Learning From A Revolution

Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come round again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.” ― Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Here it is; the five year mark. You remember, don’t you? Standing in front of the courthouse, our faces flushed from the rally and the excitement, telling any journalist who asked us about our prediction for the new Libya, “Just come and see what it’ll look like in five years!”

We gushed about our “new country”, our arrogant enthusiasm justified by the innocent hope and happiness that underlined it, as though we already visited the future and knew with confidence what would happen. Hard to believe it’s only been five years. It feels like fifty.

Must be a record,”Fastest Destruction of a State”. Most effortless, too. We were so busy being tricked with all the parades and fireworks – the superficial festoons of freedom – that we didn’t notice the men behind the curtain, who came out and took apart the puppet show that we thought was real.

Five years later, we are shocked, ashamed, horrified. Those journalists we spoke to five years ago can’t even enter the country anymore to see the results of the revolution. We’ve lost everything in what one can argue is an ironic twist of karma, what we did to the pro-Gadhafi side is now being done to us by creatures more terrifying than they (or we, for that matter) ever were.

I always tell myself that I’m not going to write an anniversary post, after the third year when I slowly, painfully realized that it had become a sham, that the revolution and the achievements and the country weren’t really ours anymore. But that fateful day comes round, and I find myself reminiscing at how so much could change in such a short span of time.

The February 17 revolution, whether I like it or not, will always be a core event for me. It has left me with beautiful memories and a wretched life. It made me hopeful, it helped me discover my value as a person and unearthed new traits I didn’t know I had, it opened my eyes to a new outlook on life, and it turned me into a monster.

It never ceases to amaze me how an otherwise normal person, a member of society and a generally decent individual, can so easily be made to support massive amounts of violence, bloodshed and destruction. In any other setting, they would be horrified. But manipulated by ideology, influenced by the poisonous effect of mob mentality, they turn into something not at once evil, but at once repulsive, hideous.

This is what happened to me in 2011. I’m not trying to justifying my behaviour and beliefs during that time, by saying I became blinded by revolutionary fervor and lost myself in the din of possibilities, because there was a small voice, in the back of my head, who hesitantly pointed out the problems that were also appearing. I ignored that voice, allowed it to become lost among the screams of “Libya is free, Libya is free!” all around me. That’s on me.

Sadly, many Libyans have not learned from the mistakes of 2011. Instead, they have transplanted their obsequious cheerleading onto other, more fragmented causes. Those too, will fail them, and there will be an existential scrabble to find, or create, new belief systems, and on and on until there will be nothing left to believe in. One could look upon our situation and conclude that revolutions forge hope while war creates misery, but we couldn’t have had one without the other

The revolution was not built on mendacious or malicious reasons. We were fed up, people were oppressed and unjustly treated, the status quo needed to change. It was not for a love of chaos that we marched against the regime. But the moment the first black flag unfurled on the battle field, the moment the first family was forced out of their home for what they believed, we should have stopped. Taken a step back. Reassessed where the revolution was going. But we didn’t, pushed on by our own momentum, unable to assess anything, unable to feel anything but our own vague thirst of freedom.

We did stop, eventually, too late, suddenly realizing the setting we were in. Mouths agape, we ask in horrified voices, what happened? How could it all have fallen apart like this? Like those from whom the veil of madness is abruptly lifted, we gaze in awe at the very destruction we supported.

We sit now in our broken country, angry at ourselves, at each other, at anyone who comes near, disillusioned, hopeless, wishing we could turn back the clock five years earlier.

If I could go back in time to my young, foolish, naive 20 year old self, I would shake myself by the shoulders and shout, “Stop! Don’t do it! Thousands will sacrifice themselves for nothing! You will lose everything you hold dear! It’s not worth it!” But hindsight, they say, is 20/20. My younger, foolish, naive self will probably look at me, laugh, and say, “What are you talking about? Just come and see what it’ll look like in five years!”

When people ask me about the February 17 revolution, I don’t hesitate anymore in admitting that I regret being part of it, part of the movement it became that is still ongoing to this day. I think the turning point for me, the moment of revelation of “Oh crap, what have we done,” came sometime in 2013, when I realized that things weren’t going to end well in Benghazi. No one is denying that February 17 began with noble intentions, but it’s very difficult to extract what the revolution used to be from the movement we see today. Even without the numerous foreign elements that invaded the country, a lot of injustices were committed in the name of February 17 by Libyans themselves.  

What I’ll say is, I don’t regret protesting against Gadhafi, because while life under his rule was better, it was still horrible. He needed to know that we were fed up, that we wanted our country back and that we wanted to achieve our potential at citizens. I believe our mistake was in demanding a complete upheaval of the regime, because we had literally nothing to replace it with, and no experience or background in nation-building. No amount of revolutionary zeal and good intentions can run a country, and that was our fatal flaw. The ultimate goal was to improve Libya, and I believe that we could have, and should have, done it a much different way, one that didn’t involve creating sides and that didn’t lead to the large losses we see today.



11 thoughts on “Learning From A Revolution

  1. Pingback: From the Potomac to the Euphrates » Weekend Reading: Libya Five Years On, Iran and the Shia, and Contextualizing Heikal

  2. The American revolutionaries had no experience in nation-building either, yet a functional country managed to emerge from the aftermath. It’s oversimplistic to say “all revolutions are bad”- you just have to be prepared to rebuild the system organized around new principles. Here is the fundamental question- did you really know what you were fighting for? Were you prepared to build a new system around fundamentally different principles than what you were used to when it was all over? (Democratic ones, for instance?)

    • You make a good point, and I wasn’t trying to imply that all revolutions were bad. And yes, we did try to build a new system around democratic principles, and we held successful elections. But the political ignorance of the people and the destructive personal interests of the politicians created a situation that has made us worse off than we were under the dictatorship.

      • That’s the problem- democracy doesn’t work unless it’s filled with careful checks and balances to keep in check the destructive personal interests of politicians. The American system is currently slowly falling apart *precisely* because its checks and balances are gradually being eroded away or people are increasingly finding ways around them (our Founding Fathers never intended a political minority to be able to hold the entire country hostage by threatening to filibuster the budget, for instance- in fact the filibuster itself was one of those early loopholes in the system politicians found that the Founding Fathers almost certainly didn’t intend when drafting the Constitution…) The Founding Fathers of America were exceptionally educated for their time, and worked off of assuming the worst of people at all times when drafting the Constitution (thus filling it with checks and balances to keep politicians’ inherently selfish natures in check…) It doesn’t sound like Libya instituted enough checks and balances- even copying all those currently found in America wouldn’t be enough, as people have found ways around many of them in the past 200+ years… It would have been necessary to invent new, creative checks and balances to create a functioning system in Libya…

  3. Revolution: people die and nothing changes…..a pragmatic line. Thanks God our country Pakistan has been spared the revolution that have rocked the Arab world. When would Arab world learn to take a united stand on issues of politics.

  4. Well said, I admire your understanding of this situation. You seem like a person who analyzes herself and situations, that’s a beautiful characteristic. It makes me very sad to know that people are so easily manipulated into committing atrocity’s when they are told it’s serves a greater purpose. After World War 2 so many people said “never again,” and yet crimes against humanity are still being committed. Wanting to change something for the better is fantastic, but sadly people can get carried away and turn from victims into perpetrators.

  5. The only information I have about the almost total destruction of the rather prosperous nation of Libya indicated that the fundamental motivation behind the assassination of Gadhafi and the destruction of the central government was the plan of Gadhafi to sell the country’s oil for currency other than US petrodollars and free Africa from the economical destruction of the IMF. Under Gadhafi the country was one of the wealthiest in Africa and a huge proportion of the income was devoted to the benefit of the general population in distinction to other countries where the international oil corporations gained most of the wealth of the oil resource and the general population was cheated of the wealth. Admittedly Gadhafi was a harsh dictator as was Saddam Hussein and I in no way am attempting to justify their regimes on that basis but Hussein and also the Syrian regime also attempted to market their oil outside the US petrodollar regime and it seems very possible this was a major factor in their problems with the west.
    If I am incorrect in my understanding I would be happy to be properly informed by someone much better informed than myself on the problem.

    • That’s one of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories I’ve yet heard. America was not behind the assassination of Gadhafi in any way, and claiming it was is just an attempt to try and find a scapegoat. Nor was it behind the problems in Syria. Quite simply, these nations were ruled by brutal dictators, and the people were fed up with it… And although I don’t know much of the specifics of how the oil profits were allocated in Libya or Syria, brutal dictators tend *not* to share the wealth with the general populace to any significant degree. Rather, they hoard all the wealth they can for themselves and their chosen elites, and bleed the rest of their country dry if they can get away with it… Saddam Hussein did, as a fact, do precisely this in Iraq for instance- a very select elite of his political loyalists lived very well, whereas much of the rest of the population was brutally oppressed and saw very little of the profits…

  6. I totally dis-agree with your sentiments northstar1989! What do you mean America wasn’t behind Gadhafi assassination? American operatives not only helped fund the revolution, but supplied the weapons which were used by the rebel forces to oust Gadhafi. In fact most of the ammunition and equipment has been shown to be American. Also training was provided by American operatives! All this info is public knowledge and there are even some videos of American military personnel in Libya during the revolution. The Libyan people’s revolution was hijacked in the process to serve corporate interests! What started as a movement by the people to free themsleves from an oppressive regime ended up being used as an avenue to destroy and invade Libya.

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