Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 June - 4 July 2012
Issue No. 1104
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Tripoli's secret testimony

The postponement of Libya's election and the extradition from Tunisia of Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi is alarming foreign investors and the country's new rulers' old NATO sponsors, concludes Gamal Nkrumah

Pandemonium has been unleashed in Libya. Another week, and yet another set of statistics to make the heart sink.

Click to view caption
Workers prepare posters of independent candidate Mohamed Dhaw Albozadi. Campaigning for Libya's first national election will kick off on 7 July

Such a reality can literally garrote the most resilient optimism. As Libya seeks to assert itself as an independent state, the new ruling cabal is facing criticism for desperately trying to expand their power base by mischievous means. "There is no real democracy in Libya," is the common complaint uttered by thousands of unemployed Libyan youth and disgruntled tribesmen and disfranchised women.

This has become a louder refrain as Libya's new rulers seek to assert themselves as the highest authority in the land. The Libyan authorities try to convince the world and especially their Western allies that their sprawling and ethnically and racially divided country is a "normally functioning nation-state," an allegation refuted by their adversaries both at home and abroad. Libya's search for a political consensus remains typically complicated pitting Arab against Amazigh (the indigenous non-Arab population of North Africa), black-skinned Libyans versus their fairer-skinned compatriots and a host of other discrepancies that divide the country along racial, tribal and ideological lines.

The postponement of the Libyan parliamentary and municipal elections comes at a time of increased social and political tensions in Libya.

Al-Mahmoudi was the secretary-general of the General People's Congress of the Libyan Jamahiriya, a post he assumed in 2006 during the rule of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The Islamists, in a transition that's appearing to be increasingly similar to other North African countries, are predicted to sweep the parliamentary polls scheduled for 7 July. The elections were postponed because of the political instability of post-Gaddafi Libya. The Islamists want to make an example of figureheads of the Gaddafi regime to terrorise and intimidate the old guard.

"We never planned on postponing the election, we worked very hard for the election to be on time," said Nuri Al-Abbaar, head of Libya's electoral commission. "I don't want to blame anybody for the postponement, I just want to make sure the elections are transparent," Al-Abbaar explained.

Libya's current Prime Minister Abdel-Rahman Al-Keib has kept a low profile. There are many explanations, however, for the extradition of Al-Mahmoudi.

The political transition in Libya provoked by the NATO invasion, air for anti-Gaddafi forces or air strikes, was never expected to fulfil Western ambitions of the institution of a democratic dream for Libyans. And, a year after the ousting of Gaddafi from the Libyan capital Tripoli it remains as elusive a dream as ever.

Tribalism is growing at an alarming rate, and central to unfolding drama, or rather national tragedy, are the persona of political prisoners like Al-Mahmoudi and Seif Al-Islam Al-Gaddafi. These were political personalities who did facilitate the totalitarianism of the Gaddafi regime.

There is much evident inconsistency on the part of the ruling Transitional National Council (TNC). They purport to support a smooth democratic transition yet they refuse to hand over political prisoners to the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Al-Mahmoudi was reportedly beaten severely on his head upon arrival in Libya that he sustained serious head injuries and suffered a brain haemorrhage.

Under Gaddafi Libya had both autocratic, totalitarian rule but the country also had security and political stability which gave it a semblance of solidity.

Today, Libyans have neither. Counter-revolutionaries rush in where the new rulers of the country fear to tread.

The more prosaic reality is that Libyans, as well as Tunisians, have been taken unawares by the extradition of Al-Mahmoudi.

The inescapable truth, though, is that the geopolitical landscape of Libya is quickly deteriorating into warring band, clans and militiamen. The names and true identities of the warlords are unknown.

The anti-Gaddafi forces are frantically agitated one moment and serenely introspective the next. There does not seem to be a true desire for multi-party pluralism, and the concept will take years to take root. Moreover, there are no checks and balances. State institutions and state agencies are frail and ineffective.

Spirits remained high even when the good-governance standards did not.

Fearless, rather than vitriolic, the pro-Gaddafi forces of the Green Resistance find the current conditions prevailing in the country most congenial.

The campaign strategies of various Libyan newly formed political parties are haphazard. When local Libyan political intrigue offers nothing but depressing news, the masses turn to more radical solutions to their problems.

Tunisia extradited Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, former prime minister under the last administration of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, to Libya amid accusations and counter-accusations as to when and how the handing over of Al-Mahmoudi to Libya too occurred. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki is furious about the sudden announcement of the smuggling of Al-Mahmoudi into Libya.

There are growing fears about the well-being of Al-Mahmoudi. He is a medical practitioner but suffers from diabetes and other health complications including hypertension and circulatory and respiratory diseases. Al-Mahmoudi has denied charges of his alleged participation in crimes committed against humanity during Gaddafi's 42-year rule.

Tunisia's Defence Ministry is outraged and issued a rejection of having struck a deal with the Libyan authorities over the extradition of Al-Mahmoudi. Certain elements within the NTC needed to be placated, some Tunisian sources declared. The Tunisian government has bowed to pressure from the Libyan authorities in order to restore full bilateral economic and commercial relationships.

There is no escape from the tempest of diplomatic brouhaha that is to ensue. Certain elements in the Tunisian corridors of power are implicated.

That charge, if it comes, will be misconceived. Most Tunisians are keen to stay away from the conundrum of Libyan domestic politics. This applies with equal force to the Al-Mahmoudi case, widely seen as a litmus test of Tunisian regional policy.

Meanwhile, in the Libyan People's Assembly envisioned, 80 of the 200 seats will be reserved for political parties to contest. Independent political candidates will hold the rest of the seats.

A willingness to transcend party politics was the hallmark of the Gaddafi regime. Nostalgic socialists still hold on tenaciously to the ideals of Gaddafi. Yet, Libyans began registering for the elections in May and so far about 2.7 million, or around 80 per cent of eligible Libyan voters have completed the relevant paperwork.

The NTC understands that a marriage of convenience between the calculated self-interest of the powers that be in Tripoli and Benghazi and market interests of Western powers is not insoluble.

In their own right they are deeply implicated in the transgressions that caused the crisis of confidence in the NTC. A greater danger is that a widening legal battleground will distract attention from the pressing economic and social reforms at home.

It will be easy for the Libyan electorate to admonish the NTC administration for inconsistency. More Libyans now believe that there was something more wholesome about the good old days of Gaddafi.

Double standards are not the sole preserve of the NTC. Intellectual flexibility is rife among the intelligentsia. The battle between the sword and the pen once thought to have ended with the bonfires that dumped Gaddafi's Green Book in the dustbin of history curiously lives on.

The leaders of the post-Gaddafi Libya have become enamoured with the idea of mob justice. They cannot coax loyalists of the old Gaddafi regime. Perhaps the NTC still hopes the militias can deploy sufficient terror to hold on to power in the respective regional strongholds. It was never enough to clean up from the wreckage of NATO.

The power of the words is strong.

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