After the west’s bombs, what next in Libya?


Richard Moore

The unanswered question: After the west’s bombs, what next in Libya?

Posted by seumasach on October 14, 2012

Lizzie Phelan

11th October, 2012

Whether or not you are or were “pro” or “anti”-Gaddafi should not have prevented anyone from asking the obvious questions. And there are some Libyans I know who would describe themselves as “anti-Gaddafi” before the crisis, but when they asked themselves this question and thought about it rigorously, it lead them to the conclusion that despite them not liking Gaddafi, he was the best thing for Libya.

And the question is: What would replace the government lead by Gaddafi?

The whole nature of the discourse on Libya has been clouded by decades of information manipulation, whereby Libya has overwhelmingly only been spoken about externally when Gaddafi is the subject (in a context whereby he is always criminalised).

As such the whole of Libyan society has come to be personified by this criminalised man, a society which is made up of people who are either with him or against him, as though there was no variance of analysis amongst the Libyan people about their country, its history and its direction. This has lead to the nuances in Libyan society being totally ignored let alone understood.

Two of those nuances are the tribal construction of the society and the regional (African, Arab and to a lesser extent Mediterranean/Ottoman) religious and political dynamics that influence that society.

The tribal construction of the society is largely ignored/dismissed because it has equally been criminalised as something that was a phenomenon exacerbated by Gaddafi, rather than a phenomenon that predated Gaddafi by centuries and that only faced serious tensions as a result of the arbitrary borders drawn up by European powers.

The western [dis]information system has claimed that the former Libyan government played tribes off of one another to consolidate its power. It is indeed a profound tragedy that it took the destruction of a country to get rid of Gaddafi that now we can see the reality. And the reality is that for those 42 years there was a government lead by PEOPLE from several tribes that had a deep understanding of the dynamics between the approx 150 tribes in Libya. It goes beyond logical reasoning to suggest that the peace was maintained purely through repression and playing tribes off one another when for example, the largest tribe in Libya (Werfalla), which numbers more than one million (in a population of approx 6 million) never attempted any serious revolt against the former government in 42 years. It is clear that if they would have they would have posed a serious threat and of course we know that the Werfalla was firmly allied with the former government during the NATO bombing campaign and continues to refuse to submit to either the “government’s” or any other militia’s control.

One of the clearest example of how the former Libyan government managed potential tribal tensions (as opposed to played them off against each other in a way that was in the interests of just Gaddafi’s tribe) was in Misrata, which according to some Libyan accounts historically some sections have had their own separatist agenda (perhaps because they did not identify with the Libyan nation whose borders were created by the colonialists, or because of other factions Ottoman descent…ie. its a complicated and overlooked history!) which of course would threaten the unity of Libya and likely play into the hands of former colonial powers who had shown an inclination to prefer a divided Libya.

As such, Misrata was invested in heavily by the former government, boasting one of the region’s most important steel factories, a port which was as important as the capital Tripoli’s, and a free-trade zone. The city was one of the country’s most prosperous and some of the richest Libyans came from there. But without the former Libyan government ensuring that they have a vested interest in maintaining Libya as a whole they are just one faction that has reverted to be out for itself(I am generalising because there are many in Misrata who are against what some militias are doing in their name).

So back to the original question: What would replace Gaddafi?

To answer it you would have to address how what replaces the former Libyan government would deal equally as well or better with the plethora of interests of different tribes, interests which have been shaped in the modern era by colonial borders, and equally what kind of relationship that replacement government would have with religious/political factions that have a vision beyond Libya. Clearly it is not in the remit of western style “democracy” to accommodate this context.

None of these questions were seriously asked by the people who said “the people will take over”,from the NATO elite to the eurocentric left/liberals.

But the answer can be seen in today’s Libya.