It is no coincidence that Libyans reclaimed the same flag their fathers raised after independence in 1951, thus banishing Qadhafi’s flag from their present and future, and rejecting its monotone color evoking the political monotony of the country’s personal-familial rule since 1969. The Qadhafi flag was dyed green, the same color adopted as the title for his book of falsehoods, which sanctioned the confiscation of public spaces and facilities—imbuing the flag and the symbolism of the color with the character of his decisions.
It is likewise no coincidence that some Syrians, to a limited extent as of yet, have reclaimed their country’s flag, the one saluted at the moment of independence in 1946, which was adopted until 1958—when it was exchanged for the flag of unity with Nasser’s Egypt for three years—returning again for two years following Syria’s secession. The Ba’ath party took it down again in 1963, raising in its place the flag of unity once more.
In the two cases of Libya and Syria, despite all the differences, there is the same overwhelming desire to turn the page on the decades that have consumed the resources of the country and the lives of the best and brightest. In Libya, the bitter struggle led to the fall of the tyrant only after war and international military support thanks to the resolutions of the United Nations, while in Syria the struggle continues through demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and cultural resistance. The Syrians hope that their peaceful determination and their sacrifices will lead to the fall of the regime—eventually causing the splintering and disintegration of the security structures, without which the regime cannot survive.
In both cases as well, and to varying extents throughout the Arab world, there is a nostalgia for the period of the 1940s and 1950s, and an effort to resume from where life was interrupted—amputated by coups and the establishment of “despotic republics” (or Jamahiriyas, as in Libya), bringing fear, authoritarianism, and the emergency laws. During that early period, several countries of the region experienced regimes with a political elite bearing some of the characteristics of openness in the fields of public and private freedoms and taking an interest in administration, diplomacy, economic planning, amid other pre-requisites of state-building and managing of its affairs. They may have shut the door to social progress and narrowed the margins of political participation—but they did so without abolishing it entirely, and without adopting egregious violence as a means of preventing its development or progression.
These regimes would have most likely been open to reform, slowly, if they had not been overthrow by the military and security elites that sought shelter in slogans of justice, freedom, Arab unity, and the liberation of Palestine in order to delay development and change internally, and to suppress freedoms and calls for accountability and opposition.
Today, therefore, more than half a century after their independence, the Arab spring is opening the door for some societies to resume their interrupted history and begin building their future…
Today, Libyans are reclaiming the flag they raised in 1951 in order to be transported to the year 2012. Syrians regret the life they knew decades ago, before the Baath, and they are rising up to reclaim their nation from its hijackers and to build a new state based upon this act of reclamation—a state that they deserve, and one that deserves them…
Translation by Jeff Reger