The stillbirth of the new Libya
By Nureddin Sabir
Britain’s Guardian newspaper has an excellent editorial on the unfolding crisis in Libya – or perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as the unravelling of Libya as a state. You can read it here, but here’s one passage:
The hard truth is that power in Libya has been captured by armed militias, who control much of what goes on in each region. Some are tribal or local. Others are the armed wings of political parties which did not do well in elections but insist, at the point of a gun, in having their say in all decisions. They do not govern or administer in any full sense of the word. That is work for which they have neither the inclination nor the capacity, expecting the task of keeping the streetlights on and the water running to be done by others, but reserving the right to intervene in an arbitrary or predatory way whenever they wish to do so.
A few days after the demise of the Gaddafi regime, in an article entitled “Libya between tyranny and an uncertain future”, we expressed cautious optimism about the ability of Libyans to overcome the political and psychological challenges of a truly pluralistic society.
Rather optimistically, we argued that “Libyans are becoming normal”, and that in this normality
differences of opinion will be expressed and different social and political trends will emerge. People not used to arguing their case will turn to emotion and, regrettably, sometimes even to violence. Others will be frightened and upset by the very fact that an opinion different to theirs is being expressed and given airtime on television and radio and space in newspapers.
Back then, we said that Libyans will have to get used to the art of persuasion, and that they “will have to learn that theirs is not the only opinion worth listening to and that nobody, whether Islamist or liberal, holds a monopoly over the truth”. This, we added, “will take time and in Libya, where there is a total absence of civil society institutions and no political sophistication, and where a primitive education system and the defunct Gaddafi regime discouraged people from using their critical faculties, it will not be easy”.
As it turned out, our cautious optimism was too optimistic. Virtually without exception, Libyans have failed to match even the lowest standard of civilized political interaction found among the most debased democratic pretenders in the Third World.
To make matters worse, the various post-Gaddafi authorities, from the National Transitional Council to the present government of Prime Minister Ali Zidan, have adopted a uniquely idiotic security concept: building an army composed of a coalition of “approved militias”. Those militias now haunt all Libyans. A Frankenstein’s monster has been created and it may not be possible to bring it under control quickly enough before the country falls apart completely.
And now there’s an added problem. As the Guardian editorial states, the failure of the various administrations that succeeded Gaddafi to bring about security and build a law-governed state – or any state – has left a vacuum which has allowed Islamist groups, notably Ansar al-Sharia, to establish themselves. That, in turn, has attracted other undesirables.
Ever since it became plainly clear that Libyans cannot get their house in order on their own, we have advocated international military intervention (see here, here and here). For that to work, it would have to be massive and include ground forces – no half measures such as drones or aerial bombardment. Moreover, it would have to be undertaken by competent forces from countries not associated with the recent failed imperial adventure in Iraq.
However, the US and NATO attention and surveillance we are getting instead is unlikely to solve the plague of militias and lawlessness. On the contrary, it can only add to the sewer in which the Islamists and their armed goons thrive.