Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Human Nature Abhors A Power Vacuum

Caption: An air pressure gauge reading negative pressure. Let's hope that's not where Libya's governmental authority is at the moment.

Image credit: Stuart Yeates

Much as nature abhors a vacuum, meaning that when there's an absence of matter there's nearly always something to fill it, human societies abhor a power vacuum. In the case of filling a vacuum, the side effect is wind (or some form of fluid flow) and upheaval. There is similar upheaval when power vacuums are finally filled.

That's the lesson ahead for Libya starting this week, it appears, according to the New York Times:
TRIPOLI, Libya — Fighters from the western mountain city of Zintan control the airport. The fighters from Misurata guard the central bank, the port and the prime minister’s office, where their graffiti has relabeled the historic plaza “Misurata Square.” Berbers from the mountain town Yafran took charge of the city’s central square, where they spray-painted “Yafran Revolutionaries."

A week after rebels broke into Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s former stronghold, much of its territory remains divided into fiefs, each controlled by quasi-independent brigades representing different geographic areas of the country. And the spray paint they use to mark their territory tells the story of a looming leadership crisis in the capital, Tripoli.

Reading the rest of that NYT report provides more examples of dissension and disagreement that were put on hold while the job of removing Muammar el-Qaddafi from power. Now, I suspect we'll be finding out if there are any statesmen left in Libya, and how much power they can wield.

For the last four decades, power in Libya was arranged around Muammar el-Qaddafi, his family, and his supporters. Now, those are all gone, and people there have to figure out how they will govern themselves.

That's never an easy task. At the beginning of the United States, we at least had states and cities with viable governments in place. There was no central government, and it would take four years before the states even considered the necessity of one, but things were at least somewhat settled when it came to who was running the government and what the government would do for its citizens.

In Libya, they don't appear to have even that much head start. In many ways, it's like Iraq after we invaded. With Saddam gone, and most people who could have been his rivals, and thus alternative leaders, either dead or exiled, there was little to replace him. The council of revolutionaries has been in place in Libya for a few months, but beyond the need to get rid of the Qaddafis and make sure there is some form of orderly transition, they don't appear to agree on very much.

At least, that's my view from across the ocean, with only Al Jazeera and the BBC to provide much in the way of useful information. I wish them the best, but I suspect it won't be fun to be there for a while to come.

No comments: