From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Sun Sep 11 2011 - 18:27:56 EDT
With bold albeit Machiavellian leadership and external support can the NTC
succeed in running Libya efficiently, or is it merely a tool of empire,
8 - 14 September 2011
His Green Book philosophy was Muammar Gaddafi's métier. We needn't imagine
him rootling around in the theological issues facing his adversaries himself
at this historical juncture. He is purportedly roaming the sprawling Sahara
Desert but he has long warned of the dangers inherent in the composition of
the National Transitional Council (NTC) that is scheduled to move
headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli next week. The heart of the matter is
can a country "liberated" by Western military might be truly transformed
into a viable democracy?
Gaddafi was the self-styled secular guarantor of religious authority. He
described the NATO attack against him as a Crusade. The war he waged was a
jihad of sorts, but he eschewed the ecclesiastical authority of his enemies
that he likened to that of medieval Europe. The bulk of the NTC leadership
seems to be fixated on political Islam, the Turkish model rather than the
Saudi or the Afghan under Taliban.
There is no love lost between Gaddafi and his foes. The ecclesiastical
animosity that Gaddafi harbours towards those he accuses of being Al-Qaeda
members within the NTC contains a grain of truth and might not be as
far-fetched as his detractors believe; the religious dogma and rhetoric that
certain members of the NTC exude matches Gaddafi's own paranoia.
The bigger question is whether the NTC will now talk peace with the remnants
of Gaddafi's once invincible fighting force, bureaucracy and political
hangers-on. But talk about what precisely? The NTC is a hodgepodge of
disparate ideological groups of varying degrees of political cohesion and
strength. There is also the rivalry between those Libyan dissidents who long
ago fled the country to seek political exile overseas and those members of
the NTC like its leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and the late Younis
Abdel-Fattah, both of whom served Gaddafi for many years.
For Libyan politicians of every political and ideological shade, however,
religion remains a dangerous subject. Libya is an overwhelmingly Muslim
nation, but Libyans belong to the open-minded and middle of the road Sunni
Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence and its legal precedence and
interpretation of the Sharia Islamic laws. The Maliki creed is radically
different from that of, say, the chillingly and austere Hanbali Wahabism of
Saudi Arabia that propagates a puritanical version of Islam. So the much
hyped, and derisively mocked, admonition of Gaddafi that once he goes,
Al-Qaeda will take charge in Libya and turn the country into a base for
international terrorism and mayhem. The dying days of the Gaddafi regime
were ominous in that Libya's former strongman's prophecy may well come true.
Simplistic solutions to complex questions always mislead. It was hard not to
be awed by the spectacle of the swiftness with which Tripoli was overran in
Ramadan. The National Transitional Council (NTC) derives its legitimacy from
patriotism, and to a lesser extent its Islamist ideological orientation.
Take the case of Abdel-Hakim Bel-Haj, whose nom de guerre when he was
fighting in Afghanistan as a member of the Mujahideen was Abu Abdallah
Assadaq. According to the Qatar-based Pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera,
CNN and the BBC he might have a member of Al-Qaeda. This, of course, the
international media insists is a matter of conjecture. Bel-Haj himself has
consistently denied this. He is today the commander of the Tripoli military
council under the auspices of the NTC. He directed the un-Islamically named
"Operation Mermaid Dawn" in which the NTC's Liberation Army in conjunction
with NATO stormed Tripoli on 21 August.
What is certain is that Bel-Haj was the emir of the Libyan Islamic Fighting
Group, a dogged foe of the Gaddafi regime. And, precisely one of the very
characters that Gaddafi warned the West against. Indeed, it was Western
intelligence agents that led to Bel-Haj's arrest in Thailand in 2004. He was
interrogated by the CIA and tortured before being handed over to Gaddafi who
promptly imprisoned him. Bel-Haj claims that he was tortured further during
Yet it was Gaddafi's relative leniency with the Islamists, his understanding
that Libya was a hybrid nation and that Libyans a naturally moderate Maliki
people that gave politicians and activists like Bel-Haj a new lease on life.
Gaddafi fathomed that he was a benign dictator, and may be in retrospect he
Now it has become clear from WikiLeaks that during the closing years of the
Gaddafi era, Western intelligence collaborated closely with Gaddafi and his
cohorts. The CIA fed Libyan interrogators with information about suspect
Libyan Islamists and other dissidents during the past decade when Gaddafi
mended fences with the West. Western leaders turned a blind eye to torture
claims by Libyan Islamists.
The NTC would be foolish to underestimate the enormous challenges it faces.
However, would the NTC leaders now whole-heartedly forgive the West and
forget the past dubious association between Gaddafi and the West? And, why
did the West suddenly drop Gaddafi like a hot potato? There are numerous
precedents. They did so with the late Shah of Iran. So why not Gaddafi?
It seems a simple enough question. But it was Gaddafi himself who saw the
even simpler logic behind his fate. His venom will implode over the months
to come if he is not captured and ideological convictions drive him to
political conclusions that might not suit the NTC. Gaddafi projected himself
as being fixated on the cruelty of the New World Order and the toll on human
dignity he sees in both the industrially advanced nation of the West as much
as in the developing world. Gaddafi announced in a radio broadcast that he
was ready for a "long war". Whether he is capable of waging a protracted
armed struggle is a different matter all together.
All across the Arab world, the powers that be are heaving a sigh of relief.
Gaddafi is ousted from office and is on the run. The bonanza could not have
come at a better time for these countries. Only Algeria which now hosts
Gaddafi's wife Safiya, his daughter Aisha and two of his sons Mohamed and
Hannibaal together with his grandchildren has reservations about the NTC.
Seif Al-Islam is still at large. His inflated sense of his own pre-imminence
neither endeared him to his kith and kin at home nor to his Western business
partners. His name was a code word for cruelty and callousness, and yet he
feigned enlightenment as the champion of democratisation and political
reform in Libya. When the regime was actually in real danger, he showed his
true colours. He was not among those trying to create an alternative Libya.
His less bellicose siblings, enjoying safe haven in Algeria, hope that Seif
Al-Islam might again come to his senses. He is Gaddafi's last hope.
Just as the civil war in Libya was finally winding down, Gaddafi appealed to
the tribes of Libya. Only his own Gaddadfa, and certain clans of the
Werfalla, Libya's largest tribe numbering some one million, and the Tuareg
of the Sahara who are spread throughout Africa and the World's largest
desert came to his rescue by championing his cause. The hardy Tuareg inhabit
countries as far afield as Mauritania in the west, Algeria in the north and
Chad and Niger in the east. Libyan Tuareg are in cahoots with their kith and
kin across the Saharan countries. Libyan tribes are not necessarily confined
to Libya, and the Tuareg are a case in point. How might such a hybrid Libyan
identity be defined? Oil is the buzzword.
So why was the West so determined to topple Gaddafi? A shimmering vision of
Green Book anti-imperialism led him on. The tribes of Libya are no longer
the force that they once were, with the notable exception of the Tuareg
whose loyalty Gaddafi carefully cultivated largely through his largesse.
Tribal leaders could modulate the divisions within the NTC by assimilating
into the new system just as Gaddafi did with them by his generosity and
beneficence. But in the end the tribes let Gaddafi down.
Files of spying against and infiltrating the NTC were unearthed in Gaddafi's
bunkers. These files were supercilious and judgmental about certain NTC
leaders, and a clear picture of utter confusion comes to light. A
comprehensive interpretation of such evidence reveals the NTC as incapable
of setting up a truly democratic dispensation in the post-Gaddafi Libya.
Defectors, especially some of Gaddafi's most trusted henchmen and high
officials are highly suspect as sudden converts to true political reform in
When the tide went against Gaddafi in the end, they deserted him to join the
NTC, from ministers and close political associates, to life-long personal
friends and diplomats. Without his right-hand men it must be a lot lonelier
at the top.
It is no secret that the very Mafia surrounding him betrayed Gaddafi. As
Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the desert town of Bani Walid, south of
Tripoli and one of the few remaining strongholds of the Gaddafi regime, was
being besieged by the forces of Libya's interim NTC government. The others
are Sebha in the south, the largest city in Fezzan, Libya's southernmost
The NTC promise the Libyan people an end to schism. Yet it is difficult for
the West to differentiate the wheat from the chaff, while anyone who was
anyone in Gaddafi's Libya could tell them apart.
Whether that goes far enough is unclear. Will Gaddafi disappear, fade into
political obscurity? Will he be unceremoniously captured and butchered like
a sacrificial ox or ram at Eid Al-Adha, like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, taking
his many secrets to the grave?
As for the NTC, will it be able to heal these many schisms, unite the tribes
around a Western-style pluralist democratic order that is not merely the
latest incarnation of neo-imperialism?
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