Help Libya but from afar
Aref Assaf, PhD
First published in NJ.Voices
Guest Commentary, The Daily Record, 3/12/2011
Libya’s dictator, Colonel Gaddafi is not a man who gives up. He views his role as the father of Libya’s revolution. Unlike what we witnessed in Egypt or Tunisia, he has killed and or injured thousands of his citizens. Despite this, the West must not use military intervention, which would only put the legitimacy of the protests at risk.
Unlike Egypt, unlike Tunisia, the Libyan uprising may not achieve its objectives very soon. Its ruler has for 42 years ensured the country’s political base is fragmented if not nonexistent. Having witnessed his limitless brutality, the world reacted with a list of long sanctions. And they came astoundingly quickly, for the UN: the Security Council unanimously imposed a complete arms embargo against Libya. The United Nations’ principle organ also issued a travel ban for the dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, his family and his top henchmen. Gaddafi’s billion-dollar bank accounts have been frozen, as have those of his sons and daughter. Even more importantly, Gaddafi will have to face the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The Libyan dictator has used extreme brutality against the peaceful protest movement – jets, helicopters, tanks and anti-aircraft artillery against unarmed demonstrators calling for freedom. Should Colonel Gaddafi survive the gradually emerging end of this revolution, he will spend the rest of his life in a European prison cell or end up hanging from a Libyan gallows.
The question of whether the international community has once again waited too long to turn its back on one of the Arab world’s best-known autocrats is just as justified as it is pointless.
The heads of state and government, the business leaders, and the UN Secretary-General knew all along which means Gaddafi used to rule over the not even six million Libyans. But the country has oil. And oil has always been thicker than blood when dealing with the kings, emirs, and colonels of the Arab world.
The more promising subject for Libya than retrospective debates on the lack of moral fortitude in the West is the country’s own future: the people have risen up against the “Brother Leader” who has been ruling them for 42 years. They are on the way to winning their revolution.
Libyans have the chance to build a democratic society that can protect human and civil rights in their own country better than the business interests of the Western states and their oil companies ever will. Self-determination rather than dependence on the goodwill of others is the prize the Libyans stand to win.
The decisive factor is that the international community does not intervene on a military level in the battles between the remains of the regime and the opposition across the country. Gaddafi’s people began their uprising alone. They must end it under their own steam. The Libyans have already paid a high price. The blood toll will continue to rise and the world will find it difficult to look on from the sidelines – the colonel in Tripoli is not a man who gives up.
He will set his last contingent on the insurgents, have his mercenaries and loyal soldiers continue shooting. Yet one thing is for sure: if NATO jets were to bomb Gaddafi’s militia now, the revolution would lose all legitimacy. The people of Tobruk, Bengasi, and Tripoli do not want help from outside. The major industrial states have long since ruined their reputation there.
The heads of state and government, the foreign ministers, and CEOs – they have all taken tea in Gaddafi’s Bedouin tent. They listened obediently to the vain dictator’s confused speeches, and in return, he signed profitable contracts afterward. Germany’s chancellor Gerhard Schroder was there, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, French, Americans, Chinese, Arab and Africans.
The United Nations accepted Libya onto its Human Rights Council, setting a wolf to watch the sheep. Only a few nations were troubled by the move. Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, meanwhile, traveled around the world posing as Libya’s great reformer, gaining a British doctorate. Germany was another of his ports of call. Now the son has revealed his true face as the mirror image of his father: an arrogant, brutal dictator-in-waiting.
In Libya itself, nothing has been decided. Gaddafi Senior, who bears all the traits of a psychopath, did not know which way to turn even before the UN sanctions. He is facing an uprising that cannot be stopped by reforms. In the wake of the orgy of violence, the Libyans have a clear demand: the end of Gaddafi. The bloodhound can only continue to fight his own people. Only part of the country is still under his control. He can regain power or be doomed. Escape and exile, a peaceful dotage with his fellow travelers in Venezuela or Bolivia, is no longer an option.
But Gaddafi is still in command of his militia and has no scruples about deploying them. Anyone who doubts this need only recall his past record: In 1996 he had 1200 dissidents murdered – on a single day. And when this latest revolt began, he ordered his soldiers to shoot on the very first day. The “Brother Leader” has nothing in his repertoire other than violence.
The inventor of the “Third Universal Theory” may be a crazed megalomaniac or a cynical Machiavellian; what he has always been a realist. His only choice now is between dying in his palace, execution after a trial in a Libyan court or at best a prison cell in The Hague. Judging by the dictator’s previous record, he is likely to opt for the palace, for the battle down to the very last bullet.