Violent and Non-Violent Movements becoming Intertwined in Libya

Earlier this week, Libya experienced another huge protest against their transition into parliament government. Most of the ensuing conversation has evolved around the future prospects for democracy in the country and competing international security goals.

While thoughtful discussions could be extracted from these macro-like propositions, it would be wise to offer insight on one of the most important element of democratic transitions: social movement. The dominant school of thought is that full-fledged democracies or democracies in transition will recognize non-violent social movements in some type of capacity. Most often they will offer concessions to movements’, a platform to express their grievances and/or change their policies to adhere to the movements’ objectives.

Therefore, under this school of thought, the underlying assumption is that distinguishing between violent and non-violent movements, or credible and non-credible movements, is an easy identification. Movements that that take up arms, use threatening language or a threatened use of violence along with other identifiable violent characteristics are usually always deemed non-credible movements. However, in particular to the Libyan case, the distinction between Libyan violent and non-violent social movements is actually pretty thin since movements have largely exhibited both civil and non-civil features.

While most experts and lawmakers consider the majority of Libyan social movements deriving a violent undertone, new evidence suggests that Libyan community advancements have exhibited some non-violent characteristics as well.

First of all, even though the demonstrations had serious violent characteristics such as setting fire to government grounds and shooting a prominent lawmaker, some evidence suggests that the foremost resistance came from peaceful protesters. Two witnesses suggested “I saw people breaking into cars and looting stuff while other protesters were trying to prevent them from doing this, but it was really hard to stand against those thieves.” Hence, in reality, the protests essentially displayed certain non-violent features but were largely spoiled by armed violent rioters or bad apples.

Secondly, this week the Libyan government acknowledged protests which demanded the immediate dissolution of the parliament chamber. Therefore, abiding by the dominant democratic transition conjecture, lawmakers publicly responded with plans for a new system that might replace the legislature and government before the constitution is even established. Thus, by offering a change in their own policies and system, the Libyan government basically deemed the protests as possessing some kind of civil component to it.

Thus, while it may be too early to derive the direction of future protests, it wouldn’t be out of line to suggest that the distinction between civil and non-civil movements in Libya is growing thinner. Contrary to the dominant narrative, movements this week in Libya suggest that civil and non-civil components have become an intertwined structure playing off of each other cleverly. Furthermore, as the Libyan crisis continues, it would be interesting to note how the Libyan government defines a violent to a non-violent movement along with actions that accompany it.

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