| Ander Nieuws week 13 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |
With America and Nato refusing to take lead, the military stand-off with Gaddafi might degenerate into a permanent stalemate
22 March 2011
British and French forces will have their work cut out protecting the rebel enclave of eastern Libya now that Nato has refused to take the operational lead and the Americans have backed off. But another problematic question is what sort of political entity the Anglo-French forces will actually be protecting if the military stand-off with Muammar Gaddafi's forces degenerates into permanent stalemate.
Little is known for certain about the make-up and political outlook of the rebels' Transitional National Council, which controls Benghazi and other parts of "liberated" Libya. Even its name is in doubt. It also goes by the title of "revolutionary council" and other variations. Eleven members of the council have been named. The identity of 20 others has been withheld, ostensibly for security reasons.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, a former Gaddafi justice minister who chairs the council, has been condemned as a traitor by his old boss, who put a $400,000 (£240,000) bounty on his head. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Jalil asked the international community "to recognise our council as the sole representative of the Libyan people". Among the western powers, only France has done so. But Britain, the EU and the Arab League are supportive. And Hillary Clinton met a council representative in Paris last week to discuss how the US could help.
Jalil claimed the council has grassroot support. It derived its legitimacy, he said, from local councils that were organised by revolutionaries in every village and city. "We are striving for a new, democratic, civil Libya, led by democratic and civil government [and] a multi-party system," he said. " Members of the council were chosen with no regard to their political views or leaning."
'This is not wholly true," said Venetia Rainey, writing in the First Post online magazine. "The key players of the council, at least those we know about, all hail from the north-eastern Harabi confederation of tribes," she said. This included Jalil and Major General Abdul Fattah Younis, a former Gaddafi interior minister who also defected to the rebels.
"Although the tribes' influence has waned ... Libya's tribal divides linger on. Their stance [the Harabi] is not necessarily representative of the wider Libyan attitude to Gaddafi," Rainey said.
Western tribes loyal to Gaddafi, such as the Hasoony, had flourished at the expense of the Harabi and other easterners, the Wall Street Journal reported from Benghazi. "Early in his reign, Gaddafi targeted Libya's powerful eastern tribes, redistributing their land to others and awarding them few influential posts ... The weaker tribes' empowerment [following the revolt] helps explain why Gaddafi's supporters appear to be clinging to power more desperately" than counterparts in Egypt or Tunisia.
"These guys know they aren't going to fare very well if the regime goes down," Jason Pack, a Libya scholar at Oxford university, told the journal.
Eastern Libya also has a different religious tradition from the rest of the country and this was reflected in the rebels' transitional council, argued Andy Stone, a columnist on the Nolan Chart website. "This is no Solidarnosc movement," he said (referring to the Polish trade union-led anti-communist movement).
"The [Libyan] revolt was started on February 15-17 by the group called the National Conference of the Libyan Opposition [an umbrella organisation founded in London in 2005]. The protests had a clear fundamentalist religious motivation and were convened to commemorate the 2006 Danish cartoons protests which had been particularly violent in Benghazi." (The 2006 protests had turned into an anti-Gaddafi demonstration).
Stone went on to claim that much of the eastern Libyan opposition to Gaddafi was rooted in the region's strong Islamist tradition which resulted, for example, in a large numbers of eastern Libyan jihadis taking part in the Iraq war (second in number only to Saudis) and support for the al-Qaida-affiliated, anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, many of whose members had fought in Afghanistan.
"It is these same religiously and ideologically trained east Libyans who are now armed and arrayed against Gaddafi. Gaddafi's claim that all his opponents are members of al-Qaida is overblown, but also not very far off in regard to their sympathies. Anyone claiming the eastern Libyans are standing for secular, liberal values needs to overcome a huge burden of proof," Stone wrote.
A former British diplomat familiar with Libya said these and other claims that Islamists dominated the rebel movement in the east were exaggerated. Most of the population of Benghazi and other cities were political and religious moderates primarily motivated by opposition to Gaddafi, the diplomat said.
But doubts about the rebels' motives and their ability to achieve their stated aims are widespread, and raise further questions about what the Anglo-French forces are doing. "What are our responsibilities regarding the tribal vendettas we may have unleashed?" asked American columnist George Will. "How long are we prepared to police the partitioning of Libya?"
Will went on: "Many in the media call Gaddafi's foes 'freedom fighters' and perhaps they are. But no one calling them that really knows how the insurgents regard one another, or understand freedom, or if freedom is their priority."
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2011
| Ander Nieuws week 13 / Midden-Oosten 2011 |