Al-Ahram Weekly Online   25 October - 31 November 2012
Issue No. 1120
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Gamal Nkrumah

Libyan realism

The story of Libya's liberation has taken an unhappy turn, laments Gamal Nkrumah

Answers to the gargantuan crises facing contemporary Libya depend primarily on developments in three Libyan cities -- Bani Walid, Benghazi and Misrata. Two other cities, the capital Tripoli and the town of Tarhouna, count. As Libya officially celebrates the liberation anniversary marking the capture of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown Sirte, parts of the country appear to be embroiled in civil war.

Conflicting news of the capture and then death of Gaddafi's sixth son Khamis was made public and then curiously denied. Die-hard Gaddafi loyalist Moussa Ibrahim, the official English language interpreter and spokesman for the toppled regime, was likewise rumoured to be killed. What is certain is that Omran Shaaban, the 22-year-old man credited with capturing Gaddafi, sparked a round of intense fighting in and around the city of Bani Walid, long regarded as one of the most formidable bastions of Gaddafi loyalists. Local Bani Walid militias battled forces loyal to the Libyan government.

The deadly stalemate between Bani Walid and Misrata ensued as hopes turned into fear and uncertainty in Libya. A popular theory in politics posits is that if a government wants to force down some foul-tasting medicine it is better to get the nastiness over as early as possible. On 23 October 2011, three days after the brutal assassination of Gaddafi, the then transitional authorities declared the country's liberation and formally declared the cessation of hostilities.

A year later, the Libyan authorities still believe that pro-Gaddafi militias pose a threat to Libya's national security and are intent on teaching them a lesson. Perhaps, that is why news of the capture of Gaddafi's son Khamis and of the ousted regime's official spokesman Ibrahim stalked the country so quickly.

The efforts of Libya's new ruling clique to overhaul the political agenda of pro-Gaddafi loyalists were stymied by forces such as the Green Resistance. Few Gaddafi loyalists escaped the political turmoil that followed Gaddafi's demise. Fewer still sneaked back into the country. That appears to be the basic strategy adopted by the Libyan authorities -- scare-mongering and confusion. The curious timing of the arrest of two other prominent personalities of the ousted regime include General Abdel-Rahman Al-Seid, formerly responsible for arms and ammunitions depots and a close companion, and comrade-in-arms of Gaddafi, Muftah Kueibah.

Narrowly defined groups of die-hard Gaddafi loyalists are hemmed in fortified bastions such as Bani Walid. A year after his ruination, the Gaddafi era seems like the good old days, not just by a battle-hardened few stalwarts, but by a majority of the inhabitants of the cities and town that held out the longest. Loyalty to Gaddafi never used to be such a clear-cut political issue.

Mohamed Megarief, the bespectacled suave and sophisticated chairman of the National General Congress, sports a neatly trimmed silver goatee. His personal social networking sites on the Internet -- Facebook and Twitter -- unexpectedly announced that Khamis Gaddafi was mortally wounded during the fighting in Bani Walid.

Yet, Megarief was also quoted as conceding that not all of Libyan territory was liberated of Gaddafi loyalists. Megarief also acknowledged that the building of a new national army and a new security apparatus was seriously hampered by the reluctance of regional militias to hand over their weapons to the authorities.

At a time of fierce debate on how best to rekindle trust in the government system and the National General Congress as a respected arbiter of political matters, so the supposed capture of high profile Gaddafi authorities was bound to cause waves.

Libyans do not seem to have much patience for the gimmickry of the politicians. Corruption has become endemic and public outcry against graft is forcing politicians to advocate measures that are politically popular with the public.

It is against this backdrop that Megarief's statements were generally taken with a pinch of salt. Megarief is about to embark on a campaign to persuade Libyans that their country is on the mend. But it is hardly auspicious that the starting point of his political campaign undermines the very principles he is claiming to defend.

A year after Gaddafi's political demise Libya has changed a great deal. The transformation of the media from strict government control during the 42-year-old rule of the late Libyan leader to the private domain has brought about a deluge of different, often conflicting ideological voices, to the airwaves. Libya launched its first all English language radio station -- unthinkable under Gaddafi. And, a Salafist television channel has likewise kicked off with a big bang.

Megarief, conscious that popular opinion in Libya has moved away from wreaking outright vengeance on the remaining Gaddafi loyalists has pushed for leniency and mercy. But if Megarief is right to stand firm on a single question, retribution, the price he is paying for that, is too high. He must set new rules.

Megarief does not need to count ballots all over again to gauge the mood of the Libyan people. They can count gunshot wounds. Incidents of violence are not just isolated acts of wantonness perpetrated by those militiamen driven crazy by bloodthirsty vengeance. Any recrimination of Gaddafi loyalists should neither be the result of public consultation and parliamentary debate, neither backroom political haggling and certainly not the kangaroo courts of trigger-happy militiamen.

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