December 10, 2018
Philip C. Johnson, Ph.D.
I’ve been busy with Global Next’s international conferences, domestic speaking engagements and some in-person research in North Africa. So now it seems like it’s time to take an overview on some of the stories that have littered the landscape in November and December as we rush headlong to the end of 2018. Here are a few issues to wrap your head around in Part 1 of my Global Roundup for December 2018:
What’s going on?
For a fourth weekend in a row, violence has erupted across France and nearly 1000 people have been arrested and 126 people have been injured in Paris. About 125,000 protesters demonstrated across the country – 10,000 of them in Paris itself.
As they are known, the “Yellow Vest” movement is opposing the gas tax that has raised the price of a gallon of gas in France to nearly $8.00 a gallon. (Meanwhile, here in Frisco, Texas, I’m paying $1.89 per gallon.) The movement is mostly fueled by very frustrated citizens who are tired of being overlooked and feel that their government is not watching out for their interests. And unsurprisingly, there are those who are super violent who have taken this opportunity to hijack the movement – and we all know that leads to nothing good – for anyone.
What it means?
Generally it means that the average French person is fed up – fed up with the working class footing the bill for European environmental concerns. And it means that President Macron (whose approval ratings – at best are at 23%) had better do something and do it quickly to bridge the divide that is growing in his country and to meet the needs of the poorer working class. The momentum of the French protests is already spreading to Belgium and the Netherlands. I don’t know what the President will be able to do – the demands of the protesters go beyond just fuel prices and include tax cuts, easier university requirements, better wages and the resignation of the president. (Plus, the French love a good street protest and car burnings anyway.)
In the middle of Paris burning, U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled out of the Paris Agreement, which has brought all these protests upon France tweeted the following:
“Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year!” A classic “I told you so” moment.
THE GADDAFI’S RETURN TO LIBYA
What’s going on?
Near the end of November I found myself in Libya, as one often does. 🙂 Libya ranks as one of the top three most dangerous countries in the world right now. But boy do they try to convince you otherwise. Most of us remember the Arab Spring that started in late 2010 and rolled its way through the Middle East. Libya, after deposing and murdering their dictatorial leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, fell into a bitter civil war aided by ISIS and other terrorist groups.
In 2016, Gaddafi’s widow was allowed back into the country in an effort of reconciliation. Now Gaddafi’s son, Said al-Islam wants to run for president – a man who has already cheated death five times. (Just one example, he was sentenced to death for alleged crimes that included incitement to murder and rape.) Why do I feel like the Middle East is in some sort of endless loop of uprisings, jihadism, killings and then sort of ending up back where they began? Maybe because that’s exactly what’s happening.
Meeting with Gaddafi’s Nephew
While I was in Libya last month, I had the opportunity to meet with and interview Gaddafi’s nephew, Talal Atia – the son of Gaddafi’s sister. (It may surprise you to know that there are still Libyans who are loyal followers of this family – as well as those who would like to see them dead.) Here is some of what he shared with me regarding the return of the Gaddafi family to Libya:
“My family is now very unfortunate and now some of the family live in a very small apartment and a building that does not care for housing and we cannot afford to pay the rent and we have not been compensated for the loss of our house, although the losses were estimated by a compensation committee and estimated at a value of one and a half million dinars.
“Our money was also stolen in 2011 by Khaled Al-Sharif of the Libyan Fighting Movement when they entered our house and the money is estimated at one million, one hundred and fifty thousand US dollars.
(My Note: Khalid Al-Sharif was associated with al-Qaeda and is now a politician. You will find in Libya today that the players are still the same – their jobs have just changed. Terrorist figures are businessmen and politicians, jihadists are now part of the army or police officers. Sounds like nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan…)
When I asked Talal why he was staying at the same hotel where I was staying, he responded with this statement:
“Because of this destruction and no justification for my mother who was exposed to rectal cancer in the year 2013 we found no service or assistance from the Libyan state, which led to the debt we have for her treatment abroad in France.
“I live in this hotel because I do not have a house in Libya now. I have been on the move between Cairo and Libya trying to sort out a life and rebuild.
“I live in the hotel on my own and have not received any help from the government or
from the jihadist groups, so I stole my money and I am not afraid of them. I say that and yet in truth, my fear is devastating. They destroyed my life and the life of my entire family. I do not trust the jihadist groups and I live in the hotel to feel some safety. I know that they want to kill me.” (Note: I was told by other Libyans that it is rather rare to have had the opportunity to meet a Gaddafi family member and speak to them.)
What’s next for Libya?
The head of Libya’s electoral commission (as reported by AFP) believes that Libya “could organize a referendum on a new constitution for the strife-torn country in February 2019 if it gets security guarantees and funds.”
The security issue is extremely tricky. While those I spoke to are optimistic about Libya’s future, the reality is that as recently as September, there were weeks of fighting between rival militia groups. Last month (in late November) there was a spate of extrajudicial killed in Libya’s capital, Tripoli – basically people and groups taking justice into their own hands on the streets in violent and cruel ways. (I believe I had just left the country – because you know, God and I have a deal about the timing of my “comings and goings.” 🙂 ) And of course terrorist groups such as The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (AAS-B), Ansar al-Sharia in Dernah (AAS-D) all still have a presence in the country.
In my next post, I will update you on Europe’s growing populism – especially the developments in Italy and Spain as well as the issue of blasphemy laws, specifically in the case of a Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was recently released from death row, only to enjoy huge demonstrations in Pakistan calling for her death. Oh yes…such a peaceful and tolerant religion. But more on that later this week.