The winner in Libya is undetermined

August 30, 2011

"WHO REALLY won in Libya" is unnecessarily deterministic about the future orientation of the Libyan regime, supposing the revolution is finally successful in dislodging Qaddafi and his clique.

The article claims "[t]he new government that will form in place of the Qaddafi regime will be led by these elements [the most conservative elements of the Qaddafi opposition, embodied in the Transitional National Council]" and, hence:

will be beholden to the U.S. and Europe for its existence--and pliable to their interests...The new government that will come to power in Libya won't answer to the people of Libya and their desire for democracy and justice. It will answer to imperialism--and that is a blow to the Arab Spring, which this year showed the world the hope of an alternative to oppression, violence and tyranny.

Not so fast.

It's true that there are contradictions to the rebel struggle and likely impending victory. But it is important to not mischaracterize the main impetus and current of the revolt, nor to swallow the exaggerated Western government claims of influence in the rebellion and post-Qaddafi Libya.

The West was dying for a card in the Arab Spring, and indeed believed that the air power and logistics it supplied in Libya would provide them this. It certainly bought them some collateral, though it is far from clear that it will be able to "cash in" this card in the post-Qaddafi era.

Part of the problem is that the Libyan state was such a bizarre nepotistic cult around the figure of Qaddafi himself that the opposition to him incorporated large sections of ex-regime figures, plus those who, at different stages in history, were either marginalized from the get go, or alienated from the regime throughout its mercurial turns. This indeed means that there are sections of the opposition that are amenable to making deals with the West, and it would be wrong to deny this.

But that the rebellion benefited from NATO support in its insurgency still doesn't mean that the rebellion has lost its way or is a stooge of imperialism. The overwhelming thrust of the rebellion has been paid for by a determined struggle of the Libyan people, who sacrificed perhaps as much as tens of thousands of lives for their freedom. The thought that they would allow the fruits of their rebellion to be so easily snapped up by an ex-regime, pro-West alliance, is unlikely, premature and excessively cynical.

Here lies the main fault of the article: The Arab Spring is about human agency and popular will, which cannot so easily be put back in the bottle--and certainly not by an opportunistic section of the opposition in cahoots with the Western governments and Big Oil.

THOSE WHO will determine the fate of Libya are the people themselves, and particularly the fighting forces on the ground, most of whom have correctly focused on fighting the regime, rather than flirting with Western diplomats. The balance of power between these different elements of the opposition remains to be disclosed, though it is premature to select the winner now.

While knowing the orientation of Libya will be difficult to determine at this stage, there is no reason to suspect that this is going to be a "shoo-in" for the West. The Libyan people are, in principle, no different from other Arab and Amazigh peoples of the region, where a cocktail of pan-Arabist and pan-Islamist sentiments dominate the historical, cultural and intellectual imagination.

The Libyan people's historical connections to the Palestinian struggle and other revolutionary struggles are deep--it's wrong to assume this was all top-down shenanigans from Qaddafi himself--while the country had the highest number of foreign fighters to volunteer and fight the U.S. coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, something they did against the will of the regime.

Furthermore, the killing of the Libyan rebel leader Abdel Fattah Younis--likely by an Islamist section of rebels that differed with this ex-regime internal security chief--gives an indication of the mixed soup of players within the opposition, and that there could be retribution for those who so quickly changed hats when Tunisia and Egypt fell. It is believed that at least 30 autonomous rebel groups are operating in the eastern part of the country alone. Israel has already accused Hamas of purchasing Libyan weapons from rebel groups and bringing them into Gaza.

In a nutshell, the West took a gamble in its actions with Libya and may one day come to regret its support for the Libyan revolution. Where is Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi huckster who was America's horse for the post-invasion period of Iraq? The man once dubbed "George Washington of Iraq" is not only not running Iraq, but is under investigation by the U.S. for all the money he stole, and the lies he told.

The point is, the dislodging of Qaddafi, if finally successful, will be an important first stage in the success of the Libyan revolution. But it is not the end of the struggle, as Tunisia and Egypt are proving as well. The battle for the orientation of Libya and its political and social makeup, will fall to its people.

The left in the West needs to support the revolution's basic demand for a democratic and free Libya, while also particularly supporting the most progressive wings of the movement, if and when it gets to the second stage of determining what to do with the country and its resources. It does not need to engage in writing off a revolution before it has even achieved its first major gain (the fall of Qaddafi).

This smacks of too much armchair quarterbacking, at a time when we need to see the field at large, learn who the players are, and how we can constructively engage and help in the struggle for the emergence of a progressive post-Qaddafi Libya.
Toufic Haddad, from the Internet

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