The tragedy of Libya


There hasn’t been much in the media on Libya since the Gaddafi regime was overthrown two years ago. This has suited the United States which wants people to remember only that a ruthless dictator was overthrown. The US government prefers people not to know how much of Libya’s modern infrastructure was destroyed by the US, British and French bombing raids, or how many thousands of civilians were killed or wounded.

The American storyline is that Libya is now a free country. But the truth is that the armed groups supported by the US in 2011 do not today adhere to the rule of law – but only the rule of the gun. Libya today is like a Wild West.

In a sense you can’t blame the Libyan militias for being so cocky, because they are just imitating American practice. On October 5 American commandos seized an alleged al Qaeda leader, Abu Anas al-Liby, in a Tripoli street and took him off-shore to an American warship. The Libyan parliament

passed a motion

condemning this “flagrant violation of [Libya’s] national sovereignty” and the Libyan justice minister, Salah al-Marghani described it as an “act of kidnapping of a Libyan citizen” – one who incidentally had been living quite openly in Tripoli.

One Libyan militia group then thought that what’s good for the (American) goose is good for the (Libyan) gander, and four days later they t

emporarily kidnapped the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan

. There are not many countries where you can kidnap the Prime Minister and get away with it. But this is what happens in Libya because the militias, or various sorts, control the streets. As the

Guardian reports

“militias have besieged key ministries in the capital, Tripoli and stormed ministers offices this summer to force the parliament to pass a divisive law aimed at purging officials who served under Muammar Gaddafi…” Oil production is almost at a standstill because

militias control most of the refineries

. And the government has no control in the east of the country. Add to that the

ongoing bitter battles between major tribes

, and rampant discrimination against black Libyans from the Toubou and the Tuareg minorities, and you have a very divided society.

Libyans don’t have much to thank the Americans for. And Libyans are still aware that the American government was previously supportive of Gaddafi when he was at his most repressive. During that time, the US even “rendered” anti-Gaddafi activists like

Abdul Akim Belhadj

back to Libya to be tortured by the regime.

The mess in Libya today is a salutary lesson on the dangers of forcing “regime change” through the outside powers using massive air power.

In 2011 there was a prospect of a non-military solution through

pressure from and mediation by the African Union

. Delegations of African leaders were visiting Libya putting pressure on Gaddafi. But the American government gave this approach short shrift. To Washington the only solution was military, and it was quite pleased to be able to display its aerial might.

The end result for Libya has been disastrous. Now we see its regional, political and tribal differences being resolved, not by democratic means, but by force of arms.

This is not to say that in the end (with UN help) Libya might develop and an effective democratic government. But even when it does, the wounds on the body politic caused by the bloody infighting will take a long time to heal.