As demands grow in some quarters for western humanitarian intervention in Syria's bloody civil war, it is timely to take stock of the results of western humanitarian intervention in Libya two years ago. Of course, it is not the outcome in Libya that made foreign intervention problematic, but its legality and coercive character in forcing regime change.
Below is a report from World Review, 27 June 2013: it makes for sober reading.
TWO YEARS have passed since the start of the rebellion in Libya which, with substantial aid from Western forces, resulted in the fall of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But conflict is far from over. In reality, everything is in chaos, although more or less organised chaos.
Muammar Gaddafi seized power from King Idris in a bloodless coup in 1969. For more than 40 years, he managed to handle all the various regional and tribal sensitivities with adept manipulation and cunning – and at times by force.
But from the beginning of the hostilities in February 2011, which led to Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall, there were signs of anarchy and conflict between the three main regions, as well as within them. In Tripolitania, the different opposing groups are the militias of Misrata, where the rebellion began, the Berbers of the Nafusa Mountains, the city-dwellers in Tripoli and the Warfalla of Bani Walid. In Cyrenaica, the Islamists of Derna fight with the Senussi Sufi order of Benghazi. In Fezzan, the black Toubou tribes are rebelling against the Ulad Sliman Arabs.
The mosaic is not only ethnic and geographic, but also religious because the application of Islam is very different from one community to the next. All this creates an explosive situation, in which the fall of the ‘Guide’ - Colonel Gaddafi - has been a centrifugal force. Fighting for control of hydrocarbon resources is adding to animosity between the groups.
The official government, formed from the National Transitional Council, appears to be in charge of very little. Barely a third of the capital, Tripoli, is said to be under its control. Those in a position of responsibility between Colonel Gaddafi’s rise to power in 1969 and his fall in October 2011 have been excluded from politics, under a law passed on May 5, 2013, by the General National Congress (GNC).
The ban includes former ministers, ambassadors, people’s committee representatives, domestic security officers, journalists, student unionists and university deans. The spectrum is broad, encompassing 500,000 people. The current president of the GNC and former ambassador to India, Mohammed Magariaf, is also excluded from office. Another victim is Mahmoud Jibril who was prime minister during the revolution. At least four ministers of the government of Ali Zeidan and some 15 representatives also fall under the scope of the law.
The result is that no one is left, except Islamists. It is these Islamists, and the growing influence of militias close to Salafists, followers of a strict, fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, who benefit from the purge.
These thuwars or revolutionaries have since been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
Although they have traded in their combat fatigues for suits, the new masters of Libya are no softies.
Abdelhakim Belhadj, governor of Tripoli and a former jihadist, has been seeking power with his new party, Al-Watan, which is described as tending towards ‘Salafi nationalism’. Abdelkarim al-Hasadi, known as the ‘Emir of Derna’, in the eastern part of Libya, is an admirer of the Taliban and makes excuses for the stoning of women. The Grand Mufti Sadeq Al-Ghariani has called for a ban on Libyan women marrying foreigners.
These men, with their well-armed militias, prosper and prepare for what is expected to be Libya's sombre future. In the south jihadists tend to their business, carrying out attacks.
If tribal and religious leaders succeed in reaching an agreement it will simply be a matter of Libya following the path of the oil-based monarchies of the Gulf, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The literal and violent application of Sharia law in those countries does not appear to concern the rest of the world. This is because the only thing that seems to be working in Libya is the production of oil and gas, which is now at pre-revolution levels.
Western oil companies, such as the French group Total which invested US$130 million in 2013 (around 100 million euros) in gas exploration in Libya, do not seem to find anything wrong with the situation vacillating between anarchy and Islamist repression.