Political chaos risks leaving Libya in a stew of lawlessness, cautions Gamal Nkrumah
One of the oddities of the current political situation in Libya in the post-Muammar Gaddafi, one of the region's most tenacious defenders of secularism and populist authoritarianism, is that his gruesome assassination unleashed the sharpening divide between the forces of secularism and Islamist fundamentalism in Libya. Towns and cities on the losing side are pitted against those who triumphed.
Libya is struggling to stay afloat on its oil bonanza. Cities like Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown and the last to fall into the hands of his adversaries, and Tawergha -- a Gaddafi loyalist stronghold inhabited by the black descendants of slaves from the trans-Saharan trade, are being penalised for standing by Gaddafi. Other cities like Misrata, Libya's third most populous city, and Zintan whose militias captured Gaddafi and summarily executed him, are being rewarded for their anti-Gaddafi stance.
The disadvantaged group of pro-Gaddafi cities such as Sirte and Tawergha provide a fertile recruiting ground for the Green Resistance, a formidable force that threatens to derail the very foundations of the post-Gaddafi regime. It was reported by several regional international think tanks this week that the Green Resistance imported 25,000 silencer weapons. This implies that the Green Resistance possesses substantial reserves of Gaddafi greenbacks.
Such drama is merely the denouement. The Green Resistance actually stormed Misrata Prison and captured 145 prison guards and wardens who were reportedly executed with silencers. If true, this should send shudders down spines of European enthusiasts of the new Libya.
The grisly incident was a measure of how troubled Libya's security situation has become. The country has had to contend with almost unremitting turbulence. In a separate development 283 government forces were murdered in cold blood in a vicious gun battle in the outskirts of the Libyan capital Tripoli, according to a confidential source close to the militias of the Green Resistance.
Libya's Western backers need to make a policy shift or adjustment in order to deal with the new situation developing in one of Europe's most important sources of oil. Western attention has focused unduly on the oil riches of Libya and not so much on the security threats emanating from the Green Resistance to the country's oil installations. At least as much attention must be paid to buttressing the nascent democracy of this new Islamist-oriented tottering state.
Another war of words has broken out over Libya's political future. Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) Chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil publicly decried the situation in his country as "civil war". In spite of Abdel-Jalil's protestations, the sad truth is that both the NTC and its adversary, the Green Resistance composed of Gaddafi loyalists and diehards, appear to be somewhat starry-eyed.
The outcome of the conflict will be determined ultimately by outside forces. Whether the West has the will to intervene militarily once again to save the NTC is the crucial question at this point.
The NTC named Youssef Mangoush as Libya's new commander-in-chief this week. All hell was let loose. Mangoush was a colonel under Gaddafi before 1999 when he retired. Still, he is not trusted by the rank and file of the NTC is against Mangoush.
One genuine niggle is that these disgruntled elements are eager to see fresh faces in positions of power. The general restlessness of the NTC stalwarts is engendered in the main because of the lack of trust they have of their leaders who were up until recently diehard Gaddafi loyalists some of whom had served Gaddafi well. The fight has been carried into the heart of the NTC strongholds.
Then there is the tribal politics of the clans who only a generation ago were nomadic drifters roaming the sprawling Sahara Desert. The new NTC government must undertake the economic rebuilding necessary to lift the millions of tribesmen out of poverty as high a priority as fighting the Green Resistance insurgents. Today, tribal elders will only feature as pawns. For any serious action to ease their plight, the Libyan people will have to look beyond clan politics.
Amid the stirring events of the past six months, some observers speculate that the worse is yet to come. Libya must heed Iraq's lessons. Pressure risks amplifying Libya's intractable problems.
Few Libyans are merely interested in the long haul. Judging by the flurry of diplomatic activity to contain the tensions, European powers are ringing the alarm bells.
The real game here is political. Libya is vitally important to Europe as a primary source of its oil supplies. Libyans demand a real say in their future. The question is whether the NTC or the Green Resistance will provide the answers and supply the solutions to the country's crises.
The pendulum of the Libyan people's attitudes to the country's problems has swung round to hit the NTC below the belt. But there is good reason why an investigation into the loyalty of the NTC leadership -- no matter how arduous -- would still be in the public interest. The junior ranks are pressing for this in the face of public mistrust.
Gaddafi loyalists are prepared for the long hard grind, though. This exposes the inadequacy of the NTC. Which brings us to the Green Resistance's principal flaw. It has no obvious leader with Seif Al-Islam incarcerated and awaiting trial.
The Green Resistance is desperately looking for a reformist strongman. So far they have none and Seif Al-Islam is not credible. Ironically for patriarchal tribal Libya, Aisha, Gaddafi's daughter, is claiming the mantle of leadership and she is intelligent and articulate enough to do so. Her legal training and political smarts, however, do not impress traditionalists.
Let the NTC leaders submit themselves to an honest test. Abdel-Jalil's tough rhetoric is aimed at quelling suspicions about his conservative religious credentials.
One key recent change in the past few days is that certain international powers, emboldened by Russia's and China's recent veto of the Syrian resolution at the United Nations, might block any attempt by NATO and the Gulf-controlled Arab League to interfere.
The NTC should not derive any false confidence from its current Western backing. To keep its backers it must ensure that some semblance of freedom is allowed in the parliamentary elections scheduled for June. A tall order indeed.
Such a process could produce a legitimate government -- not necessarily the one the West wishes -- with the mandate to push through urgent structural reforms. The first post-Gaddafi Libyan elections are shaping up as a contest between various Islamist groups, the largest being the Muslim Brotherhood.
Launching not just Libya's economic but political renewal would safeguard Libya's future better than the mumbling Abdel-Jalil's attempt to cling to power, like Tunisia's Al-Habib Bourgiba or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak -- well into their dotage.
Some say the recent escalation in NTC rhetoric may be designed, above all else, to keep up the pressure on Gaddafi loyalists to back down and on the West to accelerate investments in the post-Gaddafi Libya. At the same time, the NTC is desperate not to create the impression that it is totally reliant on the West, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Green Resistance, too, is careful not to expose its own dependence on the likes of Belarus. What matters is that the Green Resistance is striking terror in the hearts of the defenders of the NTC strongholds. It is well that such episodes of defiance are not swept under the carpet.