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Overview on Libya, Egypt, and Syria

Overview on the current state of Libya, Egypt, and Syria:

Recently, Egypt held elections and got a new president, Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like in Pakistan, the military traditionally has played a strong role in politics, meaning that unlike Britain (which has a 2-way division of power; Parliament and the Monarch) or the United States (which has a 3-way; Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary), they have more of an informal 4-way division, with the military effectively being its own branch of government, occasionally involving itself in politics when the nation requires. Tension between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Judiciary, and the Egyptian Military is fairly high right now, the Judiciary having recently dismissed the legislature for election irregularities (there was no consistent standard applied for how voting should be counted) and the Muslim Brotherhood having been alternatively banned and suppressed under Mubarak. Morsi will be pushing to keep the powers of the president as close as possible as what they were under Mubarak, while the Judiciary (which is aiming for much more power for itself) and the Military (which is aiming for much less power for the Presidency) resist. None of the rules of this are very clearly written, and while there will be efforts to make some kind of a constitution soon, that will be fought with power politics.

This coming Saturday, we'll be seeing elections in Libya. There, the situation is entirely different; political life under Qaddafi was stifled so much that there was no effective opposition, and so there were no alternative power bases or parties during his rule, nor the token experiments with pluralism that Mubarak had. The eagerness of Libyans to discard all of Qaddafi's legal infrastructure, as well as its complete unsuitability for pluralist political life, means that they're starting their political system from scratch. There are over 100 parties registered for the coming election, very few people understand who is likely to win, who stands for what, or in many cases how to vote. There are no strong institutions anywhere in Libya at this time, and various militias are asking for high amounts of regional autonomy for areas they control, presumably to preserve the tribal structures of governance that many parts are organised around. At this point, the transitional council has managed to hold the country together for long enough that it will probably not descend into a failed state, but making it into a reasonably-functional state will take a lot of work without the guide of much history or tradition or even someone to unjam the politics should they get stuck (something political militaries have traditionally done in Turkey and Pakistan).

How both of these (fairly representative) nations will work out their transitions should be interesting to see; people like me who are policywonks and political theory geeks see this as a rare time where the most basic rules of governance for some societies are being rewritten. It's exciting and interesting and worrying. Syria is more just a damned shame, showing both the weakness and cowardice of the west in allowing the bloodshed to continue (or funding/arming it, in the case of Russia and China) and the vanity of one hereditary dictator in being more willing to spill the blood of his countrymen than step aside. If Assad falls, then perhaps we'll see interesting and hopeful transitions of this sort in Syria too in a few years.

Cross-posted to my Google Plus stream