Libya and the Realist Response to Modern Revolution

Like the Tunisians and Egyptians before them, Libyans have discovered the full breadth of power they yield as a people. However, like those before them, they have also sacrificed tremendously and continue to do so at the hands of an increasingly desperate megalomaniac. Self-appointed Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi continues to pound opposition and rebel positions in defense of his weakened position. Even with parts of the country under the control of the opposition and wide-ranging international military intervention in Libya, Gaddafi has continued to resist the NATO assault and to unleash his forces in defiance. Gaddafi’s obstinacy is driven ultimately by the realization that he can offer nothing short of his own demise to appease the opposition and  the international community (France, Great Britain, USA and others), whose increasingly extensive military attacks have raised doubt over the legitimacy of its continued intervention in Libya.

The Failure of Libyan Governance

Libya’s system of governance has changed drastically over the past century. After gaining its independence from its former Italian, French and British colonial masters in 1951, Libya adopted a federalist system of governance with a hereditary monarch, Idris al-Senussi, at the helm. However, the country did not officially become a Kingdom until1969, when al-Senussi solidified his power by abolishing the federalist system of government, essentially abandoning all democratic ideals. At the time of al-Senussi’s rule, Libya was a mostly impoverished country; however, the discovery of massive oil reserves in the late 1950’s resulted in significant increases in national revenue. Wealth from the highly profitable oil industry, however, amassed into the hands of a few elite, creating greater rift between political leaders, including the King, and the rest of the populace.

In 1963, while the King was out of the country, Gaddafi, along with a group of other military officers, led a bloodless coup that resulted in the abolishment of the monarchy and the establishment of the Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi formed the Revolutionary Reform Council (RCC) and vowed to implement domestic policies based on social justice, non-exploitation and an equitable distribution of wealth, although he and his military cohorts did not form the General People’s Congress (GPC) until almost ten years later. The GPC established popular direct authority, and all executive and legislative authority was vested in the new organ, whose head remained Gaddafi. The GPC serves as a medium between the masses and the country’s executive, providing a representative outlet for Libyans, but also a means to convey executive orders to local authorities. It is ultimately a limited representational body, only meeting for a few weeks annually.

Beneath the GPC, are various other committees and basic people’s congresses, whose leadership is determined by members. Political parties are banned; hence political partisanship and significant debate are not permitted. All gubernatorial, mayoral and local executive administrative positions are appointed by the national government and are ironically based on familial connections, religious leadership and wealth. Essentially, the sub-national government continues to function as a hierarchical system of administrative links with the central government, rather than a vehicle for popular representation or participation.

Examining Libya’s Revolutionary Dynamic

 The recent protests, motivated by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, began in the eastern city of Benghazi, after the arrest of a lawyer who is an outspoken critic of the government and who is defending family members of victims of the Abu Salim prison uprising of 1996. Arrests of government critics in Libya are a common occurrence, as freedom of speech and expression is wholly denied. The Ibrahim Index ranks Libya at almost the very bottom in terms of political participation and human rights protection, below the likes of Sudan, Zimbabwe and Eritrea: states whose governments have garnered reputations for their oppressiveness. Given the nature of government, the denial of basic civil rights and the lack of justice, particularly to Benghazi residents, the growth of an opposition movement seemed inevitable. After an attempted crackdown that included violence against protesters in Benghazi, Libyans in several parts of the country took to the streets, unified in their need for reform and their disgust at the regime’s violent repression and emboldened by successful revolutions in neighboring countries.

The Libyan government attempted to crackdown on protesters by using violence. Gaddafi’s initial use of force in many ways backfired against him as he believed that the use of traditional repressive tactics would stymie protester will; however, his brutality only intensified Libyan anger. It also showed the full extent of his illegitimacy as the country’s leader—for legitimate leaders do not have to use violence against their own people to maintain their position (or to prove their legitimacy). Rather ironically, Gaddafi, like so many other autocratic leaders before him, began as a vehicle of revolution, only to abandon revolutionary ideals in favor of self-serving policies.  Power and wealth quickly corrupted these individuals, and their excessive greed ultimately prompted the need for a ‘second’ revolution, however factionalized or indeterminable the underlying forces behind that revolution may be.  The people of Africa, as well as the Middle East—many of which experienced revolutions decades ago, which freed them from the bonds of colonialism—have now been forced to orchestrate new revolutions to free themselves from their new masters and develop the representational government former revolutionaries had once promised.

Questions arise however over whether Libya’s current ‘revolution’ is motivated by an inherent need by the people for democratic governance or whether there are other motivations behind the organized movement. Like the Tunisian and Egyptian people, Libyans have demonstrated their serious disgust of the current regime, and Gaddafi’s ouster is a foremost demand of the opposition. However, it is entirely unclear the type of government that would replace Gaddafi, if he were to fail in his defense of his rule. Although Gaddafi’s statements regarding the opposition obviously merit scrutiny, his claim that extremist elements are orchestrating much of the movement does hold some credibility. In fact, leaked US diplomatic cables from 2008 indicated a growing concern that many Libyan jihadists who had left Libya to fight in various international conflicts, including the recent Iraq war, had begun to return to eastern Libya and that their influence over society and politics there continued to increase—of course the Gaddafi regime’s neglect of the eastern part of the country, which is heavily impoverished, made it quite easy for extremist elements to exploit the local population’s discontent.

The fact that the eastern part of Libya has been for some time under an established Islamist and extremist influence explains, at least in part, why and how the opposition was so quick to mobilize militarily against the Gaddafi regime, a stark contrast to movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Within days, the opposition had taken up arms against Gaddafi’s security forces. In many of the eastern areas, where the security apparatus is generally weak, the opposition, which includes radicalized elements, immediately abandoned the route of peaceful protest for a more militarized strategy, a serious sign of concern. Many would also argue, however, that the opposition movement ultimately had no choice but to defend itself: Gaddafi’s forces immediately turned to violence in an attempt to quell protests, which certainly prompted many to act in self-defense by taking up arms. In addition, fear of further retaliation against protestors and their families by Gaddafi, which is common place, and the knowledge that Gaddafi would never concede also undoubtedly contributed to the opposition’s militarization.

The Demands of International Geopolitical Interests

The international community’s response to Libyan protests and the threat to Gaddafi’s regime was somewhat muted at first, even as reports of the regime’s violent attacks against unarmed protesters flooded international news outlets. Libyans were struggling to funnel news of their plight to the outside world, and the world watched as those who could reach the outside world begged for intervention. To the credit of average Libyans—in the face of massacre, with no physical protection from the international community—they rallied together en masse, remaining steadfast in their demands. They used the power of numbers to survive the onslaught and establish an organized opposition movement with the assistance of defecting military and security forces. Meanwhile, countries with economic ties to the Gaddafi regime, which includes Great Britain and Italy, were clearly hesitant in their support of the protesters. In addition, other Western powers, which included the US, also remained hesitant, not only because of oil interests, but over genuine concern that the Libyan opposition movement was in fact being orchestrated by extremists and hence inimical to Western interests.

With the United Kingdom (UK), Libya shares lucrative ties. Perhaps the most apparent and controversial is the UK’s issuance of over 215 million euro in export licenses to Libya, which permitted the sales of arms that included weapons and materials recently used against unarmed civilians. Although the UK recently cancelled these licenses to both Bahrain and Libya, the UK government has garnered criticism for its sale of military equipment to a regime that so blatantly violates the rights of its citizens. However, this criticism should not be limited to the UK, countries like the US, France, Russia and China have all supported autocratic regimes to further their own interests.

Italy’s ties to the Gaddafi regime include support to counter mass migration of Africans to Italy and various Libyan financial investments in Italian businesses and vice versa. Italy, which has struggled to deal with a steady stream of African migrants (recently increased due to the Tunisian revolution), has become increasingly reliant upon the Gaddafi regime to stymie that flow, as hoards of migrants attempting to cross over to Italy have been handed over to Libyan authorities. These migrants are often thrown into ill-equipped prisons and jails throughout Libya.  Most significant is Italy’s oil interests in Libya. Libyan oil accounts for 22% of Italy’s total supply. In addition, Libya’s largest oil producer is Italian oil company, ENI, whose operations have been seriously hindered since the violence began. Clearly, for the Italian government, a serious challenge to Gaddafi’s rule could mean the end of a very beneficial economic relationship. Europe’s reliance upon Libyan oil contributed to several countries’ hesitance in supporting protests; however, when much of the oil-producing part of Libya fell under control of the opposition, some EU countries began to realize the potential benefits of an alternate regime and actively sought relations with the opposition.

France in particular was one of the first to formally recognize the opposition as legitimate, no doubt seeing the possibility of increased economic involvement with an alternate regime. While Italy has shared quite close and extensive political and economic ties to the Gaddafi regime, France’s Libyan connections have been somewhat limited. In fact, the fiercely independent Gaddafi regime has spent the last two decades working to diminish European influence on the African continent, in particular Africa’s economic dependency upon its European allies. It is these actions that France is so keen on preventing through its support of Gaddafi’s ouster. The Libyan government has been working with its African partners to establish independent monetary institutions, which include the African Monetary Fund and the African Central Bank. These institutions will no doubt threaten the existence of the African franc, thereby essentially destroying France’s advantage on the continent. The Gaddafi regime has served as the main source of funding for these initiatives. In addition, by ridding Libya of the Gaddafi regime, France also creates opportunity to counter economic competition within t several sectors, specifically the telecommunications sector. Libya’s LAP Green Networks (LGN), an African telecoms company that is funded by the Libyan government, has continued to increase its investments on the continent and has beat out France’s Telecom for various contracts; the firm has invested about $600 million in acquiring stakes and licenses in Africa’s telecoms industry, a major threat to France’s previously dominant role. Libya is also host to Africa’s first pan-African telecommunications satellite; Africa’s new satellite system has meant the end to costly expenditure for Africans: $560 million less a year in costs paid to Europe for long-distance communications. The removal of Gaddafi’s regime and the installation of a more Western-friendly government, guarantees France greater economic protection on the continent.

It was not too long after recognizing the benefits of a Gaddafi-free Libya that many European countries, as well as the US, acted by beginning proceedings for the implementation of a no-fly zone over Libya. With Gaddafi’s forces encroaching upon opposition strongholds and making ground, the window to act was quickly closing, however. If the international community did not act, there would be no opposition left today. The countries eventually succeeded, with the blessing of the Arab League, in passing a UN Security Council Resolution that permitted a coalition of France, USA and Great Britain to enforce a no-fly zone; however, there was obvious disagreement between some of the members of the Security Council over the use of force in this situation and several important players abstained from the vote. This included Germany, Russia, China, Brazil and India, all of which expressed serious doubt over the use of force and over such swift international military intervention into a civil conflict. While Russia and China have often opposed international intervention into civil conflict, over fears of similar future intervention into their own state affairs, Germany expressed serious worry over a potential for an escalation in violence and further civilian casualties.

Within the first days of the US and its allies’ military campaign, doubt over the intervention widened to include Arab League President Amr Moussa, who believed that the international coalition’s extensive military strikes went beyond the UN mandate. The Turkish government also stated its strong disapproval of the US’s bombardment of Libyan targets, which included buildings in Tripoli; as a member of NATO, it first opposed a widening of the campaign (although the Turkish Prime Minister recently indicated his support for the removal of Gaddafi). The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went so far as to compare the intervention to the ‘Crusades’. Although both Moussa and Turkey have backtracked on their critical statements, both are correct in believing there is cause for concern, particularly when the intervention somewhat reflects the largely controversial US invasion of Iraq. In fact, one could construe that Libya is Europe’s Iraq. There is a rather obvious hypocrisy that seems to permeate US-European policy in Libya. Intervention within an oil-rich country in which the national government has no real international allies was swift (Iraq and now Libya), while intervention in other countries where similar atrocities are being committed against innocent civilians, but where the government is pro-Western, has been non-existent (Yemen and Bahrain). It is difficult to miss such a fact and to therefore not conclude that Western intervention in Libya is driven more so by political and economic interests rather than humanitarian reasons.

And the NATO

What is NATO? Is NATO member of on the United Nations? Why is NATO taking the lead in bombarding a UN member? Has the UN given authorization to NATO to conduct military intervention in Libya on its behalf? Is NATO a member of the UN? These are some of the questions that could be asked today as

NATO is an organization (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) created on 1949 on the principle of collective defense, which says that “an attack against one or several of its members is considered as an attack against all”.  The enforcement of the no-fly zone and the arms embargo has been taken over by NATO command, NATO is now attacking or bombarding Libya and targeting Mouamar Gaddafi, compounds, residencies, and security forces killing civilians including Gaddafi’s son and grand children. NATO is shifting its role from defense of its members to now an attack forces with operations outside its geographic, fighting war in the soil of non-members countries that has not attacked any of its members. This has prompted a strong disagreement amongst members over whether NATO’s mission should include a ground invasion. Turkey especially has expressed staunch resistance to a NATO ground mission (all NATO activity must be approved through consensus).  Whatever resistance greater intervention has met thus far, ground support has already begun in the form of more strategic military support and resources. The US as well as its European allies has sent military advisors to assist Libyan rebels and material support continues to pour in.  NATO countries have recently also agreed to set up a fund for the opposition, which has formalized with the creation of the Transitional National Council (TNC).  Negotiations in Rome have resulted in the TNC’s road map for a transitional regime upon Gaddafi’s departure, but it remains unclear whether Gaddafi will leave willingly or Libya will experience a protracted civil conflict. The UN and NATO’s future role also remains questionable; the use of force is particularly controversial and suspicious especially after the recent UN and France intervention in Cote d’Ivoire. The UN resolution on Libya permits ‘all necessary means’ to ensure the safety of Libyan civilians, but exactly what that might entail has garnered various interpretations. Questions arise over whether the current commanding coalition and/or NATO will eventually depose Gaddafi’s regime, which is not part of the UN resolution. Will they claim legitimacy in doing so? The truth today is that Civilians in Libya are being killed by the rebels forces of the Transitional National Council and by NATO forces too; Libyan’s infrastructures are being destroyed, targeting and killing Gaddafi and his entourage is now one of their objective in removing Gaddafi from power and transferring the power to a Transitional National Council less hostile to European countries economic interests and activities in Africa in general.  It worth doing it today as NATO’s countries faces major economic and financial crisis. Guaranteeing access to Africa vast natural resources is crucial for their survival.

The Way Forward

While powerful nations continue to contemplate the fate of the Gaddafi regime and subsequently Libya, thousands of Libyans have crossed the border into Tunisia, and many more have been internally displaced. The humanitarian situation continues to worsen as Gaddafi forces pound rebel-controlled cities in the East and along the coast, including the major port of Misrata. Gaddafi remains steadfast in his assertion that he is in control and that his people support him unequivocally. It would seem that no amount of threats, pressure or rationale will deter Gaddafi from seeking to maintain his position. But his reality differs greatly from that which is true. It is unclear how long the international community, particularly European countries, will tolerate Gaddafi’s ongoing campaign especially with major economic interests at stake. However, the international community obviously lacks the legitimacy to intervene substantially on the ground militarily.

What is certain is that Libyans have a rare opportunity to establish an effective national government with institutions that embodies western democratic ideals. The active involvement of extremist elements threatens the possibility of democratic governance. To avoid the establishment of an Islamist, extremist regime, the international community will have to work cooperatively with the opposition movement, rewarding democratic action and bolstering moderate forces. Most importantly, establish strong independent, strong and well functioning justice system. The world has already bore witness to the previously unimaginable downfall of two rigid autocracies. People power has demonstrated its timeliness, its strength in fighting tyranny and its ability to organize themselves in a manner conducive to the development of representational and accountable government. Their success will be contingent upon ensuring that all factions created by the recent political upheaval work cooperatively to construct a new Libya, made of and for its people.  Can we get there by the current NATO’s bombardments in Libya?  Is it for the Northern Atlantic organization countries to impose to other people who should lead them?