The Ber­bers are com­ing: Rein­vent­ing Libya

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Since the mid­dle of June, Ber­ber rebels based in west­ern Libya’s Na­fusa Moun­tain re­gion have launched what is ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful and sus­tained rebel of­fen­sive ac­tion since NATO in­ter­vened last March. Ber­ber fight­ers have se­cured a sup­ply route from Tu­nisia and now hold po­si­tions south of Moam­mar Gad­hafi’s mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal bas­tion in Libya’s cap­i­tal, Tripoli. So far they have man­aged to re­tain their ter­ri­to­rial gains.

The war was sup­posed to be short, NATO air power was sup­posed to be de­ci­sive, and Gad­hafi was sup­posed to skedad­dle. In­stead, the bat­tle­field stale­mated and a war of mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial at­tri­tion be­gan.

The Ber­ber’s re­cent suc­cess, how­ever, has ex­posed Gad­hafi’s in­creas­ing mil­i­tary fragility, and we are be­gin­ning to see po­lit­i­cal ef­fects.

De­spite the se­cret po­lice pa­trolling their neigh­bor­hoods, more Tripoli­ta­ni­ans are openly ex­press­ing sup­port for the rebels and dis­dain for Gad­hafi. Open dis­sent sig­nals de­creas­ing fear among the peo­ple. At the mo­ment, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary up­ris­ing within the city seems far­fetched, but Gad­hafi’s gar­ri­son troops must re­main alert.

Ber­ber fight­ers asked for weapons and am­mu­ni­tion two months ago.

There were ru­mors of covert arms sup­plies to rebel forces in east­ern Libya, but of­fi­cially NATO was de­fend­ing vul­ner­a­ble Libyan civil­ians, not sup­ply­ing guns.

Two weeks ago, how­ever, France an­nounced that it has sup­plied the Ber­bers with weapons. Gad­hafi knows the pub­lic an­nounce­ment could en­cour­age a revolt in Tripoli. He re­sponded by threat­en­ing to at­tack Euro­pean tar­gets.

He has done that be­fore, in the form of spon­sored ter­ror at­tacks, so the threat can­not be dis­missed. How­ever, the man who vowed to fight to the death now sounds shrill and rat­tled.

Frag­ile and rat­tled dic­ta­tors tend to die or flee. Though his fall and exit may not be im­mi­nent, it is in­creas­ingly likely.

Diplo­matic sig­nals from sev­eral non-NATO na­tions re­flect this opin­ion. China re­cently called the rebel Tran­si­tional Na­tional Coun­cil an “im­por­tant part­ner” in a de­ter­min­ing Libya’s fu­ture. Ru­mors, traced to Rus­sian me­dia, sug­gested Gad­hafi was con­sid­er­ing ced­ing power. That may or may not in­di­cate the Krem­lin’s druthers, but Gad­hafi can­not be sure.

When NATO en­tered the con­flict, diplo­mats and U.N. of­fi­cials be­gan dis­cussing the ques­tion of how to rein­vent Libya in the post-Gad­hafi era and es­tab­lish a prece­dent for re­mov­ing a rogue dic­ta­tor with­out fight­ing an ex­tended civil war.

Ha­tred of Gad­hafi, and lit­tle else, united the Libyan rebels.

Dif­fer­ing geo­graphic, eth­nic, tribal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests split the rebels into po­ten­tially ad­ver­sar­ial fac­tions.

Suc­cess­fully rein­vent­ing Libya re­quires bridg­ing these di­vi­sions.

Iraq pro­vides an im­me­di­ate ex­am­ple of the dif­fi­cul­ties. Libya, how­ever, has ad­van­tages Iraq did not. Tu­nisia and Egypt, Libya’s most im­por­tant neigh­bors, are fo­cused on tran­si­tion­ing from dic­ta­to­rial regimes to par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ments while bridg­ing their own in­ter­nal di­vi­sions.

They have di­rect po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in help­ing Libya make the same tran­si­tion. Libya does not have an Iran on its bor­der, a rad­i­cal dic­ta­tor­ship re­lent­lessly pro­mot­ing fac­tional vi­o­lence in or­der to desta­bi­lize Iraq’s emerg­ing democ­racy.

Diplo­mats and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are try­ing to sort out fac­tional de­mands.

In late May, Tur­key spon­sored dis­cus­sions with a key Libyan tribal group.

The group in­sisted that Gad­hafi and his fam­ily had to be re­moved from power and de­nied any in­flu­ence in a fu­ture Libyan gov­ern­ment.

The new gov­ern­ment must also hold Gad­hafi loy­al­ists ac­count­able for their vi­o­lent at­tacks on civil­ians.

A broad na­tional rec­on­cilia- tion process in Libya, backed by NATO, Tu­nisia and Egypt, would pro­vide a po­lit­i­cal and ju­di­cial ve­hi­cle for meet­ing these le­git­i­mate rev­o­lu­tion­ary de­mands and thwart the vi­o­lent re­venge at­tacks that of­ten fol­low a dic­ta­tor’s fall and then spi­ral into fur­ther civil war. In­ter­na­tion­ally spon­sored courts hold­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions and tri­als in Libya would serve as an emo­tion­ally cathar­tic and po­lit­i­cally in­struc­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the Libyan rebels.

They would be a first step to­ward cre­at­ing a demo­cratic ju­di­cial sys­tem in Libya.

The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process would also ad­dress the is­sue of fair dis­tri­bu­tion of oil rev­enues.

Libyan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion has an eth­nic di­men­sion. Gad­hafi scourged the Ber­bers.

New Libya must guar­an­tee Ber­ber cul­tural rights and a de­gree of po­lit­i­cal au­ton­omy. NATO and the U.N. must be pre­pared to back le­git­i­mate Ber­ber po­lit­i­cal de­mands.

Austin Bay is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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