by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
Following its “liberation” by the West, Libya has descended into absolute chaos. To the grim reality of life for people must now be added the distinct possibility of Libya breaking up along tribal lines.
The fog of confusion surrounding events in Syria has provided a convenient escape from the grim events still unfolding in Libya. Western “experts” no longer talk about a “liberated Libya” from the clutches of a brutal dictator, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. That was accomplished, thanks to NATO bombs and cruise missiles, two years ago. The Libyans were supposedly rescued from the clutches of a mad dictator so they could enjoy the fruits of Western-style democracy, freedom and human rights. But is there any freedom or democracy in Libya? Nobody in the West dares ask this question. No surveys are conducted to ask what the Libyans think of life after Qaddafi. The situation is so bad that almost all Westerners have fled the country. The Western exodus accelerated after the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. The people of Libya have nowhere to escape to.
Let us get the facts about Libya and Qaddafi straight. He was the West’s creation; his eccentricities provided fodder for ridicule of the “other.” Qaddafi was a perfect model for the Eastern/Arab caricature: part human, part animal and always amenable to jokes bordering on racism. Libyans no longer find their situation funny.
The country with one of the best medical facilities in Africa, indeed the Muslim East, and generous government grants for education, has been turned into militialand with armed thugs ruling little fiefdoms. Qaddafi’s lynching in October 2011 was preceded by the lynching of black Libyans under the pretext that they were African mercenaries hired by Qaddafi to defend his regime. Libya is in Africa. The allegation is completely racist but was eagerly peddled by Western “experts” to advance their own nefarious agendas. Since Qaddafi’s lynching, Libya has been gripped by more turmoil. Killings have continued; people are shot even in their hospital beds. Life has become precarious for the vast majority. There is no safety or security anywhere.
Last month, two other developments pushed Libya into an even deeper crisis. First, the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped from his hotel room by gunmen. He was released several hours later but it pointed to the precarious situation in the country when even the prime minister is not safe. Second, militias have declared the eastern part of Libya (with Benghazi its main city) as an autonomous region. These are the first steps toward Libya’s disintegration as a state. A former militia commander, Ibrahim al-Jathran, heads the rebel group that has declared Cyrenaica an autonomous region and also taken control of the Brega oil terminal on the Mediterranean coast. He wants to sell oil directly on the international market. This may prove difficult but the fact that he is talking in terms of splitting the country into three self-governing parts along tribal lines is more troubling. This was the situation before independence from Italy in 1951.
At the time, Libya’s three zones consisted of the eastern Cyrenaica region, a western part with Tripoli as its capital, and Fezzan in the south. Since oil is the only commodity Libya has, al-Jathran has grabbed the black gold and is sitting tight. He has already blocked oil sales worth $5 billion and is threatening to escalate confrontation with those in power in Tripoli. He accuses them of corruption and pocketing the wealth from oil that is produced in the east. He has a point but whether he will use the oil wealth to improve the lot of the people in the east is a different matter.
The battle over oil is still minor compared to the mayhem gripping Libya. Out of control armed militias are running amok. True, this is not what the West had hoped for but their reasons for getting rid of Qaddafi were based on entirely selfish motives. It was not Qaddafi’s eccentricity or his dictatorial style of governance — the West’s regional allies are all despicable dictators — it was Qaddafi’s plan for breaking out of the West’s financial stranglehold that led to his downfall and brutal murder. He wanted to establish an African Monetary Fund and had the approval of a number of African and Middle Eastern countries to create a gold dinar. This would have spelt the death knell of the already struggling US dollar and the euro. This was also the reason why the dictator Saddam Husain of Iraq was overthrown and hanged. The threat to the West’s financial interests is what brought Qaddafi’s demise. What has emerged in Libya since Qaddafi’s overthrow, however, is not what the West had anticipated.
The price is being paid by Libyans in life and limb.