do happen in a timely manner, what is to stop someone else from seizing autocratic power? The electoral system would be so new that the opportunities for abuse would be manifold. Of course, the UN will monitor goings on, but what can they do to ensure fairness? Not a lot. Also, it is highly likely that an Islamic or Islamist party will take a majority of seats in a new parliament, leaving many moderate Libyans feeling at best distanced from politics – at worse persecuted over their religion.

For Libya to be free four things need to happen: the capture or killing of Gadaffi, free elections (including freedom to run for office and a comprehensive electoral role), effective maintenance and control of the army, and the preservation of secularism. Not a hard task, then.

A new country

Over night Libya’s rebel army made the much-anticipated advance on Tripoli and we awoke to an almost-finished battle for the city. The rebels used a two-pronged approach, coming both from Ziltan to the West and Zawiya to the East, forcing Gaddafi’s forces to fight on two fronts. As of this morning the rebels were claiming to hold 80-90% of Tripoli, although the BBC was struggling to verify these figures. The rebels’ political wing, the National Transitional Council (NTC) – now recognised by most countries as the legitimate government of Libya – says that there are only ‘pockets of resistance’ left in the capital, although gunfire and heavy weaponry can still be heard throughout the city.

Everyone is now almost, if not completely, certain that Gaddafi is going to go in the next few days. Last night his most influential sons Saif al-Islam and Mohammed were captured and are now being held. This leaves their father even more isolated. And as I write there is a gun battle outside Gaddafi’s main compound in Tripoli – where it is conceivable he could be. The rebels say that they plan to secure Tripoli by Wednesday and are confident that once this happens the regime will fall.

So Gaddafi’s effectively gone and his forty-two years of dictatorship are over. This is surely a reason to celebrate. But more difficulties lie ahead. Libyan society is very tribal and divided. These divisions have been held together by Col Gaddafi’s iron grip, but in the manic days ahead they may once again rear their heads and fighting may break out. As well as this, troops once loyal to the regime may continue to oppose the NTC, even when they have no-one left to protect. And even if fighting does come to a swift end it will be extremely hard to bring democracy to a country that has not experienced it for four decades. The NTC has been fighting for control for five months now and it would not be surprising if it was reluctant to give it up. This means that the move towards free and fair elections will be slow and painful, even if everyone acts nicely.

There are two big problems facing Libya’s immediate future – NATO and Islamic extremism. The former seems to be sticking around while the rebels call for it to leave, which is slightly awkward as they are on the same side. NATO seems intent on claiming some of the glory, although in recent history many of its heads of state have been very pally with Gaddafi. By sticking around, unwanted, they it is doing more harm than good to its reputation. Journalists in the UK have been quick to remind politicians and the public of the lessons of Iraq. I think this is a bit of an over the top comparison. NATO did not invade Libya, it prevented the massacre of innocent civilians and helped topple an undemocratic and ruthless regime. It did not deploy troops. Crucially, it was invited in. Nevertheless, it should not surpass its mandate of protecting civilians. It also should not try to demilitarise Libya, or impose any of its other ideas about government as it did in Iraq. If it leaves Libya a few days after Gaddafi it wíll have done a good job.

One of the jobs the NTC will have to do in the coming weeks is decide who should be allowed to run in elections, whenever and however they take place. There are two groups who may be causes for concern – ex-Gaddafi supporters and religious fundamentalists. It is unclear what the NTC will decide or how the public views the two groups and integrating them into the new society of Libya will be very difficult. But legally excluding either will only lead to more political strife, especially after Gaddafi’s repressive rule. Safeguards must also be put in place to prevent another breakdown of the constitution and ensure that no one person takes complete command.

It is clear that Libya is at a turning point – and one from which there will be no return. If the next few days and weeks go smoothly it is reasonable to hope that Libya can reach a state of peaceful and functional democracy. Keep your fingers crossed.

On the home stretch

Just before I went to bed last night, the BBC News cast were examining the front pages of today’s papers and wondering if the newspapers would be left red-faced when Tripoli fell over night and their headlines were out of date before the last copy was off the press. It was indeed a possibility. It was, however, not to be so.


Libya fighting map

 

This is not a bad thing. In fact, the rebels opposing Col Gaddafi have made huge advancements in the past few days. On Friday they finally captured the much fought-over coastal towns of Ziltan and Zawiya and quickly pushed out Gaddafi’s forces. This was highly significant, as these two towns give the rebels control of the coastal road which links the rebel strong holds of the East and Misrata in the West to Tripoli, the capital and Col Gaddafi’s seat of power. The loss of the road also means that Gadaffi’s supply lines have been cut and puts even more pressure on him to go.

Another big breakthrough came from inside Tripoli. The city had so far lain dormant but on Saturday night violence errupted on the streets. There were reports that gunfire was exchanged before Gaddafi’s forces quashed the rebelious citizens. However, the fact remains that Col Gaddafi now faces resistance in his own back garden and he is surely getting anxious. With the taking of Ziltan and Zawiya, it can not be long before the main rebel army arrive in Tripoli.
This in turn means that Gaddafi’s days are numbered, much more than they have ever been. The final possibility of his survival as Libya’s leader has been snuffed out and, much like his counterpart in Syria – President Bashar al-Assad – he has crossed a line of no return. So the question now shifts. We are no longer asking if Gaddafi will go, but when. It seems the answer is soon. His own regime is weakening by the day, with continued defections and a lack of supplies. And if the rebel forces capture Tripoli, the game will surely be up. So then the next question arises. What comes after Gaddafi? Post your theories as comments.