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Op-Ed: Libyan Situation Doesn't Bode Well for the Arab Spring

The aftermath of Qaddafi’s death seems to be proof that Libya’s long-term future may not bode well for those seeking peace and democracy in the region. Far from it.
Published: Monday, October 31, 2011 9:14 AM


While the images of Muammar Qaddafi’s lifeless body being dragged through the streets continue to shock the world, the future of Libya and the North African region remains bleak.

The ousting of a tyrant who oppressed his people for 42 years, openly supported and executed some of the most heinous terrorist attacks, and encouraged despicable criminal acts against his own civilians is certainly is a positive development. However, the aftermath of Qaddafi’s death may have shown some proof that Libya’s long-term future may not bode well for those seeking peace and democracy in the region.

On Thursday October 20th, Muammar Qaddaffi was shot dead by a disorganized unit of Libyan rebels.

As Bernard Henri Lévy remarked in a recent article, revolutions more often than not pass through the violent death of the man in power against whom they are directed.  Louis XVI, Tsar Nicholas II, Benito Mussolini and Ceausescu are notorious examples.

Yet in a war that has been presented as the triumph of international law over autocratic despotism, such a killing highlights the real nature of the Libyan conflict. Even Saddam Hussein hanging in a squalid room by Shi’a militiamen had a feeling of justice as he was tried in front of an Iraqi tribunal, in which he had the opportunity to speak for himself and defend his actions.

A number of issues remain unresolved in what is now commonly referred to as "liberated" Libya. The political form its institutions will take, the country's international standing, or the possibilities of a establishing a lasting stability there are only a few among many other uncertainties.

What is clear from now is that the romantic rhetoric that would have seen a candid citizens’ uprising liberate its people from the grasp of a tyrant and then swiftly make the transition to a peace –oriented democracy may not see the light of day, and for a number of reasons.

Since the beginning of the Libya’s civil war, areas of the country that were controlled through an ensemble of patronage tribal networks, coercion and authoritarian army presence have become a new safe haven for weapon smugglers. The Gaddaffi’s advanced weapons arsenal has become a treasure of war of which many elements remain unaccounted for (chemical weapons were recently discovered on October 26th). Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is building up a weapons cache of thousands of light weapons and ammunition, surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and medium range rockets.

During the months of September and October, Algerian and Tunisian security forces clashed repeatedly with AQIM elements while they were testing new routes to extend their supply routes and increase their weapons capabilities.

Furthermore, the concern have been growing that terrorist networks are smuggling advanced weaponry from Libya toward the Sinai and the Gaza strip to expand their campaign against Israel.

In the coming months the region as a whole, from Algeria to Israel, must be prepared for an augmented flow of weapons reaching the hands of groups willing to use them to conduct terrorist operations in the aim of destabilizing their area of operation.

NTC policies are not reassuring

This primary issue is not the result of especially bad policies adopted by the National Transitional Committee (NTC), but the outcome of a protracted period of instability. On the other hand, matters over which the NTC has direct control and are being managed in such a way which invites criticism concerning the goodwill and leadership strategy of the newly-elected Libyan leaders. 


53 bodies of executed Qaddafi loyalists, hands tied and shot in the back of the head, have been found in a school in Sirte. The town of Tawarga has been set on fire so that "negroes" or "abeed" - derogatory term used to define a black person, meaning: slaves - will not return.
Regarding the will to abide to international conventions and the principles of Human Rights, the Libyan rebels are taking quite surprising actions.

53 bodies of executed Qaddafi loyalists, hands tied and shot in the back of the head, have been found in a school in Sirte. Unconfirmed rumors have been circulating about the overt acts of reprisal aimed at mercenaries from the Sahel and Western Africa and their families. The town of Tawarga has been set on fire so that "negroes" or "abeed" - derogatory term used to define a black person, meaning: slaves - will not return. 25 bodies have been found in Tawarga and were allegedly executed by rebel forces.

A similar excess of violence has been verified concerning Jewish communities trying to return to their homes in ‘liberated’ Libya. The story of David Gerbi has become famous: the Italian-Libyan citizen left Libya in 1967 due to security concerns, and has now travelled back to reopen a Synagogue in Tripoli Medina. Since his return in September, his life has been threatened repeatedly, and violent protests erupted in Tripoli on October 7 to demonstrate the Libyan public’s staunch opposition to the return of Jewish communities in Libya.

Perhaps these acts may be regarded as extreme cases realized by radicalized elements of Libyan society. Unfortunately, statements originating from the ruling NTC party to not give hope for optimism. On Sunday, the NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil pledged to make Shari’a law the source of law for the new Libya, thus reinstating a system which has not been used as a primary mean of legislation since the beginning of Italian colonization in the early 1910s.

This statement may be read as a demagogic attempt to use religion in a way that is meant to achieve short-term political goals. If such a measure is to be followed - with the objective of consolidating political control over Libya - the acceptance of human rights and democratic reforms will be subjugated to the effective use of a politicized version of Shari’a law, and thus strongly hinder the implementation of women and minority rights.

In the near future, attention must be directed to the direction the new Libyan leaders will want to take for their country.

One thing appears to be certain: abiding by international law and basic human right principles might not be an acquis for the people in Libya; a situation which will only encourage further troubles in what is preparing to be a cold winter in the Arab world. 

No one can contest the brash unlawfulness of the deposed dictator, but when personal vendettas supersede legal procedures, and radical ideologies become state policies, then the prospects for peace and stability fade into the darkness and hope for a true, lasting and democratic Arab Spring disappears.