The (in)famous speech given by Gaddafi in February heralded the slide towards the inevitable: the end of a 40 year tyrannical rule of Libya. This address became known in the Arab World as the “zanga zanga, street street” speech in which Gaddafi stated his intention to remove the protestors - or, as he called them, ‘rats’ and ‘drug addicts’ - from all the streets and corners of the country. Gaddafi’s speech initiated the intervention in Libya by Western forces; it was, in effect, an invitation to world leaders (who were already poised to seize on any opportunity to attack Gaddafi) to convey the message that this man was no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Gaddafi, probably, is the only world leader, who, as events have shown, did not have many, or indeed any, friends. A speedy U.N. Security Council Resolution number 1973 was obtained and NATO operations were swiftly underway by 19 March. Such action was ostensibly to protect civilians from the escalation of brutality meted out by the regime. On 12 March the Arab League, effectively a “dead horse” for so long, sanctioned a no-fly zone - expressing that their approval of such resolution was based on the desire to prevent Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians. It is ironic that what contributes to the Arab League’s position as a ‘dead horse’ was that the Operation in Libya went well beyond the Arab League’s recommendations and/or requests. Soon the military assault included missile launches and air strikes. The operation was widened to included civilian targets, such as Gaddafi’s own home, whereby his son and three grandchildren (remained unconfirmed) were killed.
Initially, Western leaders boasted that Arab League support for intervention was a justification to begin the assault. The campaign to protect civilians was soon transposed into a “hunt for Gaddafi” and the Libyan skies became clouded with the military operation. However, the roles of both the U.N. and the Arab League were sidelined as the crisis reached a stalemate. The outgoing Arab League’s chief, Amr Moussa, admitted that the military intervention had not achieved its intended goals. In an interview with The Guardian, on 21 June, in Brussels, Moussa made it clear he thought the military campaign would not produce a breakthrough. He stated, “You can’t have a decisive ending. Now is the time to do whatever we can to reach a political solution”. Moreover, China’s assistant foreign minister, Wu Hailong, during a visit by the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Libya, Abdul Ilah Al Khatib, called for a bigger U.N. role to resolve the crisis in Libya. While the action of “missile diplomacy” - missile attacks accompanied by calls for ceasefire - is on-going Libya will remain intrinsically divided. The short-term future for this country is certainly civil war whereby cries for revenge from western Libya and songs of praise to its east dominate the notes of the debate.
The cries for revenge are registered within the overall political landscape which spans the country. NATO operations ought to (and will eventually) stop, and Gaddafi will in time be dislodged; most likely he will be killed, even if he is allowed to stay in his country. Yet, following the fall of Gaddafi the structure of politics in Libya is going to be conflicted as its factionalised tribal groups assume various modes of “revenge”. Gaddafi, in his “Zanga Zanga” speech spoke of tribal loyalties and he emphasised that he himself comes from a tribe while at the same time he appealed to the heads of the clans in Benghazi to put an end to what he termed “the outlaws”. No time however was given for peaceful or other less aggressive solutions to emerge other than the chaos and discord now consuming the country. The current campaign in Libya is severing the nation into at least two parts. Fundamentally, a divisive rift has already been formed. While Libyans are all Sunni Muslims, united by a collective identity that emerged with the end of Italian colonial rule, developments to date do not show any signs of a peaceful Libya emerging when the departure of the Colonel takes place.
Gaddafi still enjoys enormous support, and this support will be transformed into specific fronts, rather than channelled into political parties, once he is no longer in power. Yet, this support has not so far been considered in Western calculations - or, one might say there is no plan “B”. I would like to draw an example from Baghdad to make this point. When the coalition forces entered the city in April 2003, there were images relayed on TV screens of a crowd slapping Saddam Hussein’s statue with shoes. Western media hailed that event as a collective and unified desire by the Iraqi people to take revenge on the dictator. As history reveals, this was not entirely correct; Saddam Hussein still had his supporters, and, because of that support, the country was subsequently submerged into a bloodbath for quite some time. The scenario in Libya is one in which pro-Gaddafi demonstrations were staged in Tripoli after the United States recognised eastern Libya’s Transitional Council as the country’s legitimate government. Tens of thousands of people crammed into Tripoli’s main square demanding the death of the betrayers in Benghazi, while also calling for the long life of the Colonel. Thus, continuing loyalty to Gaddafi should not be overlooked. It is obvious that if there was no such support for him, Gaddafi would have been toppled some time ago. However, this support is not merely spontaneous; it is part of the social climate established over 40 years of governing. There are various points to excavate from this observation. First is that Gaddafi depended on the tribal divisions in the country to balance his own powerful grip. He also insisted that the Jamaheriyah (commonly translated as the peopledom) is the rule of the people by the people. The principle of this Jamaheriyah is that Libya is governed by its populace through local, popular councils and communes. This will also play a role in fractionalising the country further as these councils will form the basis for a diffusive power as historically their loyalty was to Ghaddafi rather than to Libya. In the vacuum created by the end of Ghaddafi’s reign such groups are likely to become politically differentiated and hence create the ground for further conflict.
The second point is that of a horizontally structured rivalry where long-seated east/west hostilities jeopardise a post-Gaddafi Libya. Gaddafi came to power in 1969 by toppling a king who, Gaddafi claimed, favoured the eastern regions. Gaddafi concentrated his power and the distribution of wealth around Tripoli, and this city will remain the hub of Libya’s future political map. Yet, with Benghazi being currently accorded political gravitas it has already created a socio-political rift in the country and this will lead to further division and conflict. Uniting un-politicised tribes is a far easier task than that of bringing together those with a more actively developed political agenda. The overall sensibility in the country is one that has been politicised by notions of either betrayal or loyalty. The doctrine of “If you are not with us, then you are against us” underpins the current situation, and will continue to dominate post Gaddafi Libya. The third point is that during Gaddafi’s rule he depended on surveillance and intelligence to sustain his position. It is reported that up to 20% of the population worked in revolutionary committees, which were in fact organisations of informants. Libya, according to the Freedom of the Press index, is the most censored country in the region. This inherent system of surveillance, a profitable business for some, is not likely to fade away. A country that has been ruled by surveillance for over 40 years is not likely to readjust overnight to a climate of liberal tolerance and democratic respect for difference.
A further point is that a high percentage of the population and especially that of Tripoli, profit from oil revenues, and this is the critical point whereby Libyans will be engaged in a big fight. To date, oil has been the main revenue in the country and Gaddafi has managed to convince the Libyans that each and every one of them has their share of this profit. Yet, Western governments have allotted the future leadership of Libya to the rebels who will in turn assign themselves the role of the nation’s saviour. Their likely demand for the lion’s share of the oil revenues will be the obvious site for further conflict.
From this scenario it can be seen that a government capable of establishing national unity is not yet in sight - the country lacks the institutional structures that could form its essential pillars. Therefore, it is going to be individuals rather than institutions that will take Libya forward – that is, a similar picture to what Libya has witnessed over the last 40 years, if not worse.
Any Plan “B” for the future of Libya should focus on how to dissolve the role of Revolutionary Committees in the country once Gaddafi has gone; these committees are tribal in nature, political in orientation, militaristic in mentality, vicious in conducting business, and all compounded with a lack of worldly vision. The successful reconstruction of a peaceful Libya will be determined by depending on the heads of tribes in the first place and on the religious leaders because these will have appeal with the wider population.
* This article was contributed by the author to Ammon News English.