After the Strongman
Libya has been in a state of chaos after Moammer Qaddafi was eliminated and the country has still to find its bearings.
Qaddafi gone, where is Libya headed now?
More than three years ago, Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi was captured and killed by a rebel militia in his hometown of Sirte. The world had been promised that the elimination of the Libyan strongman would mark the beginning of a new, democratic era in the country. Unfortunately, the promise did not work out since today Libya is far from stable and is sliding further into an all-out civil war, with pro-government forces battling Islamist militias for power in the eastern city of Benghazi, where the revolution that ousted Qaddafi started in 2011.
Various reasons are cited for the persisting chaos and strife in Libya but the milieu is complicated and necessitates further study. Qaddafi had led the oil-rich Libya as an autocrat for almost 42 years, crushing opposition forces with brute force and frequently funding international terrorism. One
of the main reasons for the continued disarray in Libya is that although apparently Qaddafi deserved to die but not through the gruesome method of his apparent execution at the hands of the rebels; if he had been tried in the International Court of Justice, ordinary Libyans may have found closure.
Although only a few months before Qaddafi's death, the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged crimes against humanity, a decision then welcomed by groups such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, perhaps it would not have achieved the desired results. The Libyan government refused to countenance the charges, calling the ICC "a tool of the Western world to prosecute leaders in the Third World," and some analysts say that yielding to the ICC could have provided Qaddafi a last straw to cling to power.
RAND Corporation, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, states that while NATO did intervene in Libya, it did not intend for Qaddafi to die, and there were hopes that another country might be willing to take him in as an exile ( none were). It is possible that if Qaddafi had faced trial, in the ICC or elsewhere, Libya may have had a chance at peace and reconciliation after the bloody end of his regime. Perhaps Qaddafi’s trial would have provided the Libyans a rallying point to unite although, in Iraq, Saddam Hussain’s trial and execution had the opposite effect and led to more chaos.
The logic of trials may be a calming factor, but one can poke holes in the theory with the problems in the trial of Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the late dictator. Libya's interim government began Seif‘s trial in 2014, but it has been criticized by a number of international protagonists for how it has handled the case: e.g. Human Rights Watch has accused the Libyan government of failing to provide adequate legal representation to the defendants in the case. While the ICC charged Seif, along with his father in 2011, it has been unable to compel the Libyan government to allow it access, which makes the ICC look spineless and toothless. Thus the trial added to the grievance and polarization in Libya.
The current chaotic state in Libya is a reminder of post-1989 Afghanistan, when the international forces hastily departed after the Soviet withdrawal, leaving the country reeling under tribal wars, which ultimately led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Western governments who were eager to get Qaddafi out but failed to help Libya stabilize after his death. Left to fend for itself, Libya’s case was like “out of the frying pan, into the fire.”Anarchy and chaos in the Libyan situation is owing to in-fighting among Arab nationalists, Islamists, regional militias and others.
After Qaddafi’s elimination, if the Occident had taken interest, unlike Afghanistan, Iraq or Bosnia, where internecine civil war prevailed, Libya could have made a smooth transition to peace and stability, since it is oil rich and its close proximity to Europe would have helped matters while its neighbours could have chipped in with support for its stability. Unfortunately, the west became oblivious to the fate of ordinary Libyans as if it had a personal grouse only with Qaddafi and his elimination meant “mission accomplished” and they walked away.
Amidst the anarchy, one of the protagonists vying for power is renegade army General Khalifa Hifter, the man who has assembled a militia of former Libyan soldiers and is leading them on a campaign to oust Islamists from the country. Hifter supported Qaddafi when he was a high-ranking officer, but turned against him in the 1980s during the war with Chad. He is now at the head of a militia that supports moderate values against radical Islam in a campaign called "Operation Dignity."
The Libyan House of Representatives, which was elected in June 2014, formally announced its alliance with Hifter. Alas the Libyan Supreme Court declared the Parliament illegal. The international community still recognizes the Parliament whose spokesman Farraj Hashem announced that Hifter would lead Libyan army soldiers as well in the fight against the Islamist militias. Regrettably one of those militias, a coalition of fighters from Misrata called “Operation Dawn” seized Tripoli in August 2014. The parliament and the government fled to Tobruk and have been virtually incapacitated.
The U.S., along with 13 other countries and the United Nations, signed a communiqué last September urging all parties in Libya to refrain from violence. The communiqué also rejected any "outside interference." Both the UAE and Egypt ignored the communiqué and jumped in the fray and were intervening directly in the conflict. Reportedly, Egyptian warplanes, operated by Libyan pilots, have been bombing Islamist militias in Libya as a punitive measure for beheading Coptic Egyptians. Sudan has also announced support for the Libyan military.
Interestingly, the situation has become so murky that some Libyans now actually crave for the Qaddafi era. Ironically, the three-year investigation of the Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people in 1988 and was considered Qaddafi’s worst crime has finally concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of carrying out the bombing, was innocent. The verdict is that Iran, working through the Palestinian Front for The Liberation of Palestine – General Command, ordered the blowing up of Pan Am 103 in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane by the US navy earlier in 1988.
Qaddafi may not have been guilty of Lockerbie but he was a monster and deserved to be brought to justice for the brutal crimes against his own people. Today Libya is imploding. Its oil exports have fallen from 1.4 million barrels a day in 2011 to 235,000 barrels a day. Militias hold 8,000 people in prisons, many of whom say they have been tortured. Some 40,000 people from the town of Tawergha south of Misrata were driven from their homes which have been destroyed but the militias are getting stronger, not weaker.
The Daesh in Libya are now virtually knocking on Europe’s door. It has now become imperative that the western powers that brought about the downfall of Qaddafi, should lend support to the people of Libya to survive this terrible ordeal and return to normalcy.
It is possible that if Qaddafi had faced trial, in the ICC or elsewhere, Libya may have had a chance at peace and reconciliation after the bloody end of his regime.