Libya: Endgame for Qadhafi – By George Joffé
Colonel Qadhafi’s forty-two year-long moment upon the global stage appears to be nearing its end, as insurgent forces approach the Libyan capital, Tripoli, from three sides. It will, inevitably, be unnecessarily prolonged as the colonel fights to the last of his supporters in his own version of the Apocalypse, before flying off, with his family, to a comfortable exile in Venezuela or South Africa – unless, of course, he chooses the alternative of self destruction alongside the political edifice he himself constructed. But the end of his regime, with its casual brutality, idiosyncratic politics and aberrant vision of the colonel as world statesman, is now ineluctable.
By George Joffé – Cambridge University
In exile, no doubt, he will fulminate about the fickleness of statesmen and politicians as he blames imperialism and NATO for his downfall, recalling how those who destroyed him had also fawned upon him as they sought contracts and oil. Hubris, however, has a long memory, longer, perhaps, than that of the colonel himself.
In reality, the regime’s doom was written, clear for all to see, on February 17, 2011 when it lost control of Benghazi, simply because of the peculiar geography of Libya. Essentially, it is a country based on two urban conurbations and to lose control of one means that control of half the country goes with it. And with the loss of so much territory and, together with it, of the illusion of dominance, goes both the credibility and legitimacy of the regime.
That loss of credibility, furthermore, was rendered irreversible by the decision of the United Nations Security Council in its resolutions 1970 (February 26, 2011), which banned arms supplies to either side, and 1973 (March 17, 2011) which, for humanitarian reasons designed to protect civilians, instituted a no-fly zone but banned “˜foreign occupation’ of Libya. That was the key, for it enabled the NATO-led Coalition to intervene, effectively supporting the insurgents against Colonel Qadhafi’s forces and downgrading their weaponry and armour.
A post-Qadhafi era
Yet, what the aftermath to the Qadhafi regime will entail for Libya is not so certain. Firstly, there are many people who were vested in the regime, particularly the Qadhadhfa and the Maghraha tribes who, along with the Warfalla, peopled the security services and the administration and who, along with the colonel’s own family, profited from the corruption that had accompanied the economic rehabilitation of Libya after the Lockerbie sanctions regime had ended. Then there are the tribes of Cyrenaica, in the east, who bitterly resented their loss of influence after the fall of the Sanussi regime in 1969 when Colonel Qadhafi’s Arab Nationalist coup succeeded. Alongside them are the Berber tribes of the Jabal Nafusa, long marginalised, distrusted and persecuted for their non-Arab status by the regime, yet who have spearheaded the struggle for Zawiya and Gharyan, the two victories that isolated Tripoli and made the regime’s collapse inevitable. Then of course, there are the Islamists in Cyrenaica who seek a place in the sun, alongside the long-excluded trading families of Tripolitania who have spent years in exile, awaiting the end of the regime.
There are other problems and uncertainties too. Although the insurgency in Cyrenaica rapidly formed a new administration around the National Transitional Council, drawing on tribal, Islamist and urban supporters, its authority is not uncontested. The Berbers of the Jabal Nafusa, for example, may not wish to see an integrated state, seeking instead some form of autonomy of federation, given their experience of Arab domination over the years. And, to what extent can the Council speak for the heroic insurgents in Misurata, or even Zawiya, once the crisis is over, despite their blueprint for a post-Qadhafi settlement? That anticipates retaining much of the existing state in being as arrangements are made for a constituent assembly and free elections.
The National Transitional Council
And, then again, how credible is the Council itself, especially after the assassination of its leading military figure, General Abdelfattah Younis al-Abidi, at the end of July? He died as a result of disputes within the Council about his loyalty – he had been a close confident of Colonel Qadhafi since the revolution, as well as his interior minister – and because the Council cannot control all the military units fighting under its banner. Even its governance structures have been thrown into disarray by the disputes which followed the general’s death and it is hardly cohesive enough to be able to handle the complexities of the post-Qadhafi era, despite its growing international recognition as the legitimate representative of a new Libya.
Inside Benghazi, its authority is challenged by the February 17 Movement which brooks no truck with former regime collaborators, a divided Islamist opposition, some of whom seek reconciliation and others who reject it, and civilian militias who challenge its authority despite attempts it is making to bring them under its control. And then there are the disputes amongst exiles who have returned and now have their own role within the Council. Mustapha Abdeljalil, its president, will have a Herculean task in welding these disparate elements together, if the Council is to take up its self-appointed role of mastering the post-conflict situation.
Western members of the Coalition have, of course, been trying to help the Council create a coherent administration in Benghazi, particularly over ensuring personal security against the background of constant attempts by clandestine pro-Qadhafi groups to disrupt the situation. In the wake of General Younis’s death, for example, a whole pro-Qadhafi brigade, masquerading as a pro-Council militia, was rounded up. But the deeper problem of dealing with competing revolutionary organizations remains, as does the real Western agenda for the post-Qadhafi era.
A planned transition?
There appears, as yet, to be no master-plan for what will need to be done; indeed, perhaps, there cannot be for UNSC resolution 1973 forbids “˜foreign occupation’. Yet, without a stabilization force, how can the Council or whatever body emerges to represent the new Libya, guarantee that security which will be the essential background against which reconstruction can begin? Yet who can or will provide it? Turkey might be one option, despite its colonial past in Libya, Egypt will not be, given Libyan fears of Egypt’s hegemonic ambitions. Western powers simply cannot do so, dogged as they are by Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reconstruction, too, will be expensive, given the damaged oil installations, physical infrastructure and the cities that have been the arenas for such intense violence. Of course, Libya’s frozen assets will contribute, but they are hardly going to be sufficient for the calls that will be made upon them before the shattered oil industry begins to generate sufficient new revenues to both feed the population and reconstruct the economy. Estimates for the reconstruction period range from three to five years before Libyan can become truly self-sufficient.
Who, then, will pay; and who will face the consequences, apart from the Libyan people themselves, if the funds do not emerge? Some help will, undoubtedly, come from the Gulf but hardly in the quantities needed to repair the damage of decades of neglect, capped by military violence. It might be worthwhile for European capitals to remember that Libya is a Mediterranean, as well as an African or Arab state, for they are likely to be the next port-of-call!