The lessons of the Libyan revolution
The world and the African continent witnessed the destruction of the Libyan state at the hands of a joint NATO and Arab coalition that was backing a local rebellion against the central government in Tripoli, this rebellion began on the 17th of February 2011 and culminated 8 months later in the lynching of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi and the public display of his body and son’s in the city of Misrata, this particular son was his principal military commander charged with the responsibility to fight against the rebel militias. The public display and desecration of dead bodies was a shock to the deeply religious and mystic continent, it was interpreted by many Africans as a bad omen for the fate of the then emerging Libyan democratic state.
The events that unfolded from the time street protests erupted, brought into view not only the nature of the relations subsisting between the western world and Africa, but also the internal contradictions and character of the Libyan people. Although the role of foreign intelligence and media in steering up unrest within Libya is conclusively established, it is however a fact that external factors can only have impact when they are local internal conditions that breed useful collaborators, foreign intelligence can only succeed by recruitment of local agents who are the direct social and political actors within any state. The entire NATO operation would have never commenced without considerable Libyan malleability to foreign manipulation.
Considering these facts it becomes pertinent to analyse the Libyan society because of the broader geo-political relations that are subsisting between Africa and the rest of the international community and the importance of these relations for the unipolar and multipolar world forces that are currently active within the African context and seek to define and design the world in different ways. This will bring to light, the weaknesses of the Libyan society which is a general type of African society both North and South of the Sahara, it must be realized that unipolar forces exploited the weaknesses within the Libyan society and these ultimately facilitated the destruction of the state, on the other hand the multipolar principal states like Russia and China were tricked at the UN into unintended collusion by voting to establish a supposed no fly zone that was turned into an effective air campaign against a sovereign state.
The pertinent question then becomes who was the Libyan opposition composed of, what were its motives and character? How is it that a social system that excelled by managing to raise the standard of living of one of the poorest societies in the world to one of the richest in under four decades, was unable to establish contentment and generate national patriotism? The Jamahiriya failed to guarantee internal harmony that leads to social cohesion and security. Libya clearly developed for four decades arguable above any other state in the whole emerging third world, yet it did not make enough progress towards nationhood.
The Jamahiriya system introduced by Colonel Gaddafi had succeeded to raise the GDP levels to all-time highs through prudent management of Libyan resources primarily oil beginning in the 1970s from when Colonel Gaddafi took over effective power. The Colonel showed his ability as an able and imaginative leader early in his administration, he recognized the true value of oil and instigated the renegotiations with foreign oil companies, the result was total success that eventually established a pragmatic model for all oil producing states, The Colonel famously threatened to shut down production if the oil companies did not deal in fairer terms and succeeded to secure majority shares for the state within the oil sector, other oil producing states soon followed and this lead to the transfer of trillions of dollars to the governments and societies of oil producing states changing the very complexion of the world economy, this established a just mechanism of actual wealth transfer from the developed nations to what were then impoverished mainly backward but oil rich dessert nations.
Furthermore Gaddafi inaugurated infrastructure developments that outstripped all expectations during the four decades of his rule, capping this achievement with the great man made river the “modern wonder of Africa”, this is an unparalleled modern achievement in infrastructure development on the African continent, this project should have all but guaranteed Libyan food and water security for decades to come, moreover the population growth was steady including a large migrant population from all over Africa and the world, infant mortality went down, life expectancy was at 74 years by the year 2010.
The Jamahiriya had succeeded to turn Libya from a backward third world parchment of nomadic underdeveloped tribes into a modern Oasis of prosperity in Africa, its very own Switzerland.
Libya was clearly developing according to all real measures but it was not making real progress as a unified, stable and successful nation this is because of the very character of the Libyan tribes and consequently the cities that were controlled by those tribes. An analysis of the rebelling cities reveals the true motives behind the rebellion/revolution. It must be understood that the Libyan revolution was supported and backed by a number of major cities and consequently tribes for various reasons, these motives informed the policies of the various political players and militia groups.
These cities included the city of Zintan populated mainly by its Zentan tribe, Zintan is located in the Historic Tripolitania, and this region was Punic in civilization. The Zentan are one of the largest Libyan tribes. Zintan was one of the first to rebel against Tripoli and was never captured throughout the duration of the war despite being only 85 miles from the seat of Jamahiriya power in Tripoli. The Zentan tribe is a fierce and proud tribe that saw an opportunity for greater tribal assertion within Libya and took it, this was an opportunity to elevate the prestige and power of their city and tribe, tribal glory was too much of a temptation for them to resist, this was the main motive behind the Zentan people’s choice to back the revolution, tribal assertion.
The next major city to rebel was Derna located in the East of Libya and home to the rebellion, historically known as Cyrenaica this region was originally dominated by Roman civilization during the period of Roman rule. The people of Derna are a tribal mix of Eastern tribes that are dominated by their Islamic Sunni traditions, this means the main cultural force in Derna is not tribal but religious, Derna is moved by Islam. It has been a major sponsor and exporter of Islamic fighters to various Middle Eastern centres of Jihad, like Iraq and Afghanistan, consequently Derna backed the revolution for Islamic reasons as Muammar Gaddafi was seen as a leader that undermined Islam, considering his views and policies on marriage, woman emancipation and other socialist principles that radical Muslims consider to be anti-Islamic, it must be realized that Libya had some of the most emancipated woman in the Muslim world.
The second most important city to participate in the Libyan rebellion was the Eastern city of Benghazi, Benghazi is the largest city in the East, the economy of the Cyrenaica region is centred on it, although it is populated by a diverse mixture of tribes including many migrants however it has an important Obediet element. This Obeidat tribe is the most important East Libyan tribe it has a presence in other Arab countries as well, in Libya the Obeidat are originally from Derna however they control other important cities like Tobruk a former favourite retreat of King Idris Al Sanusi who was mainly backed by the East Libyan tribes. King Idris was the head of the Sufi order of Sanusi that had its home in the Eastern city of Baida, the Sufi order was founded in 1843 and it succeeded in tentatively uniting Cyrenaican Bedouin on a Sufi Islamic basis, this same city is where the rebellion against the Jamahiriya began. The most prominent Obeidat figure to defect and in the process established a basis for a viable militia in the East was the former Libyan minister of interior Abdel Fatah Al Younis, he defected with a large body of trained soldiers who became the backbone of the Libyan rebellion in the East, Abdel Fatah consequently became the commander of the rebel forces. He was however not the only major Obeidat figure to defect, considering the importance of the Obeidat tribe in the Libyan tribal power structures, many prominent Obeidat defectors took with them considerable expertise and equipment that served the cause of rebellion.
Benghazi was the centre of the rebellion and the main pretext for the NATO air campaign was the claim that the Libyan army was about to commit a massacre in Benghazi, this claim came about because the strategy of the Libyan army had been to by-pass the other major rebelling cities like Misrata and attempt to decapitate Benghazi the head, supply and power behind the Libyan rebellion.
Benghazi took up arms against the government because the city of Benghazi has always seen itself as a rival city to Tripoli, historically it lost its joint capital status after the overthrow of King Idris, it is important to realize that the Saada traditional Eastern alliance of tribes who claim descent from the same female Patriarch dominated the Kingdom of Libya, consequently they wanted to reassert their power they felt they unjustly lost after the revolution of Muammar Gaddafi, this explains the symbols of the old Kingdom like the flag becoming prominent expressions of the 17th February revolution, Benghazi saw the revolution as the restoration of the balance of power in favour of the East, while the Obeidat in particular saw it as an opportunity to restore their tribe to central prominence as opposed to the historically less sophisticated and less significant Gaddadfa tribe of Muammar Gaddafi.
The final and most important city behind the Libyan rebellion was the opportunistic city of Misrata, Misrata is yet another port city located in western central Libya near Sirte, it is mainly populated by the Libyan tribe of Misurata the people of Misrata have a historic Turkish element, they came into Libya at the time of 19th century Ottoman Turk rule, at that time the Ottomans were to commit large scale atrocities against the indigenous Libyan populations in the interest of Ottoman imperial designs.
The estimated 200 plus Misrata brigades did most of the actual fighting against the Libyan army and most of the Libyan army was destroyed by NATO warplanes in the gates of the city of Misrata, the Misrata brigades were one of the main components of the militia forces under western special forces supervision that launched the surprise attack that drove Gaddafi out of Tripoli and they were mainly responsible for the final attack on Sirte, Colonel Gaddafi’s hometown and seat of the militarized Gaddadfa tribe that was the military and political spine of the Libyan Jamahiriya, this lead to the savage destruction of the city caused by the unprecedented bombardment by both NATO and rebel forces, the rebels fired rockets indiscriminately into the city, Misrata was also responsible for the destruction of the predominantly black African populated Libyan city of Tawergha a modern 15th century like gross human rights violation and clear case of ethnic cleansing, this clear crime against humanity has gone unnoticed to the western world and international institutions which are supposedly meant to prevent and prosecute such cases. The actions of the Misrata brigades during and after the war to topple Muammar Gaddafi show the Misrata brigades as having a peculiar and intense mind-set against other Libyan cities, tribes and people. Misrata seems to be willing to sacrifice Libya in order to advance what it perceives as Misratan interests.
A close look at the motives and actions of the four principal cities behind the Libyan rebellion reveals a psychology that is rooted in tribal distinction and way of life, despite the decades of government intervention directed at formulating an identity state. This phenomenon of tribal identification rather than national and state self-identification guided Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in his formulation of a political philosophy and social system designed to recognize and counter the evident potentially destructive reality, Gaddafi was a pragmatic, the Colonel had hoped the Jamahiriya system would build a Libyan national consciousness as opposed to the destructive and retrogressive forces of tribalism, regional patriotism and Islamic extremism. Many incidents that took place like public hangings appeared as Libyan government excesses and were reported as such by various Arab and western media outlets however these must be understood within the context of a central government that was seeking to maintain security in the face of strong clan, tribal and religious forces that were always ready to undermine the interests and security of the state, man that claimed victimization at the hands of the Libyan government like Abdel Hakim Belhaj have since been exposed for the roles they have played not only in the destruction of Libya proper but also in the destabilization of other foreign states like Syria in the interests of extremism.
The Libyan government would not allow or encourage such tendencies exhibited by groups like the Libyan Islamic Fighting group this is simple because government is meant to maintain the security of its citizens by maintaining state security.
Libya had to be considered in terms of the ancient divide of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and the interior Fezzan region and also the assortment of distinct major tribes that number up to 30. The social teachings of Muammar Gaddafi expounded in the Green book were meant to bring the various tribes together by lifting them from their clan and tribal impulses that motivated them, to national impulses, Gaddafi employed both anti-imperialist and Arab nationalist symbols to give the Libyan people, a sense of the external threats that he knew Libya faced from the global hegemonic forces and at the same time lift the clan tribal Libyan from his narrow tribal consciousness and give him a sense of nationhood. However the 17th February rebellion/revolution must be ultimately viewed as the rejection by some Libyan tribes of the Jamahiriya ideals, in the end tribal self-identification and tribal interests proved far stronger than any fear of foreign domination or loss of state security, the Libyan tribes openly collaborated with nations with a history of imperialism and genocide in Africa and Libya proper “it is estimated half of Cyrenaica was killed in wars against Italy” and French interests in Africa are permanently oppressive owing to its economic dependency on African resources guaranteed by African state weakness, the tribes allowed foreign intelligence and military expects into their militia and cities all in order to attain regime change. The head of the NTC Mustapha Abdel Jalil shook the hand of Sarkozy in Paris and sealed the fate of Libya, the NTC refused to accept numerous seize-fire offers from Tripoli and sought absolute battlefield victory, these unprecedented strategic miscalculation by the rebelling tribes are what has set back Libyan development by decades, nullified progress and possible opened up a door for the future permanent occupation of the country.
The Libyan tribes refused to learn by philosophical teachings and social indoctrination meant to teach the utility of a state, build national consciousness and guard the nation against retrogressive foreign dominance, all these lessons that Gaddafi tried to teach them by severe laws and indoctrination they begin to understand by the practical life lessons of a collapsed and failed state, these include loss of security caused by fratricidal tribal war, death and foreign humiliation the consequent product of state weakness. The state has lost its capacity to defend the nation and might eventually fail to feed the people, little Qatar and UAE have magnified influence in Libya openly acting as hegemons together with a dozen other bigger nations exacerbating systemic and social breakdown, disorder has become the new order.
The Obeidat wanted the primacy and he was willing to sacrifice $ 200 billion worth of state projects underway in Libya and imagined himself to have the capability to hold the country together and govern it effectively, he overreached imagining that they would be a brief transitional period of disorder where he expected to emerge as the dominant element in a prospering ideal liberal democratic-Islamic Libya a contradiction in its own right, these expectations were never materialized because they were rooted in western and Arab propaganda both forms of fantasy that rarely take into consideration the practical conditions of individual states but promote well defined and recognizable doctrines and philosophies, these doctrines are designed particularly for malleable third world societies, they serve the very purpose of undermining traditional systems, by undermining traditional and long standing cultural thought patterns that underpin the social systems of developing states, it is a recognizable mode of soft power meant to advance the unipolar agenda and Islamic Arab imperialism, these soft power forces have been actively deployed successfully against many societies and regimes worldwide and promote well defined interests and goals, usually regime change meant to advance influence.
The Obeidat was not aware of these facts because he was blinded by regional prejudice and rooted in the Nostalgia of a past era, Libya consequently quickly spiralled out of his control and collapsed. The Zentan saw an opportunity for tribal glorification and this singular vision blinded him to all other considerations, in reality the Zintani brigades have been pushed out of Tripoli in the process loosing access to critical resources and the Zentan people have been pushed back into their western enclave in the form of IDPs, the city has eventually achieved and gained nothing from their years of fighting, on the contrary they have lost too many young man and their security. The people of Derna true to all Islamic extremists types motivated by abstract symbols of religious glory and the pulpit were always willing to sacrifice matter for spirit their actions have only degraded their material capacity to realize their cherished ideals and economic and social troubles increase with each day, Derna has suffered under siege from Hafter forces, had Egyptian airstrikes called on it by other Libyans and finally been terrorized by numerous radical Islamist groups including Isis and Al Qaeda affiliates. The City of Misrata remained true to its ancient identity it was willing to commit whatever moral and spiritual crime to attain its goals of dominating Libya and supposedly redesign it in its image.
After years of continuous fratricidal war the Libyan tribes are currently experiencing a confused phenomenon of deep self-introspection the cities of Benghazi and Zintan seem to have made the critical tilt towards changing course and are embracing all progressive tribal forces in an attempt to build a national coalition that will hopefully re-establish security and eventually institutionally rebuild Libya.
A coalition based on the need for state security is in its yet undeveloped infancy and crystalizing amongst many tribal and military forces with Saif Al Islam Gaddafi destined to play a greater role, many Libyans now recognize the facts and reality on the ground pragmatism is gaining currency and they is a recognition that the destruction of the Libyan government and the NATO intervention were not motivated by western benevolence or that the local tribal and Islamic militant groups based in cities like Derna and Baida were ever serving societal interests. Former Libyan army commanders are appointed at the head of fighting groups and Gaddafi era symbols are openly expressed in some parts of the country as proud symbols of a glorious and secure era of pragmatism that natured prosperity and progress, the destructive fantastic ideologies are relegated to insignificance, however the city of Misrata remains steadfast in its policies and hinders the forces of progress meant to unify and secure Libya.
Misrata unlike the maturing and pragmatic Benghazi the other major centre of the rebellion remains rooted in its old and fantastic policy of establishing Misratan interests above Libyan interests, it continues to attempt coercing the whole Libyan complex into subscribing to its tribal will. International unipolar forces continue to gain influence primarily through the activity of Misratan forces operative in Tripoli, these individuals dominate Tripoli because the Misrata brigades are the strongest armed force in western Libya, this means they can dominate the Libyan economy, and both Turkey and the west continue to fund the evidently criminal Misrata brigades. Misrata unlike the other two cities Zintan and Benghazi seems to be unable to self-correct, while Zintan justly released the son of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al Islam “proponent of a Liberal democratic Libya” and in the process symbolically redeemed itself and Benghazi fought besides Field Marshal Khalifah Hafter’s forces who “despite his history” has been pursuing a progressive policy of establishing national security and reconciliation, Misrata on the contrary continues with retrogressive policies.
Misrata true to its Ottoman roots has proven itself incapable of rising above its narrow tribal interests and consider the interests of the state despite the evident undesirable consequences of its decisions and policies “Libya has been totally destroyed”, the security of Libya still doesn’t take primacy in the psychology of the city and the forces that dominate it, this inability to self-correct might eventually lead to the alignment of forces in Libya in such a way that will lead to the total loss of both political and military dominance by Misratan forces, with yet unimaginable dire consequences for its people and city.