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Hichem Karoui: Unwise intelligence report
July 16, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

An intelligence report may be behind the change in the French official position concerning Libya. The hypothesis that the Libyan conflict might extend beyond what was initially figured out in France made many people nervous. The statement of Mr Gerard Longuet, the French defence minister, that bombing has produced a stalemate in Libya and should be abandoned, preceded the debate that started on July 12 in the French parliament about the military engagement.

The suggestion by Mr Longuet that talks should start even if it means Colonel Qadhafi remains in Libya and shares power, caused consternation in London and understandably in Libya among the insurgents. Prime Minister Alain Juppé considered that there was an “underestimation regarding the despot’s capacity of resistance.” Some think that President Sarkozy is growing impatient, although on July 14, speaking to the reporters, he did not regret France’s engagement.

Recently, a report was published on the Libyan conflict. The only I heard of. The point is: it was definitely negative; and some of its findings were, in my opinion, biased.

At the initiative of the International Centre for Research and Studies on Terrorism and Victims of Terrorism (CIRET-AVT) and the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (CF2R2) and with the support of The Forum for Peace in the Mediterranean, an international delegation of experts visited Tripoli and Tripolitania (March 31-April 6), and Benghazi in Cyrenaica (from April 19 to 25), to assess the Libyan situation on an “independent and neutral ground” and to meet representatives of both parties. The delegation included:

— Mrs Sayda Ben Habyles (Algeria), former Minister of Solidarity, former Senator, founding member of CIRET-AVT, United Nations Award for civil society;

— Mrs Roumiana Ougartchinska (France/Bulgaria), essayist and investigative journalist;

— The Prefect Yves Bonnet (France), Prefect Emeritus, former MP, former Director of Territorial Surveillance (DST), chairman of CIRET-AVT;

— Mr Dirk Borgers (Belgium), independent expert;

— Mr Eric Denécé (France), director of the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (CF2R);

— Mr André Le Meignen (France), independent expert, vice president of CIRET-AVT.

The report released in May 2011, asserts that the Libyan revolution “is neither democratic nor spontaneous. This is an armed uprising in the eastern part of the country in a spirit of revenge and dissent, which attempts to fit into the dynamics of the ‘Arab spring,’ to which it has no connection, though. The Libyan movement cannot be compared with the Tunisian and Egyptian popular revolts.

More worryingly, the National Transition Council (CNT) appears to be a coalition of disparate elements with different interests, whose only common feature is their determined opposition to the regime. The true democrats are a minority there, and must live with those formerly close to Qadhafi, and with supporters of a return to the monarchy and sympathisers of radical Islam. Consequently, the CNT offers, therefore, no guarantee for the future, despite the determination of the Democrats, because the other factions fully intend to steer the board in the direction of their goals.”

“Above all,” the report went on,  “Libya is the only country of the ‘Arab spring’ in which the Islamist risk increases, Cyrenaica being the region of the Arab world that sent the highest number of jihadists to fight against the Americans in Iraq. It seems then that the Western powers have shown an excessive adventurism by engaging in this crisis. What should have been an easy victory became a semi-failure due to the inconsistency of the rebel forces. Stalled insurgent operations leave them only with two possibilities: either an inglorious retreat or more involvement in the conflict, including sending ground units.”

The report asserted that “the Western intervention is creating more problems than it solved. It is likely to destabilise the whole region of North Africa, the Sahel, the Near East, and encourage the emergence of a new hub for radical Islam or terrorism, in Cyrenaica. The coalition might be able to eliminate the Libyan leader. But the West must be careful not to replace him by a more radical and similar undemocratic regime.”

Is there a basis in the reality for such a dramatic assessment? What is the method adopted in this investigation? These questions are not answered. Actually, the report sounds more like a series of impressions revealing the anxiety of its authors than an objective blueprint based on data-gathering from varied sources.

The narrative of this assessment is similar to the accounts of the 19th century’s travellers in North Africa, full of biases about almost everything. Curiously, the report embodies the same thinking once shown by Sayf Al Islam Qadhafi in a famous speech, when he referred to Libya threateningly, as: “this is not Tunisia, not Egypt. Libya is different. Libya is divided in tribes, each with its affiliates, each with its power...” Meaning “we” will use everything within our reach to destroy the country that “we” cannot rule.

From the first sentence, the report defines Libya as “a state with a tribal structure...” A little further, it states that “Cyrenaica has always been reluctant to accepting the dominance of Tripoli and Qadhafi’s authority.”

Reluctant? To 40 years of dictatorship? Is this only the case of Cyrenaica? What about Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Syria... Etc..?

As to tribalism, is it really particular to Libya?

In Tunisia, there is a kind of tribalism linked to entire regions, known as: “jihawiyya.” It has been weighing in politics for more than half a century, as well under Bourguiba than Ben Ali.  Apparently, it did not hamper the civil democratic revolution. It has even boosted it, since Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, and the whole south-western “jiha” (region) was actually the launching-pad of the protests.

Further, the report asserts: “the Libyan protest — despite its popular character initially — does not represent the whole population...” How did they reach such a finding? The report is full of similar biases. Nowhere, could we find an explanation as to the method adopted to reach these conclusions. Subsequently, it cannot be creditable of any knowledge useful to cast a new light on the situation or make it progress.

In an oil-rich country like Libya, the revolution against the dictator is logically expected to be more rewarding for the people.  Unfortunately, the report failed to see that, so undermined it was by its paranoid focus on Islamism and royalists inside the CNT. This is an old obsession of the French intelligence, whose consequences were utterly tragic in Algeria in the nineties of the last century.

I wonder whether this report was not actually the cause of “second thoughts” among the French officials.
_______________________________________________________
The author, an expert on US-Middle EAst relations, is based in Paris

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