Gaddafi’s death, Libya’s future

Oct 25, 2011

Gaddafi's death

Update from AIJAC

October 25, 2011
Number 10/11 #05

The death of long-standing Libyan Dictator Muammar Gaddafi on Thursday has led to the effective end of the NATO-supported Libyan revolution against his rule. This Update is devoted to understanding Libya’s outlook and dilemmas in the wake of Gaddafi’s death.

First up is noted American Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami, who comments that the end of a despot like Gaddafi is always odd and somewhat anti-climactic, revealing the mighty dictator as only a petty, frightened man – and comparing Gaddafi’s end to that of Saddam Hussein. He details the Gaddafi dictatorship’s history and odd yet ugly model of totalitarianism and how he came to react self-destructively to the rebellion, drawing international wrath upon himself. Ajami argues that the Arab Spring is turning into the Arab “1989”, when, like in Eastern Europe, freedom is being given a try, but requires outside support. For his full argument, CLICK HERE. Some additional good comments on what Gaddafi’s death means, as a moment in history, comes from American foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead, American academic and editor Marty Peretz, and Middle East expert Daniel Pipes.

Next up is Libyan expert Barak Barfi, who says the manner of Gaddafi’s death – apparently killed after being captured – will only make any future transition to democracy more difficult. He says the main next step for the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC), will be to find ways to gain the trust of groups which did not support the revolution – by demonstrating it can control the numerous militias and provide order, that it can represent Libyan nationalism, and that it can reconcile the residents of the Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte and Bani Walid. Above all, Barfi argues, Gaddafi cannot be allowed to become the martyr he sought to portray himself as during the revolution. For the rest of Barfi’s views, CLICK HERE. For those interested in more on the controversy over the circumstances of Gadaffi’s capture and death, the New York Times has ably summarised the issues, complete with numerous – often graphic – video clips taken following his capture. 

Finally, another look at Libya’s future, based on interviews with a number of experts, focuses on the extensive divisions within rebel ranks across the country, especially in terms of regional and tribal factions. One of the experts consulted, Middle East scholar Michael Rubin, predicts an internal conflict will occur and unless action is taken, the playing field will be far from level, with outside players like Qatar and Saudi Arabia likely providing massive aid to Islamist groups. He recommends a proactive US effort to prevent such external interference, while other experts focus on helping with the economy and the process of writing a new democratic constitution. For this complete look at managing the serious divisions within Libya, CLICK HERE. Another article citing some foreign policy experts on the management of this transition is here. Michael Rubin had a longer interview on the significance and challenges at the end of the Libyan revolution here.

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Gadhafi and the Swindle of Dictatorship

We needn’t dispatch our forces to all lands of trouble, but our burden of celebrating liberty on foreign shores endures.


Wall Street Journal, OCTOBER 21, 2011

Ahmad, a man from Aleppo, on hearing of Moammar Gadhafi’s end, posted a note on Al Jazeera’s blog: Congratulations, he said, to the Libyan people, may the same thing happen in Syria.

The end of despots is always odd—exhilarating to those who suffered their tyrannies, and to those who hold despotism in contempt, and anti-climatic at the same time, the discovery that these tyrants were petty, frightened men after all. We are told that Gadhafi cried, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” when his pursuers caught up with him.

This was from the script of Saddam Hussein, who had strutted on the world stage, visited death and destruction on his people and others beyond, but had come out of a spider hole telling his captors that he was the president of Iraq and that he wanted to negotiate. Dictatorship is a swindle to the bitter end, the bravado of the tyrants mere pretense and bluff.

He had risen out of poverty, Moammar Gadhafi, a semi-literate desert boy who had made his way to the military academy. He had come into power, in 1969, against the background of the time—an era when the Arab world still believed that rough men from the military would dispense justice, upend the old order of kings and notables, and bring about a “revolutionary” society. Libya had had a benevolent monarch, King Idris, an ascetic, a reluctant ruler. But the crowd wanted a different order of things. “Better the devil than Idris” was the slogan of the time. The crowd could not have known how the heavens would oblige.

The Libyan upstart modeled himself after his legendary idol to the east, the charismatic Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. And when Nasser died in 1970, Gadhafi anointed himself, and was seen by radical Arabs of his generation, as an inheritor of the revolutionary mantle.

The desert domain that was now his was sparsely populated, made up of three distinct provinces—Tripolitania in the West, Cyrenaica in the East, and Fazzan in the desert to the South. Oil gave Gadhafi means and a place in the world. He hacked away at the old social order, annulled the rights of private property and constructed a security state of “revolutionary committees” and informers that turned Libya into a big prison.

All the while, he was just the “Brother Leader.” He held no official position, and power was supposedly in the hands of the masses.

No deliverance appeared in sight for the Libyan people, they had been reduced to spectators to their own destiny. The tyrant was being rehabilitated, his oil reserves and the national wealth he treated as his own brought him deference in the councils of power. Western intellectuals with a weakness for exotic strongmen made their way to Tripoli, and the Brother Leader in his tent flattered them by telling them that he had been reading their books. But fortune smiled on the Libyans last February: To their west, the Tunisian strongman had made a hasty escape from his country, but more importantly to their east, the Egyptian despotism had fallen in a brilliant display of popular protest in Cairo.

The city of Benghazi conquered its fear and rose in rebellion. It was then that Gadhafi committed the mistake of his reign. He announced a coming bloodbath for the defiant city. In a stunning surprise, the Arab League gave a warrant for a military operation that would provide protection for the people of Libya.

This hadn’t been a mission that President Obama, the steward of American power, had wanted, but the threat of massive slaughter, and the pressure from France and Britain, settled the matter. This was the luck of the Libyans. America was half-in and “led from behind,” but the dictator’s fate was sealed. In truth, Gadhafi was owed a measure of American retribution. The Pan Am 103 flight his operatives brought down in December 1988 took a toll of 270 lives, of whom 189 were American citizens.

Tripoli is a faraway shore, but the name of that city on the Mediterranean should resonate for Americans who know and savor their history. Chroniclers tell us that it was in Tripoli, in 1805, that our flag was flown over a foreign battlefield for the first time. The Barbary pirates had been raiding American merchant ships, and the U.S. government had decided to end the practice of paying extortion money.

An expeditionary force of Marines landed in Tripoli and marched across 600 miles of Libyan desert to the city of Derna to liberate the crew of the frigate USS Philadelphia. (The frigate had run aground.) Derna was stormed by First Lt. Presley O’Bannon and his force. A grateful chieftain, Prince Hamet Bey, was able to reclaim his rightful throne as ruler of Tripoli. The sword he gave Lt. O’Bannon would become the ceremonial weapon of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The fight for right and freedom may not be the animating passion of the moment in Washington. There is little taste at the helm of our government for burdens abroad. This awakening—the Arab Spring—is being second-guessed at every turn. Islamists stalk these rebellions, we are told. The Arabs do not have freedom in their DNA, the “realists” tell us, their revolutions are certain to be hijacked and betrayed.

But this is the Arabs’ 1989—the time when they give freedom a try, and for the first time accept responsibility for their own history. America didn’t make these rebellions, but these rebellions are owed a measure of respect. And Arabs should be given the time to break out of the habits of tyranny and servitude. We needn’t dispatch our forces to all lands of trouble, but our burden of celebrating liberty on foreign shores endures. Good riddance to Gadhafi. He had the end he deserved.

Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and co-chairman of Hoover’s Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

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How Qaddafi’s Death Has Only Made Libya’s Future More Difficult

Barak Barfi

The New Republic
, October 22, 2011 .

The death of deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the fall of his last two loyal towns mark the end of the revolution that has rocked the country for eight months. While Qaddafi’s defiant messages urging his supporters to “fight in every valley, in every street, in every oasis and every town,” and clashes in loyalist cities of Bani Walid and Sirte in recent weeks led many Libyans to doubt the new leadership’s claims that the war was nearly over, the events of this past week have dispelled these fears.

Now, Qaddafi’s successors should turn their focus to rebuilding and reunifying the war-ravaged country. To do so, they will have to gain the trust of those groups that refused to support their revolution. This will require an astuteness that post-Qaddafi politicians have preached, but that fighters on the battlefield have largely ignored.

The first challenge posed to the rebel leadership, known as the National Transitional Council (NTC), will be to prevent the brutal manner of Qaddafi’s death from turning him into a martyr. It comes as no surprise that Qaddafi fought to the death in Libya. As I have argued since his capital of Tripoli fell in August, the disgraced leader was unlikely to flee his native country to seek shelter with neighboring allies. Qaddafi fervently believed that the 1969 revolution that brought him to power was divinely ordained and destined to remake his country and the greater Arab world. He considered the current revolt a direct challenge to his vision—a Western-led conspiracy to depose him, using Islamists affiliated with Al Qaeda. In February he declared “I will not leave the country and I will die as a martyr at the end,” and urged his supporters to emulate his resistance.

Those Libyans who remained neutral as rebels clashed with Qaddafi forces are likely to be troubled by the manner in which he died. Footage filmed by his captors shows him bloodied and dazed, yet alive—apparently fulfilling his February promise. Already, there are discrepancies in the story of his final hours that may further propel the narrative of his martyrdom. The NTC announced that he died from wounds while en route to a hospital, though other reports have surfaced that he was shot in the head at close range, possibly while on the way to a medical facility. In a region where conspiracy theories flourish, Libyans who are uncertain of their feelings toward the NTC are sure to be skeptical of its official account and disturbed by the likelihood that he was murdered rather than given a fair trial. 

Qaddafi’s death in rebel custody is also likely to heighten the fence-sitters’ sense that the efforts of politicians and militias are uncoordinated. Many Libyans fear the NTC cannot discipline the militias that are nominally under its control, the primary evidence being the council’s failure to ensure Qaddafi’s safe transfer to civil authorities. The episode is likely to reinforce the pervasive belief that the revolution has intensified everyday security fears. Many in Tripoli lament the proliferation of rebel pickup trucks laden with anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank canons. Parents are angry that they cannot take their children to Qaddafi’s former compound or Martyrs’ Square without hearing the harrowing sounds of Kalashnikov rounds. Others complain that rural areas outside the capital are not safe to visit at night. To earn the fence-sitters’ respect, the NTC must demonstrate that it is in firm control of the country and can reestablish the security Libyans took for granted during the Qaddafi era.

The NTC will also have to combat the perception that Qaddafi was the supreme Libyan nationalist. His heroic last stand is sure to win him added respect from nationalists who already admired him before his death. In the days following his fall, many in western Libya defied victorious rebels to extol him. They praised the deposed leader for ridding the country of Western influence by dismantling the American and British bases that his predecessors had established. They respected his “unwillingness to appear subservient to US interests,” as an American diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks noted. Following his fall, they bemoaned the increased authority these powers won through the NATO bombing campaign they spearheaded. Others accepted his dogma of the Al Qaeda menace. The rebels who overthrew Qaddafi will have to work hard to win over these Libyan nationalists who viewed him as a bulwark against Western and Islamist encroachment.

The most daunting challenge will be among Qaddafi’s die-hard supporters in Bani Walid and Sirte. Outmanned, outgunned, and out of supplies, these loyalists fought to the death. Rebels pillaged their houses and humiliated their women; the fierce urban warfare anti-Qaddafi forces waged for almost two months destroyed their communities. Residents there are unlikely to ever embrace a revolution that was largely directed against a regime that favored them. The NTC’s dilemma in these regions is how to minimize animosity toward the rebels. To ensure that neither of these towns becomes the Libyan version of Falluja, where the insurgency against American forces in Iraq was born, the NTC must focus just as much effort rebuilding Bani Walid and Sirte as on the equally devastated rebel bastion of Misrata. The council must also find employment for Bani Walid and Sirte residents. Qaddafi drew heavily from these cities to staff his security services. Now that his regime has collapsed, these men are unemployed. A rejoicing NTC must move quickly to prevent their brewing frustrations from festering.

The NTC played a largely secondary role to the militias that won the war on the battlefield. But to ensure a smooth transition to republican rule, the council will have to redouble its efforts to create an inclusive Libyan society by addressing the concerns of groups that never embraced the revolution.

Barak Barfi is a research fellow with the New America Foundation.

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Tussle for power among Libyan factions ensues

by Oren Dorell

Oct. 21, 2011, USA Today

Libyan opposition leaders who united against former tyrant Moammar Gadhafi are now opposing each other, which in a country flooded with weapons raises the threat of continued fighting and raises the stakes for the West, Libya experts say.

Even before Gadhafi’s death Thursday, conflict was brewing between Libya’s Transitional National Council, which is dominated by leaders from Libya’s east, where the rebellion first made territorial gains, and leaders from other geographic districts, says Mansour El-Kikhia, a Libyan-born professor of politics at University of Texas-San Antonio. He advised members of the Transitional National Council until about six weeks ago.

“The fighting hasn’t started with guns, but the problem is there’s too many guns in the streets already,” El-Kikhia says.

Considering that such countries as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funneling money and weapons to extremist Islamist militias, “the best thing the U.S. can do is say ‘Hands off, Libya, let the democratic process develop on its own,’” he says.

Others say the United States should choose the winner it prefers and back that faction with money and diplomatic support.

“There’s going to be a conflict, anyway,” says Michael Rubin, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School and a former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. “The Saudis are going to be giving billions of dollars. The question is: Are we going to play the game for influence or are we going to forfeit? To play the game, it’s going to cost cold, hard cash.”

For 42 years, Libya was ruled by the tyrannical Gadhafi. The transitional government, which has controlled the country since Tripoli fell in August, says it has a plan for leading the country toward a democratic system. But it faces challenges from the country’s tribal system, independent militias and Islamist extremists, which Gadhafi had kept in check.

The emerging conflict is among geographic districts separated by hundreds of miles of desert. Each wants a hand in government and a share of the country’s immense oil wealth, more than two-thirds of which is located in the east, El-Kikhia says.

Leaders in Tripoli demand that power remain in the capital. Those in Misrata, the coastal town that was battered for months by loyalist incursions and artillery, say they suffered so much under Gadhafi that a prime minister should be appointed from their district. In the western mountains, leaders say their abuse by Gadhafi earned them a share of the national income and political power, El-Kikhia says.

“In the east, Benghazi, they’re just looking at requests from the West in bewilderment and saying, ‘Why are you doing this? We haven’t even formed a government,’” he says.

The TNC has told world leaders it seeks an inclusive government. But it broke trust with the rest of the country, El-Kikhia says, when TNC leader Mahmoud Jibril appointed mostly eastern cronies to important posts in the transitional government.

The U.S. State Department has offered to help Libya develop a constitutional framework that will lead to elections, but it won’t work if too many people reject the process in favor of their own regional interests, he says.

“You can’t force reconciliation if they don’t want reconciliation,” he says. “All the parties are putting conditions on reconciliation.”

Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the West can help by helping to restart the Libyan economy and providing guidance to Libya’s transitional leaders to disarm the country, hold elections and write an inclusive constitution that offers benefits and protections to the country’s various factions.

“In a revolution, a lot of people lose out and those people have to accept that or you have to hope they don’t fight back against it,” Carothers says.

Disarmament, he says, can be achieved by offering money and jobs to fighters to sway them from joining paramilitary or organized crime groups, he says. Gun buy-back programs worked in El Salvador, he says, when they were paired with job programs that integrated former fighers into the economy.

Rubin says the gun buy-backs in El Salvador worked only after the populace was exhausted from a war and 200,000 deaths were tallied. The Libyan situation is similar to Iraq after the U.S. invasion, where neighboring countries funneled money and weapons to factions they favored to prevail.

The U.S. should pressure oil-rich Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia to stop sending billions of dollars in aid to Islamist groups in Libya, and it should threaten economic sanctions against Egypt, which is friendly to the Palestinian terror group Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, Rubin says.

If the USA doesn’t support liberal secularists most likely to adopt pro-Western policies, those factions will end up on the losing side, Rubin says.

“There’s no such thing as an even playing field,” he says.

Copyright © 2010 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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