I just heard BBC Channel 4 International Editor Lindsey Hilsum speak at Foyle’s Bookshop in London on her new book, Sandstorm. After a few days off from the Middle East and North Africa, it drew me back in. It is refreshing to hear the changes in the Arab world be discussed for an hour with no mention of Israel/Palestine. (Not that I don’t think Palestine and Israel are quite important, simply that there are other lenses through which to view events in the region.)
While most of Sandstorm is about the horrors of the Qaddafi regime and the heroism of some the longer-term resistors, Hilsum did speak a little about the future of Libya. Since I am currently reading Why Nations Fail, and especially its section on why revolutionary movements often slip back into dictatorship, I was especially curious about her thoughts on whether Libya can resist such a failure. Encouragingly, she does not believe that a decline back into a nondemocratic regime is inevitable.
Some of the biggest barriers Hilsum points out are tribal divisions, Islamists as the most organized group, and most importantly a lack of a political culture of negotiation and democratic rule. I note that yesterday two warring towns in Western Libya swore to keep fighting. That said, she cited as strengths the small size of the population, the high level of education, and the oil wealth (though I might note the resource curse makes the last a mixed blessing at best). She argued that while Islamism will do well initially, she does feel that currently Libyans are “allergic” to strong men. She hopes that the Libyans will remain focused on the benefits of democracy for supplying the basic goods a society needs.