Libya: The Arab Spring may yet turn to chilly winter
The extra-judicial execution of Colonel Gaddafi has been greeted with international elation, and understandably so. There was very little to be said in favour of that gnarled torturer and war criminal. Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron, who masterminded the campaign against him, have some excuse to take the view that with the killing of Gaddafi, and today’s elections in Tunisia, the Arab Spring appears to be entering a hopeful stage.
But in truth, they have more reason to be fearful. Last week, I accompanied the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, on a tour of North Africa. The mood in Libya was understandably buoyant – yet it was another destination on our itinerary that provided a hideous warning about what might happen next.
This coming December marks the 20th anniversary of the Algerian Spring, when free elections seemed to bring an end to a long period of ugly dictatorship. Yet those elections did not lead to the liberal democratic nirvana envisaged by Cameron and Sarkozy today. On the contrary, they were followed by a decade of hideously barbaric civil war, in which more than 160,000 Algerians died and the most unspeakable atrocities were perpetrated by all sides in the conflict.
Even today, Algeria has not recovered. As a society, it is suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome. The streets are empty at night – a legacy of the curfew imposed during the civil war years – the country is a police state and al-Qaeda has established its North African headquarters in the ungovernable south.
As the Arab Spring embarks on its next stage, it is essential to ask: what went wrong in Algeria? This question is all the more urgent because the similarities between what happened then and what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya today are alarmingly close….