The Winter of the (Arab) Spring

As spring finally arrives, I remember another season a few years ago when there was a blossoming not of daffodils but of revolution, and what seemed to be melting was not the snow but a region’s tyranny. In our self-absorbed “me-generation,” the Arab Spring stands out. It got people to read the news instead of reading their newsfeeds.

As we know, this hope (and interest) soon faded. We realized that Twitter wouldn’t save the world, so we gave up and went back to retweeting Kim Kardashian. Perhaps it is hard for us to care from across the ocean, when what happened seems so utterly predicable. This October, Libya will celebrate the third anniversary of its uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Unfortunately, there is little to celebrate.

Last Monday, the Libyan government began the trial of Colonel Gaddafi’s two sons, Saadi Gaddafi and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, as well as several senior members of the late regime, including former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi.

In some sense, this should be the last nail in the Gaddafi government’s coffin, and a major step towards a reformed Libya. Instead, the violence and corruption surrounding the trial show just how little Libya has advanced in the past three years. Amnesty International went as so far to declare the trial a “farce,” citing the concerning lack of any form of due process in the hearings leading up to this past week. These injustices seem egregious and all too predictable, but we must remember that democracy only remains strong if its citizens are committed to the ideals for which they nominally stand.


To bring the conflict closer to home, we should acknowledge America’s involvement and interests in the region. The U.S. has already shown support for the central Libyan government through the recent return of the Morning Glory oil tanker. The U.S. Navy intercepted the Morning Glory after it left a port owned by rebel militia groups. Although this act subverted the power of the armed rebels who had claimed the tank hostage, the U.S. should also be cognizant of the abuses perpetrated by the current Libyan government. It would do well for Americans to reflect upon the fact that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the current trial is the fact that neither of Gaddafi’s sons was present on the first day of the proceedings. While the investigation again Saadi Gaddafi is still ongoing—leaving the possibility for his later involvement still open—Saif al-Islam’s absence is more ominous. Militiamen in the northwestern city of Zintan have refused to hand over al-Islam to the central Libyan government, citing concern for a safe trial. Instead, al-Islam is expected to observe his trial via video-link.

The constitutional circumstances leading up to this decision are equally concerning. The day before the last hearing preceding the trial, the Libyan government added two amendments to its Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendments 241 and 243) to allow hearings via video link. Of course, Libya is free to amend its criminal codes as it sees fit. But while I’m all for national autonomy, the timing of these changes seems slightly suspicious—especially given the absence of a democratically elected parliament when the amendments were passed. To put the situation in context, the International Criminal Court allows video-trials in only exceptional circumstances, and usually only when requested by the accused. Presumably, they should not be used as an excuse for the fact that the central government is not strong or popular enough to summon the defendants.

In contrast to the weak government, local militias in Libya are worrisomely robust, a concrete indication of the lack of progress in the region. The same militias that have custody of al-Islam have also cut off supply to one of Libya’s main oil pipelines, putting the nation on the brink of economic disaster. Given that the oil supplied from Zintan is one of the country’s only revenue streams, there exists a rather obvious conflict of interest that has the potential to undermine the Gaddafi trial.

I can understand why the abuses at Libya’s so-called “trial of a century” are mostly going unnoticed. It’s easy to see this as a minor problem that affects solely the “bad guys” in our narratives of events. In fact, given that the current penal code was created under Colonel Gaddafi, it may even seem like ironic justice that it is Gaddafi’s sons and advisors who are now suffering from the lack of rights put in place by his regime. However, we should keep in mind the ideals that drove Libyan insurrections in the first place: Despite the violence of Gaddafi’s murder, there was some hope at the time that the coming years would bring a fresh start for Libya as the country moved forward from tyranny towards democracy.

There is no such thing as a just verdict that is unjustly rendered.

Tez M. Clark ’17 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Wigglesworth Hall.