Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Tripoli’s transfiguration

Gamal Nkrumah notes that on the second anniversary marking the 17 February Revolution, that ultimately led to the savage assassination of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the remaking of the North African country nears completion

Al-Ahram Weekly

Alas, there was not a fairy light in sight. The seaside Libyan capital Tripoli was set aglow emblazoned with illuminated lights. No, it was not Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Neither was it Christmas. Masked gunmen, presumably militiamen, fired endless volleys of shots and artillery fire — even though the celebrations were marked by strict security. Spectacular displays of fireworks failed to lift the underlying sense of gloom and uncertainty, some would say a macabre mood.
Ominously, even President of Libya’s National General Congress (NGC) Mohamed Al-Megarief was conspicuously absent. Al-Megarief was in Libya’s second largest city Benghazi — the cradle of the anti-Gaddafi uprising. “The first proof that the country is not safe is that foreign companies do not want to come and invest in Libya,” Al-Megarief emphasised the two most unsettling features of post-Muammar Gaddafi Libya — economic malaise and a complete lack of security. And, the two are inextricably intertwined. “We must stand together to stop racism and violence,” Al-Megarief noted in a sombre tone. His choice of words was simultaneously meticulous and telling.
Contemporary Libya, for many young Libyans, is a lunge into a world of previously unimaginable possibilities. They fancy themselves “revolutionaries”, and in a sense they are. The trigger-happy, hot-headed youngsters, overwhelmingly male and most wielding guns, push against what is now permissible in the post-Gaddafi period and wildly overstep the limit.
Al-Megarief mentioned “racism” — and darker complexioned Libyans have been the target of the “revolutionaries” wrath. Inadvertently, they are ushering in a uniformly repressive society in which dissenters are terrified to speak out. Perhaps this is why Al-Megarief, Libya’s de facto head of state, and members of the Libyan government chose to mark the second anniversary celebrations in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square, and not in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square — formerly christened “Green Square” by Gaddafi.
Benghazi is a break with the past. The city, the capital of oil-rich Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), was the hotbed of the anti-Gaddafi “revolution”. Cyrenaica has long harboured a yearning for secession, and the Libyan leadership is keen to assure the restive region’s population that they are well represented in parliament and ministerial portfolios.
Libya’s post-Gaddafi’s tricolour — the red, black and green with white crescent and star — was hoist high by flag-waving crowds in both Benghazi and Tripoli. Drivers hooted incessantly. Obviously it was a thoroughly macho affair. Women complained bitterly that men hijacked the 17 February Revolution and silenced the feminine voice. There is no room for women in this mayhem of machismo.
Yes, there are women MPs in the NGC. However, upon closer inspection, it transpires that most of Libya’s women MPs got into parliament by default. Libya’s women MPs made it to the legislative body only because 80 seats are reserved for political parties, and many parties were obliged to field women candidates. Out of 200 MPs only 30 are women — still, a percentage much higher than that of Egyptian women in Libya’s eastern neighbour’s last parliament.
Ironically, there were few signs of deep fissures during the celebrations, even though the 17 February Revolution widened the divide that ruptures Libyan society. “Let us say no to corruption. Let us say no to chaos,” Al-Megarief pleaded with his compatriots. His was a rueful admission that graft, illegal and unfair monetary gain is endemic in post-Gaddafi’s Libya.
Al-Megarief played mediator. Nevertheless he has been dubbed by his countrymen as the “play-maker who lacks power”. Preparation for the celebrations marking 17 February Revolution, and as a security precaution, Libya closed its borders with both Egypt and Tunisia. Its southern porous borders with Algeria, Niger, Chad and Sudan — not to mention nearby Mali — are quite simply impossible to man or monitor. All international airports, including Tripoli’s and Benghazi’s were temporarily shut down, as several international flights were suspended even before the celebrations.
The deplorable story of post-Gaddafi Libya as an outwardly run-of-the-mill “Arab Spring” struggling to attain the elusive status of normalcy has come to resemble the plot line of an improbable horror movie. The militias — tribal, militant Islamist, or just criminal mafioso — far outnumber the Libyan government’s armed forces. Most are better equipped and more disciplined than the national army.
Now, to top it off, come claims of Western powers trying to salvage the country by providing props for Libya’s defence and security forces that are apparently in shambles. An insignificant French private security and defence company, Sillinger, noted for manufacturing naval vessels deployed by French naval commandos, was commissioned by the Libyan authorities last month to boost Libya’s navy. Libya is also procuring more sophisticated naval vessels from France, and Paris has pledged to train the fledgling Libyan armed forces and naval officers.
Post-Gaddafi’s Libya, already fighting long odds in its effort to attain peace and security, now finds itself with another crisis at hand — neo-colonialism. Whether justified or not, Libya’s resorting to Western powers to rescue the country from ruin, has contributed to a public perception of successive post-Gaddafi Libyan governments as dysfunctional and neo-colonial.   
The culmination of the chaotic state of confusion and disorderliness was the 11 September 2012 terrorist attack by a militant Islamist group calling itself Ansar Al-Sharia on the United States consulate in Benghazi that left the American Ambassador in Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American citizens dead. Needless to say, countless Libyans — mostly innocent bystanders — have been victims of the violence of the militant Islamist militias.
Deserved or not, the string of ineffectual post-Gaddafi Libyan governments’ barbs have hit a nerve with the long-suffering Libyan people. Every time there is a disaster or a scandal, the Libyan public insists it is the previous government that was responsible.
Putting the blame squarely on Gaddafi does not wash with most Libyans. At some point, the anti-Gaddafi diatribes and vilification must stop. It does no one no good. Matters came to a head when scores of militiamen armed to the teeth with anti-aircraft guns surrounded the Libyan parliament. Dozens of militiamen stormed the parliament to protest the inclusion in the latest Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government of ministerial portfolios suspected of being occupied by former Gaddafi henchmen and hangers-on. All hell was let loose and the perpetrators of the ignominious incident naturally had a field-day in the local Libyan and international media.
The trail of disasters and destruction has done more than shred the reputation of successive post-Gaddafi Libyan governments. There has also been a significant financial toll. Libya reputedly has the world’s largest reserves of petroleum. Potentially, Libya could be a spectacularly prosperous nation. Regrettably, wanton violence has paralysed the country, and not the poverty, poor infrastructure and underdevelopment that always seems to steal the headlines.
The catalogue of post-Gaddafi human rights violations, endemic violence and internecine infighting among Libya’s militias makes daunting reading. Promises to stand up to the intimidating threat of the foul play of the militiamen and the warlords ring hollow.
For two years Africa and the Arab world as well as Western powers have watched with mingled hope and anxiety as events in post-Gaddafi Libya unfold. Some, it seems, like it tough in Libya. The self-styled “Revolutionaries” who butchered Gaddafi and ended his 42-year iron-fist rule celebrate his political demise with a crisp certainty and rhetorical force reminiscent of the slain Libyan leader.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the “liberal” Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance won 39 of the 80 seats in the NGC reserved for political parties. In sharp contrast with Egypt and Tunisia, the Libyan Islamists in general and the Muslim Brotherhood and their Justice and Construction Party in particular performed poorly in last July’s elections.
Add militant Islamists to Libya’s litany of political woes. The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, with their green insignia — Gaddafi’s hallmark and choice colour — emblazoned with the Koran and two crossed swords, are a force to reckon with. They, or rather their political party, garnered 17 out of the 80 seats allocated to political parties. But, then the Muslim Brotherhood is a movement and its main agenda is social engineering, as opposed to political power. Or, so they say.
Yet, Libya is unique among “Arab Spring” nations in that there is no great ideological chasm between “liberals” and “Islamists”. There is a saying that Libya’s liberals are more Islamist ideologically than Egypt’s or Tunisia’s Islamists. And, among all of Libya’s three provinces, Cyrenaica is considered the stronghold of the Islamists. And, it is for its oil, and not for its penchant for political Islam that Cyrenaica is courted by all and sundry within the post-Gaddafi Libyan political establishment.
As Cyrenaica jockeys for greater autonomy — there are some in the eastern province who would like to see a political entity akin to Iraqi Kurdistan established in Cyrenaica — the power play for control over Libya’s vast petroleum wealth proceeds. Whether or not federalism will make Libya a less dysfunctional democracy remains to be seen. What is certain is that political volte-faces will continue to be a key characteristic of post-Gaddafi Libya.
So what is the basis of the post-Gaddafi melodrama? For all his faults and shortcomings, Gaddafi unhesitatingly halted Western military intervention in the Sahara and the Sahel. Thus, he had to be removed. Washington was well aware that Gaddafi represented a bulwark against militant Islamist and that he stopped the travel and transit of transnational terrorists in the Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa by providing development assistance and financial support to disgruntled and disadvantaged ethnic groups such as the Tuareg people. “The [Gaddafi] government of Libya has aggressively pursued operations to disrupt foreign fighter flows, including more stringent monitoring of air/land ports of entry, and blunt the ideological appeal of radical Islam,” Ambassador Stevens noted in 2008.
So for those who count — the Americans and their Euro office boys — the rise of Sahelian terrorism, the string of murders, and the collapse of the Libyan economy are acceptable collatera-damage, as long as AFRICOM finds its niche in the post-Gaddafi dispensation.

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