In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Phantom of the Gaddafi opera

Posted by seumasach on June 17, 2011

Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

9-15th June, 2011


Day after day, the night sky is shattered by the blinding flash of NATO firepower in the playing out of a surreal drama scripted in hell. Hundreds of innocent civilians ripped apart by NATO’s attack helicopters, so-called Apaches, in yet another defilement of First Nation peoples. It’s almost like they hope Libyans would just disappear as did the Native Americans.

The murderous music of sirens and screaming bombs explode randomly in peaceful neighbourhoods, destroying eardrums. They systematically target Muammar Gaddafi’s field forces and the strongman himself, presumably seeking shelter in his bunker in Bab Al-Aziziya Barracks. Tripoli, the embattled Libyan capital, feels more like an open-air discotheque than a control and command centre of the Gaddafi’s Fateh Revolution. Drab green flags sweep back to reveal on occasion the National Transitional Council’s (NTC) plush tricolour — red, black and green with the brilliant white crescent and star dangling in the centre like the bull’s eye of a dartboard.

Gaddafi’s all-female bodyguards with far too much make-up and brightly polished nails have vanished from the scene. The flow of misinformation continues unabated, like some comedy of errors. The plot of this Apocalyptic play is convoluted but revolves around Gaddafi and his family. Except that the Brother Leader, as aficionados affectionately know him, is nowhere to be seen. Yet devotees of Gaddafi’s Green Book, with its serious social, political and economic overtones, sing revolutionary songs to those who bother to listen and the audience, most of whom have heard these slogans a zillion times before, sing along.

Behind the scene, though, staff officers and military units are speedily changing places in a mad game of musical chairs. Gaddafi promoted his son Al-Saidi to the august rank of general this week. Commanding officers are deserting the Gaddafi army in droves and joining the forces of the opposition NTC. Their real motives are no mystery.

The threat of the deployment of ground forces by NATO is fast changing the face of Libya. NTC-controlled Cyrenaica is serene for the time being. All is not quiet on the western front, though. The anti-Gaddafi forces are closing in on Yefren, the strategic Western Mountains stronghold. If the rebels capture the city they will gain the upper hand in Western Libya and will be within striking distance of Tripoli itself. With the fall of Yefren, the fight for control of the Nefusa, or Western Mountains, will be all but over.

Emboldened by Western military air cover, the rebels are closing in on yet another strategic town, Zleitan. More statecraft is sorely needed on all sides as trust between Gaddafi and some of his former tribal allies goes on eroding.

Yet, the nerve-wrecking game of cat and mouse is not over yet. Muammar, means survivor in Arabic, and there is a good chance that Muammar Gaddafi will survive the ordeal and live up to his legendary name.

The firepower of the low flying Apaches has taken its toll on the pro-Gaddafi forces. But the greater function of NATO’s military presence in Libya is political. The most important factor is whether Washington is willing to foot its share.

In a much anticipated and unprecedented development, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly this week to demand that US President Barack Obama account for the US involvement in yet another war without Congressional approval. It is by and large against further military escapades in Libya. Republicans and Democrats alike are wearied of being embroiled in overseas adventures.

Libya is seen as a European problem. In Europe, too, the politics of unseating Gaddafi is becoming harder. The continent has made extraordinary efforts to get Gaddafi out of office. The NTC is grateful, of course. Still, the outsiders’ military support cannot be indefinitely counted upon.

Sooner or later, Libyans will have to lead the Libyan pro-democracy movement. To do this, the NTC will need greater resources than it has. The West, too, must offer carrots, not sticks. In short, the present state of affairs is an affront to the human dignity of the Libyan people. This means that the Libyan people have a choice. They can take measures today to turn away from the utter dependence on NATO and Western military might. And, for that matter, eschew the Gulf Arab largesse.

Gaddafi, too, must play a part in curbing nepotism and graft even if his policies involve politically unpopular decisions. That makes it crucial for the Libyan leadership to identify priorities. The country will need a massive reconstruction strategy. And, Libya is fortunate enough to have sufficient oil to fuel economic growth.

The anti-Gaddafi opposition forces are buoyed by NATO firepower. But will they sustain their seeming coherence in the event that Gaddafi falls?

The assumption about the NTC’s political dynamics proved wrong. Libya is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe on a Herculean scale. The human cost of this failure is a disgrace.

The strategic oil towns of Ajdabiya and Mersa Brega are still in the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. There is little sign that the anti-Gaddafi forces are making inroads into the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte and its environs either. Nothing less than a sweeping independent review of the political, social and humanitarian situation in Libya is required. Only then may the storm that has overtaken Libya abate.

With this in mind the winds of change are already blowing around the Libyan capital Tripoli. Gaddafi, who is refusing to budge, has shown little interest in undertaking the sort of radical changes his opponents backed by the West are demanding. The Libyan leader has exhibited an almost papal sense of entitlement. So far, Gaddafi’s policy of intransigence has paid off.

How did he manage to do this? Some sponsors of the NTC are bridling at the bad publicity the questionable alliance of anti-Gaddafi forces has attracted. The leaders of the NTC claim that they are a credible alternative to Gaddafi. And, they are clearly relishing their new stewardship of a neo-colonial Libya.

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