How the West hijacked the Libyan uprising

Libya’s National Transitional Council has been blessed by Western leaders because it is politically compliant.

Patrick Hayes

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Topics Politics

A leaked document revealing how the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Libya plans to consolidate power post-Gaddafi suggests that many aspects of Gaddafi’s regime are likely to remain. Moreover, it suggests that, far from the future of Libya being determined by the Libyan people themselves, it will instead be shaped by a bunch of Western-approved groups jockeying for power, many of whom were formerly Gaddafi’s cronies.

The Times yesterday published details of the leaked 70-page document, which the NTC apparently cobbled together ‘with Western, and especially British, help’. The document outlines how the NTC plans to reconstruct and secure Libya once Gaddafi leaves – right from the plan to make an instant post-Gaddafi radio broadcast reassuring the Libyan people to the provision of emergency supplies of gas and petrol to Western Libya.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with planning ahead for what will happen once victory is achieved. However, it is clear from The Times’ report that the plans for achieving victory remain very vague. Indeed, the leaked document suggests that ‘rebel forces have little faith in their ability to topple Colonel Gaddafi, but expect the regime to crumble from within’.

The Times reports that the NTC has deemed that a successful advance on Tripoli is near impossible, and also that it is very unlikely that a Western air strike will take out Gaddafi. So apparently, it has decided simply to wait, to hang on, in the hope that a popular uprising or an internal coup occurs, allowing the NTC to get into the driving seat and implement its plans.

Such a waiting game, as Tim Black has previously pointed out on spiked, is a reflection of impotence, not strategic manoeuvring. The fact that the NTC sees fit to wait around for a popular uprising to emerge challenges the notion that its members are genuine rebel leaders. If they were, surely they would be trying to take a lead in inspiring an uprising?

But the fact that there is estrangement between the NTC’s leaders-in-waiting and the Libyan people should not come as a surprise. From the start, the council has been externally focused, attempting to gain acceptance in the eyes of the West, rather than struggling to attain legitimacy from the Libyan people whom it claims to represent.

In a move that will no doubt have satisfied the NTC, last month the 30 or so countries that make up the international ‘Libya Contact Group’ – including France, the UK, the US, Germany and Japan – announced that they were officially recognising the NTC as Libya’s ‘legitimate authority’.

Some states made frozen Libyan assets available to the NTC, while France and Britain expelled representatives of the Gaddafi government from Libyan embassies and invited members of the NTC to take their place. A UK Foreign Office spokesman declared: ‘We now regard the NTC as the legitimate expression of the Libyan people. We have invited them to set up shop and represent the Libyan people with full diplomatic status.’

But what criteria, exactly, were used to recognise the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people? Certainly these individuals haven’t been elected by any Libyans. It seems Western governments have enthusiastically accepted the NTC because they are Not Gaddafi. Though, as it happens, some of them, including those in the highest positions, are Gaddafi’s former cronies. The chairman of the council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was formerly Gaddafi’s minister of justice. And Mahmoud Jibril, who runs the NTC’s economic wing, was formerly a senior member of Gaddafi’s economic development board.

Even if the NTC’s claim that 95 per cent of rebel forces are loyal to them is correct – and this is highly questionable – that doesn’t mean they have the Libyan people’s backing. Furthermore, Jalil’s dissolution of the executive team yesterday, following criticism of their handling of the assassination of General Abdel Fattah Younes in Benghazi, suggests the NTC itself is hardly a unified, coherent body.

A key reason for the international acceptance of the NTC is the council’s willingness to conform to what Western leaders believe any future Libyan government should be like. In a visit to Washington earlier this year, an NTC representative made assurances to state officials that ‘extremism’ would play no role in the future of Libya, which was formalised in a statement on counterterrorism by the council.

Such assurances that the NTC will only do politics in a sedate, acceptable-to-Washington way put paid to the idea that Libya is heading towards a genuine democracy, in which people might freely debate and discuss ideas and determine for themselves how the future of their country should be shaped. If so-called ‘extremist’ ideas are to be rejected outright, then such freedom simply won’t exist – a country that has no room for what external observers judge to be unacceptably hot-headed thought is not a liberated country.

Furthermore, as The Times reports, it appears that in trying to quell fears that the withdrawal of Western intervention will lead to an ‘Iraq-style collapse into anarchy’, the NTC plans to keep much of the Gaddafi regimes’ security infrastructure intact. Such a strategy, in the words of The Times, is likely to prove controversial among ‘many rebel fighters determined to sweep away all vestiges of the old regime’. Indeed, the NTC even appears willing to cut a deal with Gaddafi’s sons, should their old man relinquish his grip on power.

With Gaddafi seemingly unwilling to go anywhere fast, and the leaders-in-waiting on the NTC seemingly having abandoned any hope of taking decisive action to oust him, it is increasingly unclear how long this stalemate will last. What is becoming more clear, however, is that whoever emerges post-Gaddafi, the prospect of the Libyan people being able to shape their destinies is, for now, off the table.

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Politics

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