Transitions

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, August 4, 2014

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Christian Caryl lists nine things to keep in mind when creating your own Islamic state.

Debbie Sharnak warns us not to give Uruguay a free pass on human rights.

Lorianne Updike Toler explains why many Libyans hope to reinstate an old constitution that establishes a monarchy and enshrines Islam as the state religion. Mohamed Eljarh worries that the United States' decision to evacuate its embassy in Tripoli signals dark times for Libya.

Juan Nagel investigates Venezuela's odd decision to evict residents of Caracas's infamous high-rise slum. Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez reports on how Venezuela managed to save a suspected drug lord from the clutches to the United States. 

Clare Lockhart and Johanna Mendelson Forman offer a recommendation to Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

Human Rights Watch enumerates human rights issues in African states in time for this week's Africa summit. Freedom House's Alyssa Rickard tracks a worrying increase in repression in Africa, as the continent's leaders rally behind even their most authoritarian colleagues.

In part of the Council on Foreign Relations' series on child marriage, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon finds that child marriage in fragile states stymies economic progress and contributes to regional instability.

Democracy Digest explains why the outcome of the presidential election in Indonesia amounts to a "second democratic transition."

Reporting for World Affairs, Oussama Romdhani reports on escalating terrorism in Tunisia after an attack on two army encampments resulted in the deaths of 15 soldiers.

In a working paper for FRIDE, Olesia Ogryzko and Kateryna Pishchikova advise the European Union on how it can best support democracy in Ukraine.

Writing for the Atlantic Council, Matthew Timmerman notes that the perpetual poverty that ignited the Arab Spring continues to fuel conflict.

In the Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan takes a look at ISIS's al-Khansaa Brigade, its all-female morality police. (In the photo above, Iraqi Shiite children whose families were displaced by ISIS play with toy guns on Eid al-Fitr.)

Writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Matthew Kupfer and Thomas de Waal track the politically problematic use of the term "genocide" by both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

Diplomats Abandon Libya as Conflict Worsens

On July 26, the United States suspended operations at its embassy in Libya's capital, Tripoli, and evacuated its diplomats and staff to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort. The evacuation was due to the ongoing clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones assured Libyans that despite the relocation to temporary offices in Malta, the embassy is still working nonstop to find a peaceful resolution to the current clashes. But Libyans don't see this as a good sign. Many feel the U.S. evacuation is a win for the extremists and militias that are inflicting extensive damage to Libya's infrastructure, and whose actions threaten to destroy the country's democratic processes altogether.

Ordinary people on the streets, who were supposed to be celebrating Eid al-Fitr, said the holidays were the worst they have ever experienced in Libya. The ongoing fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi and the U.S. evacuation dominated all conversations. Many seem to agree that the U.S. evacuation is a sign that mediation efforts have failed and that the situation is likely to get worse. After the United States left, many turned their hopes to Britain, which was leading the international community's efforts to mediate between the warring factions to find a way to stop hostilities. But over the weekend, Britain also evacuated nonessential staff to Tunisia, transported over a hundred British nationals to Malta, and temporarily closed its embassy. Even Michael Aron, the British ambassador to Libya, has "reluctantly" decided to leave, due to deteriorating security conditions. (The photo above shows a French embassy employee embracing a friend after being evacuated from Libya on Aug. 1.)

In the last two days, a coalition of extremist militias in Benghazi called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries overran an army base used by the Special Forces unit in Benghazi. One of the coalition's leaders, Mohamed al-Zahawi, promptly declared victory over Gen. Khalifa Haftar and his men, who have been fervently defending eastern Libya against Islamist militias. Zahawi apparently went on Ansar al-Sharia's local radio show, Tawhid, to declare Benghazi an "Islamic Emirate." They have, of course, declared this victory prematurely -- the war in Benghazi is far from over. Haftar was quick to deny Ansar al-Sharia's claims that they have gained full control of Libya's second city. "Claims that Ansar al-Sharia militants have full control of Benghazi are nothing but lies," he said during a TV interview. Indeed, his forces were quick to lead an air and ground offensive against Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi.

Many people I spoke to feel that the West abandoned Libya after the overthrow of Qaddafi, leaving the country in the hands of heavily armed militias. One Benghazi resident, a 24-year-old male who works for a warehouse for one of the city's leading supermarkets, which was bombed during the fighting, commented: "This is the worst I have seen Benghazi, even worse than the day Qaddafi's forces were on the outskirts of [the city] in 2011 at the start of the uprising."

Tripoli's residents seem to share this sentiment. Hundreds are being killed and many more injured, vital infrastructure is being destroyed, and the democratic process is under real threat, as the militias are attempting to prevent the newly elected House of Representatives from convening. Many are asking what Libya's friends in the West intend to do to help.

So far, the governments of the United States, Britain, and other European countries have insisted that the solution to Libya's problems is political. The West has issued countless statements on this mythical political solution in the last few weeks -- but that has not stopped the warring factions from indiscriminately shelling Tripoli International Airport, destroying the city's gas and fuel tanks, and endangering civilian populations with their indiscriminate shelling.

No dialogue to find a political solution can take place while these violent clashes continue. The sound of guns and bombings is louder than everything else. The only break happened when the militias paused to watch the U.S. Air Force's F-16s fly over Tripoli as they evacuated the embassy staff. One Tripoli resident jokingly remarked, "If only the F-16s were around a little longer, we could have had a better night's sleep." Many in Libya believe the United States and the West could be doing much more to quell the conflict. They could, for example, push for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would allow the use of targeted airstrikes against the armed factions. The U.S. embassy's evacuation is a worrying sign for Libya's democratic transition, but the United States can still work with its allies to push for meaningful intervention that would help put Libya's transition back on track.

Karim Mezran, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, summarized it perfectly in his recent op-ed for the New York Times: The West must combine threats, intervention, and mediation to stop the fighting that has already killed hundreds in the country. Simply waiting for a "political solution" is not enough.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center. Read the rest of his blog posts here.

BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images