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Dr Musa A Keilani: Only unity holds the key
October 22, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

There was never any doubt about the outcome of the Libyan revolt against longtime autocratic ruler Muammar Qadhafi. Since the beginning of the rebellion in February, it was only a matter of time before he was toppled; the only question was whether he would be killed in a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation bombing or by his own generals or whether he would opt to take his own life when cornered without any means to escape. There was never any possibility that he would willingly step down.

Details of his death in his hometown of Sirte on Thursday are not yet unclear. It appears that he was captured alive in a convoy of 80 vehicles that were fleeing his last bastion that was hit first by a Nato plane and again by a US Predator drone missile before National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters attacked it on the ground. Qadhafi was wounded in the attack and NTC soldiers seized him. The next we knew was that Qadhafi was dead.

Although he met a violent end, the Libyan strongman was spared the humiliating experience of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who was repeatedly paraded before the world after his capture and during his trial. The world also saw Saddam’s execution as his challengers abused and insulted him in his final minutes.

At the same time, Qadhafi’s death also spared the world a long and complex trial that could have divided Libya and embarrassed Western governments and oil firms because of the many secrets that the longtime strongman could have revealed from his dock in the International Criminal Court (ICC). The world would have to wait for some time more to learn the details of the underhand deals between Qadhafi’s regime and the US, including Libya’s role in the secret transfer, detention and questioning under torture of “terrorism” suspects.

Worse still was the prospect of Qadhafi escaping the siege of Sirte and taking refuge in the desert, which by his own admission, was his favourite place. He could have waged a guerrilla war in order to destabilise the new rulers of his country and their neighbours.

Qadhafi’s death has removed any fear that the former Libyan regime would be resurrected. Qadhafi loyalists are now leaderless although they could put up a few more days of resistance in some pockets before being overpowered.

The question now is over Libya’s future. So far, the more than 30 diverse groups held themselves together under the umbrella of the NTC. Now that the Qadhafi regime has collapsed and the entire country has been “liberated” and brought under the nominal control of the NTC, there is the danger of some of the groups insisting on their own terms to remain as part of the country’s new leadership. Some of these groups are little more than armed militiamen but they remain in control of many towns in the country.

Some of them were in the past linked to Al Qaeda although now they say that they renounced all such ties with the international militant group.

An immediate NTC priority should be to disarm the loose-knot militia groups. The NTC should not go on a spree of vengeance against Qadhafi’s police and security forces; they are needed to maintain law and order. If they are removed from the scene, then a post-Saddam Iraq-like catastrophe would hit the people of Libya. The militiamen who fought the Qadhafi regime are not qualified and could not be trusted to do a good job of stabilising the law-and order situation in the areas they control.

The international community is right to worry over the future shape of Libya. The groups that make up the NTC have conflicting ideologies and agenda. They include hardliners who could not agree even among themselves on the form of governance post-Qadhafi Libya should have. Others want a Western-style democracy while other groups prefer a democratic set-up that suits the tribal foundations of Libyan society.

Relations between the people of eastern and western Libya were never warm and the two sides were held together by Qadhafi (just as Saddam held the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and other ethnic groups together for decades). They embraced the common goal of getting rid of Qadhafi. Now that the goal has been realised, their differences could re-emerge into the surface and become a crucial factor in determining the future of Libya.

The attention of world powers remains riveted on oil- and gas-rich Libya, whose hundreds of billions of dollars of Qadhafi-era assets remain frozen outside the country. Libya stands in need of these funds to rebuild itself. So there are massive infrastructure contracts to be won in the country, in addition to lucrative projects in the energy sector. It is natural that foreign governments will descend on Libya in order to pressure it and secure deals and contracts for themselves and their private sectors. Their interests could clash and they could not be expected to manipulate Libyan politics to suit their interests.

Russia and China, which were not exactly very supportive of the Nato military action that was central to the anti-Qadhafi revolt, must be aware that they could no longer demand the priority treatment they used to receive when Qadhafi was in power. Their drive to secure their interests could add to the complexity of the situation in post-Qadhafi Libya.

Everything depends on the awareness of the people of Libya that their unity is the best guarantee for a bright future for their country. The new rulers of Libya face the tough mission of holding the country together in the interim.

The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

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