By Jahanzeb Hussain
At the time of writing this article, Gaddafi is still clinging on to his power. However, the dictator’s fate is sealed. It’s just a matter of time before the rebels take over Tripoli and put an end to his four decade rule. What’s important now is to analyze what Libya would look like in its post-Gaddafi years. First, what happens to Gaddafi? Will he be caught and sent to the gallows like Saddam Hussein? Or will he leave the country and take refuge somewhere else? It would be most intriguing if he were to be brought to the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s paramount to examine the internal and external players who will shape Libya once the dust settles.
Libya is primarily a tribal society and Gaddafi had built his regime on tribal/clan alliances. Gaddafi belongs to the Western Libyan tribe of al-Qaddadfa, and his reign was based on a shaky collaboration with al-Magariha and al-Warfalla tribes. These two tribes, who are also from the West of the country, were subordinated to Gaddafi’s tribe, which had caused a lot of resentment. After overthrowing the Sanussi monarchy, Gaddafi shifted the balance of power from Eastern Libya. The monarchy was based in the Eastern province of Cyrenaica, with Benghazi as its main city. During the past forty years, Eastern Libya, despite providing the majority of Libya’s oil, was kept under control by Gaddafi. Now that Gaddafi is nearing his end, it’s very plausible that his rival clans and elements from the monarchy – who are the ones pushing with the uprising- would want to take revenge and hang him by a pole in the middle of Tripoli. Saddam Hussein also met his end under similar circumstances when he was handed over by the Americans to the long suppressed Shia groups who had no hesitation in meting out a terrible punishment.
It’s also likely that Gaddafi, along with his family, might escape Libya and settle in a different country. Unlike his fellow Arab dictators, the Gaddafi family won’t be able to have a luxurious retirement in a Saudi palace, because the Brother Leader has tried to kill the Saudi king too many times. Therefore, they will have to look for a friendlier place.
The third possible scenario is that he could be arrested and presented to the ICC at The Hague. This time he might actually make it to an international court. It should not be forgotten that prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was established by the UN, had already tried to bring Gaddafi to court once. The case concerned the civil war in Sierra Leone, and after the hearings it was decided that the Libyan ruler “was ultimately responsible for the mutilation, maiming and/or murder of 1.2 million people.” Unfortunately for the prosecutors, the United States and Britain intervened, and in yet another show of regard for human rights and rule of law, forced the prosecutors to drop the charges against Gaddafi. When asked for a comment, the chief prosecutor David Crane replied, “Welcome to the world of oil”. We will return to the world of oil and West’s close relationship with Gaddafi later in the article.
For now it should be remarked that if Gaddafi is taken to the ICC, the trial would be a farce because the West will assure that their links with the dictator are not scrutinized. Justice, thus, will not be served in the law courts; at least if by justice we mean to include all those who are complicit in crimes against humanity and make them accountable for their actions. Neither would proper justice be served in Libya itself. True justice will not be served until and unless the leaders of the so-called civilized world are also held accountable for buttressing the brute, or in Tony Blair’s case, hugging the brute. Cynical it is to say, but perhaps it would be better to allow Gaddafi leave Libya and spend the rest of his days in exile, so that there will be no hypocrisy and farcical justice.
After Gaddafi relinquishes power, there will be a vacuum to be filled. In this shift of power there will be many who will vie to fill the gap. It’s precisely that moment which is crucial for the Libyan people. If there is to be a democratic process in Libya, then it will be initiated right after Gaddafi’s departure. However, the thought of such an outcome is very optimistic. In fact, it’s foolish. The National Transitional Council is an unknown entity. It would not be a surprise if it turns out to be a monster. It has already shown its ugly side by massacring black Libyans, migrant workers and the so-called mercenaries from several African countries. The Council is made up of clan rivals of Gaddafi, along with monarchists. More importantly the NTC is unelected and it belongs to the Eastern part of the country. What do the Western Libyans think of it? The south, which consists of Non-Arab ethnic groups, like the Amazigh (Berbers), Tuareg, and Toubou, is not even part of the picture. Inside the NTC there are reports of strife and disagreement. Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the NTC, has come under pressure after a rebel army commander was murdered by his own men.
If the sole purpose of the rebels is to oust Gaddafi, then it’s a very limited and hopeless vision, and the unity of purpose will evaporate once Gaddafi is gone. What will ensue once the goal has been achieved? Have the rebels ever outlined their vision for Libya? Do they even have a platform, let alone a progressive platform? Libya is not like Tunisia and Egypt where there is high social inequality. Relatively, Libyans are very well off and have state subsidized education and health care. This does not justify Gaddafi’s dictatorship, but what exactly are the rebels trying achieve apart from taking over the country? If the uprising is about inter-clan rivalry, then whoever achieves state power, will be able to rule and dominate the rest. If the so-called revolution is only about replacing one group with state power by another, then it doesn’t deserve to be called a revolution. The NTC has all the credentials of a group with a vested interest. What kind of a revolution in an Arab country would fly the flags of France, UK, US and ask Israel to use its diplomatic influence to pressure Gaddafi?
What discredits the uprising even more than the NTC is the American and European backing for it. As soon as the Western powers endorsed the rebels, the integrity of the uprising was lost. The imperialists, as a rule, can never support a people’s revolution. What’s taking place in Libya is not a liberation struggle, but a civil war where one side has agreed to ally itself with outside forces in return for power. This bodes well for the US and Europe who don’t wish to relent from their imperialist pursuits and hegemonic control of the region. It would allow them to dictate another oil-rich Arab country in their favor, especially at the time of the Arab Spring. Libya also presents a perfect opportunity for NATO to establish a military base in North Africa. Libya will also help lower the price of oil and give a boost to the American economy. More importantly, the NTC can be a more reliable partner than the erratic Mad Dog Gaddafi. The role of the IMF and the World Bank would be to open up the Libyan market and ensure structural changes in line with the Washington Consensus so that American and European businesses can have extra-ordinary privileges in the country. These are the dangers that Libyans face and a closer look should be taken at these threats.
United States and Europe already had access to Libyan oil under Gaddafi, especially after 2004 when Libya was re-integrated into the global hegemonic system. The highlight of the re-integration was Blair’s grizzly hug with Gaddafi in Libya, along with the release of the Lockerbie bomber, in return for which, UK secured further rights to Libya’s oil. Why then does the West feel the need to get rid of the dictator? The reason is that Gaddafi is an unreliable ally who has demonstrated his tendency to deviate from Washington’s orders, regardless of the nature of his acts when he has deviated. He is hated by the West, unlike the rest of the Arab kingdoms and Sheikhdoms. The US, being the mafia don of the world, doesn’t tolerate disobedience. It’s preferable for Uncle Sam to have complete control over Libya, or any other country for that matter. Control of oil, not access to it, is the real reason why the US has decided to intervene in Libya. Right after the rebels entered Tripoli, the NY Times reported on how the scramble for Libya’s oil has begun. Bloomberg had a piece that discussed the “Libya stimulus” for the American economy, thus the world economy, once the price of oil is brought down after Gaddafi leaves. In fact, American officials had already admitted at the start of the intervention that its purpose was to lower the price of oil. Libya produces crude oil of the highest quality and also has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa. The country is a gold mine, and the opportunity to seize control of Libya was also golden.
Libya also presents an occasion for US and Europe to have their boots on the ground in North Africa. UK already has its military teams in the country and has hinted at further deployment of troops for what it calls “stability operations”. It’s an unprecedented window of opportunity for NATO to establish itself in the country, and for the US to integrate Libya into AFRICOM – the American military command unit which oversees military missions in more than fifty African nations. After all, the US has never left countries that it has pretended to help. South Korea and Japan are just two examples among many. At the time of the Arab Spring, it would be a crushing blow to Arab aspirations if they have a direct hegemonic presence in their neighborhood. The chance to increase its foothold right next to the world’s major energy producing region could not have come at a better time for the US. Gaddafi was never an anti-imperialist, and was already doing the job of keeping his people under control. However, the uprising, despite its faults, threatened to change the equation. It would have given another shot in the arm to Arab aspirations. For imperial powers it’s necessary not to give any allusions of hope to Arabs. The United States, along with its allies, could not have allowed the chance to limit the damage pass by. As they have found elements inside Libya who are willing to collaborate with the West, favorable circumstances have been created for them to turn the tide in their favor.
The other part of the package includes neo-liberal economic reforms. Western economic advisors have already been dispatched to Libya, and the IMF and the World Bank will be used to enforce structural changes to Libya’s economy, which will see a retrenchment of the state from public policy, along with privatization of the country’s assets, namely oil. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States pushed with laws that would have given American companies a privileged access to Iraq’s oil. However, in a defeat for the US, Iraqis refused to bow to their pressure and the US has not been able to achieve its war aims in Iraq. Libya offers a chance for redemption. A part from controlling the oil, the Libyan market, once opened, will give multination corporations extra-ordinary rights in the country. It would strengthen global capital and undermine Libya’s own economy. After the destruction of Libya’s infrastructure, thanks to NATO’s bombings, the rush to rebuild the country has started. European and American companies are already taking the first steps to make profits from the war. If the neo-liberal programs are established, then Libya will turn out to be a typical neo-colonial country, and will have no control over its resources or the capacity to make independent decisions. Neo-liberal economic agenda will mainly boost the American Treasury, while enriching only a few in Libya and leaving many in destitution.
The third side of the picture.
Despite a pessimistic analysis of the situation in Libya, we should not forget the outside powers can’t completely control and dominate another society. There is also a genuine desire among Libyans to end the despotic rule of Gaddafi as well as keep the West at bay. These elements will be looking to influence the politics of the uprising, thus countervailing vested interests and foreign domination. Furthermore, as Iraq has shown, even an invasion of a country doesn’t guarantee complete subjugation of its people. The United States, France and Britain will face barriers and will not find it easy to shape Libya’s politics completely for their own benefits.
Afghanistan gives us more insight. Despite the fact that the Mujahedeen sought an incredible amount of support from US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and even Israel, they fundamentally remained hostile to them. The Taliban, who emerged from the Mujahedeen, are fierce nationalists and don’t like their independence to be undermined even by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The Taliban and the NTC cannot be compared, but we can nevertheless state that it’s not evident that a country’s politics can be mastered effortlessly by another country. Iran is another example. Even though Iranian-Israeli relations are not that of best friends, Iran bought arms from Israel during its war with Iraq. Israeli weapons were the only reason why Iran survived that war. Iran and the US have also worked closely together in Afghanistan and Iraq, where by Iranian Shia and Persian influence, the US has managed to create some sort of governance in the two occupied countries. However, this doesn’t mean that US has Iran under its thumb – Iran is light years from being under American domination. It’s erroneous to draw analogies between Libya, the Taliban, Iraq or Iran, and especially to declare that state sovereignty equals freedom for the people. Nonetheless, the three cases demonstrate that nothing is given and that there are forces in a society that can’t be completely dictated. For Libya also we should not forget that these social, political and cultural forces exist, and they surely will be at work. For those who wish to see Libyan free from both despotic rule and insidious foreign influence, they should hope that progressive currents in the Libyan society will make some ground against counter-revolutionary forces, and if conditions demand, direct imperialist oppression.
Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage Magazine. He is a 22-year old student based in Vancouver, where he goes to Simon Fraser University. He also represents the Vancouver chapter of Afghans For Peace. His blog can be viewed here.