“whether the motivations are political or economic…the answer, of course, is yes.”

by zunguzungu

Ryan Calder, UC Berkeley sociology grad student, was in Egypt and Bahrain in February, and he’s now in Libya (Benghazi). He has a blog, revolutionology:

The day before yesterday (May 25), I shared a cab from the Libyan-Egyptian border to Tubruq with Xavier, a reporter from Barcelona’s La Vanguardia. After giving me some great insights into Algerian politics (he spent a month in Algeria observing protests there), Xavier asked me whether the motivations behind the 2011 Libyan revolution are political or economic. The answer, of course, is “yes.”

…political motivations for rebellion are the ones that tend to filter through the news media to the outside world. In ten-second sound bytes, it’s a lot easier for both ordinary Libyans and representatives of the interim rebel government to talk about democracy, elections, and freedom of speech and movement than it is to talk about jobs, the welfare state, government education policy, the inequitable distribution of oil rents, and the fact that it’s tough to earn enough to buy a car and get married.

Interim-government officials are aware of this. I find that they tend to have a pro forma response to questions about the motivations for the revolution and the future of Libya. (This is one of many ways in which the eyes of the outside world are shaping this uprising, and all of the 2011 Arab uprisings.) Liberal-democratic discourse has gone utterly and completely global, and is now reflecting back upon itself — by no means disingenuously, but certainly self-consciously.

In other words, anyone in a position of formal authority in the interim government — from national-level leaders to staff at the rebel-run Media Center in Benghazi to town-level representatives of the interim government — is aware that “democracy” and “freedom” are bywords that will portray the “new Libya” in the right international light. (They’re also careful to argue that there will be no partisanship (hizbiyyah) and no tribalism (qaba’iliyah) in the new Libya.)

This is not to downplay the tremendous significance of political motivations — the desire for civil liberties, for the rule of law, and for democracy — in giving rise to the 2011 revolution. It’s just to note that socioeconomic concerns are also vital. Some people will start a conversation about the revolution by talking about political freedoms, but will end up talking about the distribution of oil rents a minute later. Others dive straight in, criticizing the Qaddafi government for its cronyism. Here are some typical quotes:

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