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Monday, June 17, 2024

Libyans still waiting for a happy ending

by Linda S. Heard

© Shutterstock : Libyan anti-Gaddafi protestors around the Middle East.
© Shutterstock : Libyan anti-Gaddafi protestors around the Middle East.
© Shutterstock : Libyan anti-Gaddafi protestors around the Middle East.
© Shutterstock : Libyan anti-Gaddafi protestors around the Middle East.

Muammar Qaddafi may have met his fate but will his regime’s being toppled provide the Libyan people with the freedom and stability they crave?

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the domino effect of revolutions unleashed by the self-immolation of a Tunisian vegetable-seller it has to be that individuals of diverse faiths, political persuasions and from different socioeconomic stratum can come together as one against a common hate-figure but once their joint goal has been accomplished they often turn against one another.

It’s a natural phenomenon because once the primary object of hate is out of the picture and the last celebratory firework has dissipated in the sky, people once again cling to their own loyalties, sectarian alliances or self-interest. The fact is that the enforced removal of a nation’s strongman, no matter how ruthless he may be, does not necessarily spell change for the better, as we witnessed in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein’s iron fist brooked no dissent but as a whole the nation enjoyed security, stability and a shared sense of national pride. Almost all US troops have now withdrawn from Iraq, which according to polls was what the majority of Iraqis wanted, but ethnic and sectarian attacks have increased rather than diminished.

We are currently seeing widening chasms in Egypt where Coptic Christians and modernists fear the rising power of Islamist organisations, currently dominating Parliament’s Lower House. And Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned under people-pressure, yet the country is still wracked by violence perpetrated by secessionists in the south, tribal clashes in the north and Al Qaeda militants.

Libya, on the other hand, was, until comparatively recently, viewed as an almost textbook success story. Few mourned Qaddafi, an eccentric autocrat, a dictator operating under the guise of paternalism. The world’s sympathies lay heavily with the Libyan opposition and, for once, the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council were united in supporting a NATO ‘No-fly Zone’.

Now that the self-appointed ‘King of Kings of Africa’ has gone, along with his antiquated economic policies, the sky’s the limit – or it should be. Libya, with a population of just 6.4 million, boasts the 10th largest proven oil reserves in the world. Libyan oil exports have rebounded more quickly than anticipated and in theory, the country is wealthy enough to make the desert bloom, construct world-beating infrastructure and provide excellence for all of its citizens in terms of education, medical facilities and housing. Although the Libyans are generally upbeat about the future and are looking forward to elections penciled-in for this summer, there is growing discontent with the National Transitional Council (NTC) for its inability to rein-in dozens of militias who have refused to give-up their weapons with which they fought Qaddafi loyalists.

Former rebels from Zintan are still in control of Tripoli International Airport, other armed groups have taken charge of ports while southern borders are being policed by tribes. Unauthorised brigades in Misrata, Zintan and Ghervan have taken over the running of prisons and carrying out illegal arrests and torture of former regime supporters. The UN believes more than 6,000 people are being illegally detained.

Gunmen have taken upon themselves to punish people who supported the former leader, hindering much-need reconciliation.

In February, members of the Swahli Brigades grabbed two British journalists from Wales, accusing them of being Israeli spies after confusing the Welsh language on their medical supplies with Hebrew.

In April, thousands of Libyans demonstrating in Benghazi for an eastern autonomous region were attacked by armed assailants who broke-in to a television station to prevent it from broadcasting the protest. Moreover, religious radicals have reared their heads, shattering the graves of British Commonwealth war dead despite the UK having been instrumental in their country’s liberation.

On March 6th the eastern region formerly known as Cyrenaica announced its semiautonomy from the central government which could portend Libya being split-up. The Head of the NTC announced that the transitional government would fight to preserve a unified Libya, if necessary.

The eastern region isn’t the only part of the country seeking independence. The Sahara’s once veiled ‘Blue Men’ the Tuareg whom Qaddafi paid to help quell the rebellion now complain that they being discriminated against and are pushing for their own desert state; they have, indeed, been exiled from the Saharan town of Ghadames on the southern border between Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.

In the early days of the newly freed Libya, opposition fighters and NATO were heralded as heroes. Since then, the United Nations has published a report criticising NATO for not sufficiently investigating civilian deaths resulting from its air raids. It also accuses pro-Qaddafi forces of perpetrating war crimes and points a finger at anti-Qaddafi militias for ‘committing serious violations’ and ‘breaches of international rights law that continue today’.

One of the crimes highlighted by the report was a militia attack on a refugee camp in Tripoli housing former residents of Tawergha responsible for the deaths of five people, including three children. People of Tawergha along with other communities of sub-Saharan origin have been classed as Qaddafi collaborators and due to hostility against them in their home towns remain internally displaced, forced to endure horrific living conditions. African workers have also been the targets of revenge attacks by people who’ve mistaken them for former mercenaries in the pay of Qaddafi.

The NTC is under pressure from an impatient population eager to have its demands met. In January this year, angry protestors stormed the NTC’s Benghazi HQ demanding that all former Qaddafi officials be sacked and questioning the Council’s lack of transparency in relation to its expenditure. There have been further calls for a new constitution based on Sharia law. Some pundits are of the opinion that, as in Egypt and Tunisia, Islamist parties, including the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhoods ‘Freedom and Construction Party’ will achieve sweeping wins during elections, polarising citizens.

Others argue that the NTC is doing its best given the lack of established institutions such as an effective judicial system as well as sufficiently manned army and police force. It is attempting to woo militias into the security forces and has sent former rebels to Jordan and Turkey for police training; around 5,000 people have thus far joined the country’s fledging military.

The road towards a new and improved post-Qaddafi Libya is long and peppered with hazards. Nobody but the Libyans themselves can overcome them.

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