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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S. M. Hali The writer is a prac­tis­ing jour­nal­ist. He con­trib­utes to the print me­dia, con­ducts a TV show and pro­duces doc­u­men­taries.

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.

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