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article imageOp-Ed: Libya - The Stolen Revolution

By Stephen Morgan     Jul 5, 2011 in World
Revolution is when people take control of their destiny into their own hands. Is that still the case in Libya? Is the revolution still in the hands of the people? Or has it been hijacked ? Indeed, is it still a revolution at all?
Back in February, at the beginning of the revolution, hundreds of unarmed youths stormed the Birka Barracks in Benghazi. Facing intense machine-gun fire, they kept coming in wave after wave until they finally overpowered Gaddafi's forces and took control of the base. The dead littered the grounds, but at the time it seemed worth it.
Now that rebel leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil has said that Gaddafi could stay in Libya if "he desires" as part of a negotiated settlement t. it makes one wonder if those boys died in vain.
Jalil's statement confirms similar remarks last week by NTC spokesman, Mahmoud Shammam, who said that they would not object to Gaddafi being allowed to retire to some "Libyan oasis"
The idea that Gaddafi could be allowed to live out his life in luxury, immune from prosecution, in some palace in the desert or seaside resort in his home town of Sirte has shocked and angered many people. Not surprisingly, they are asking themselves whether this is satisfactory justice for the decades of murder, torture and imprisonment and the deaths of thousands during the revolution?
Worse still, the cushy deal for Gaddafi comes with the aim of a negotiated settlement for the formation of a coalition government between current members of Gaddafi's inner circles and ex-Gaddafi members of the rebel NTC, plus other representatives and administrators from both sides.
People will be wondering if such an agreement is a fitting epitaph for those heroes at Birka and the thousands who followed after them. It this the new Libya which they dreamed of? A nation free from Gaddafi and all his cronies, where corruption and dictatorship would be replaced by transparency and democracy. One could be excused for asking “is there something rotten in the state of Libya?” “Has the revolution been stolen or betrayed?”
Jalil admitted that these negotiations have been going on for over a month now. They were initiated by the West and the NTC had no choice but to participate. Even if some of its members have found the whole process rather distasteful, they really don't have any other strategy to offer.
Both NATO and the rebels are bogged down in a stalemate with Gaddafi's forces and the West does not want to continue much longer with a seemingly intractable battle for which it is paying an increasing cost in financial and political terms. So, they are now concentrating on the end-game, rather than the fight.
Most people imagine that the West and the NTC are some sort of equal partners in the current conflict, but this is far from the truth. The West has now taken control over the future of Libya and the NTC has been forced to go along. Some of its members are doing so quite willingly and others are following because they see no alternative.
An article in the Washington Post on June 3rd laid bear the NATO/rebels relationship in no uncertain terms. The rebels, it reported, are not involved in any decision-taking and there is very little consultation between them. In fact, it revealed, there isn't even a direct phone link between the two. When asked, NATO replied that this wasn't the result of bungling, but a conscious policy, because its operations in Libya were entirely independent of the rebels.
By involving its forces, the West has become responsible for the outcome in Libya and it is being judged on the international arena. What terrifies it most is the possibility of another failed state like Iraq or Afghanistan. Such a debacle, it knows, could result in the break up of NATO.
It is also concerned by possible problems with Al Qaeda and there are also short and long-term economic interests to worry about. Consequently, the West is not going to involve a transitional council in these affairs. Quite the opposite, the National Transitional Council comes under its command.
In truth, the West has absolutely no confidence in the NTC's ability to rule Libya. It fears the country would become ungovernable if the NTC were in charge, with loyalists, different militias and tribes competing for power in armed conflict. Libya could come to look like Somalia and, above all else, that is a disaster which the West wants to avoid.
The West is looking for stability and they know that stability depends on continuity. Quite simply, this means the continuation of the old regime, dressed up in democratic clothing with the same structures, same personnel and the same army and police, as far as it is possible.
In order to ensure that the NTC understood this, the British Foreign Minister, William Hague went in person to Benghazi at the beginning of June. He told the rebel leaders in no uncertain terms that there should be no "de-Baathification," after the Gaddafi is deposed.
Hague made quite clear what he meant by this at a press conference following his meeting with the NTC, saying he had "pressed the rebel leaders to make early progress on a more detailed plan for a post-Qaddafi government that would include sharing power with some of Colonel Qaddafi’s loyalists."
This idea will be highly disturbing, if not repulsive to many Libyans. When people rose up across the length and breadth of Libya, they were not demanding a reshuffle of the old cabinet, which is effectively what is being proposed. They weren't hoping that their heroism and sacrifices would be rewarded by some coalition of murderers and reformists.
Instead, they expected that all those responsible for the crimes of the regime would be purged from power and imprisoned. Clearly, the West and the NTC, however, have a different agenda to the original revolution. And, if you were doubting that the rebel leaders would agree to such a proposal,
The Economist confirmed that they did, reporting that, "Mindful of American mistakes in Iraq, the rebels have sensibly stated that civil servants and members of the army and police, bar those who are stained with blood, will be welcome to serve under a new order."
Just how those associated with “blood” and those who are not, will be determined, is not clear. It is sure that in the process, the many thousands, who either gave orders, followed orders or acted on their own, will be difficult to determine. But clearly, if members of Gaddafi's inner circle will be protected, many of those further down the line will also get away scot-free.
“Welcoming” people from the old regime, especially in “the army and police,” was not how the people on the streets envisaged the future. They not only wanted the removal of Gaddafi, but a purge of all those involved in repression and corruption everywhere in the regime, from top to bottom and from Tripoli to Tobruk. They expected a thorough cleaning of the Aegean stables and the replacement of regime cronies with honest people picked from among them.
As regards Gaddafi's armed forces, they wanted them disbanded and replaced with a genuine people's army, concerned only with defending the country. Moreover, if the NTC plans to incorporate members of despised, elite Khamis Brigades into its revamped armed forces, don't be surprised if there is an armed revolt.
Last week, the Allies took the process one step further, when the UK Department for International Development, issued a "stabilisation document" for the benefit of the rebel NTC leaders, detailing what they must do after a ceasefire. Andrew Mitchel, its Secretary emphasized "the importance of using to the maximum possible extent existing structures."
This is not what the revolution was about. Maintaining “to the maximum possible extent existing structures," hasn't been the battle cry on the barricades since February. When the people attacked the government offices, they wanted the destruction of all Gaddafi's methods of rule; the dissolution of his hated, fake “Revolutionary Committees” and the abolition of the sham “People’s Congresses.”
However, if the aims of the Allies were still not clear enough, Andrew Mitchell spelled it out, when he said,"One of the first things that should happen once Tripoli falls is that someone should get on the phone to the former Tripoli chief of police and tell him he has got a job."
Had any rebel leader made such a suggestion at the beginning of the revolution, they would have been immediately arrested as collaborators with the regime. The revolution wasn't fought for the preservation of the old regime under a government which includes Gaddafi's mass murderers. The people didn't fight to maintain Gaddafi's hated police force, they wanted the police force to be purged of all the dishonest and violent police officers and replaced by people the masses trusted.
Furthermore, they didn't expect that the old organs of repression would be given a new coat of paint and renamed, so they could rule over the people with the same leaders as before. They fought, instead, for a root and branch destruction of the regime and the creation of an entirely new state from bottom up through grass root democracy.
The truth is that the West doesn’t really want the rebels to conquer Tripoli. As the Economist pointed out "The big hope is that the regime in Tripoli will fizzle from within rather than be swept away by an advancing rebel army."
A scenario, in which the rebels fight their way into the capital and/or get bogged down in street-to-street fighting, would result in a very volatile situation. Power would be in the hands of the gun and after a bloody fight, costing many lives, the victorious rebels would be unlikely to accept a settlement which includes members of the regime and its armed forces. Moreover, it could become protracted with Gaddafi loyalists, armed to the hilt, battling to the last man.
Therefore, the West, with the help of the NTC, is carrying out a plan, which ignores and overrides the aims of the revolution and which would ensure the continuation of the Gaddafi regime, minus Gaddafi. It is a sort of "counter-revolution in democratic form," in the East, which aims to find common ground with the very brutal and bloody counter-revolution carried out by Gaddafi in the West.
For its part, the NTC is now preparing the people for a long period without democracy. It has announced that democratic elections would take two years to organize. Furthermore, it has taken decided to draw up a constitution by itself, without any popular mandate.
This is not what the revolution was aiming for. From the beginning, the people called for the creation of a Popular Assembly, which would draw up a new constitution to be voted on, then followed by democratic elections within 6 to 9 months.
We should remember that the NTC has not been elected, but is a totally self-appointed body. Consequently, as Hanan D Ghosheh, a Libyan-American writer, said in the article above, the NTC "has no right to make decisions or plans that would have a binding effect on the future of Libya.'
Furthermore, alongside the wheeling and dealing of the NTC, the transparency people fought for has now been replaced by secrecy and concealment. The Libyan Youth Movement, Feb 17th blog carried a story on 21st June, in which it reported that "the NTC’s regular meetings are being held privately with no published agenda or minutes, and there seems to be a general lack of transparency about its inner workings and decision-making process” "
Many people are already highly suspicious of the ex-Gaddafi people in the NTC, let alone those being negotiated with from his inner circle in Tripoli. The youth, in particular, feel bitter about their lack of representation. Powerful independent militias like The Martyrs of the Feb. 17 Revolution Brigade, which is virtually a law unto itself, could clash openly with the Benghazi committee.
Will the West and the NTC get away with it? If they do now, they probably wont later. The Libyan people are learning fast. This was underlined by a tweet from Libya by Ben Wedeman of CNN on June 20th, which said '@bencnn: Growing suspicion here NATO is intentionally doing just enough to keep Qadhafi at bay, not enough to deal him a fatal blow. #Libya #17feb"
Having been brought to political life by the revolution, the Libyan people are now critical and demanding thinkers. They are capable of seeing through the Machiavellian machinations of their so-called leaders and their allies in the West. Their lives and their future depend on it. Unrest on the streets of Benghazi and elsewhere cannot be ruled out at some point.
It could well be that the Libyan people will still have the last word on what happens. They may yet rise up to take back the revolution, which is being stolen from them. Consequently, developments could take unforeseen twists and turns. Indeed, the West and the NTC may yet come to find that in Libya, "the best laid plans of mice and men are oft to go astray."
POSTSCRIPT: New York Times reports that outrage among fighters and other NTC members forces NTC Chief Abdel Jalil to retract his comments about allowing Gaddafi to stay in Libya.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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