One year ago, Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi was killed in his hometown of Sirte. His death marked a new phase in the history of the country he had ruled for about 42 years. It was also a seeming end to the rebellion that sought, for nearly eight months, to consume his government and ‘free’ Libyans from his dictatorship.
For all the Libyans who supported the rebellion, the collapse of the regime (and Ghadaffi’s subsequent death) was a new dawn that was marked with celebrations all over the country and abroad. But for many others, especially given the level of violence and polarisation seen, it was actually the beginning of the end of a country that was once united even under a dictator. Reasons abound for this pessimism.
During the time of the confrontation between forces loyal to Ghadaffi and rebels, it was obvious that each side was more interested in their selfish interests than the country. Ghadiffi, for instance, wanted to defeat the rebellion by every means available to him. On several occasions he divisively pressured his supporters, mainly from the west of the country, to seize up those he referred to as ‘rats’, mostly from the east, and crush them.
And unlike other places where the Arab Spring had caused fewer casualties Ghadaffi’s use of brute military force to cut down protesters ensured maximum loss of lives mostly from a section of the country.
The rebels knew they were fighting to also escape the terrible consequences of defeat. At some point when it appeared Ghadaffi’s men were overrunning the territories under rebel control, Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi was pictured inspecting execution gallows. Among the rebels, it was common knowledge what the intent was and they were heard saying “if the revolution fails, Huda ben Amer will hang all of us” in reference to Ghaddafi’s notorious executioner.
Fired up by this desperation perhaps, they repeatedly called for military support from the powerful nations of the west. After a novelty show at the UN Security Council, a resolution was passed backing military deployment to enforce a ‘no fly zone’ over Libya. Maybe it did not occur to the rebels that they were authorising a future balkanisation of their country.
In one of my MA International Peacekeeping classes, I recall telling students that such polarisation of Libya would have serious consequences. But even Ghaddifi would not mind conceding certain interests to his so-called powerful friends in return for support. However, it was those powerful friends that failed him when he needed them most.
For example, of the 15 total votes obtainable at the time the resolution was passed, 10 supported the resolution and five abstained. Neither of China or Russia used its veto power to block it. China was only heard afterwards hypocritically expressing serious concern over the decision.
Shortly after the resolution, France announced that military operation was commencing rapidly within a few hours and British Prime Minister David Cameron made public his plan to deploy Tornado, Typhoon, surveillance and re-fuelling aircraft for the operation in Libya.
What the world saw from then was a systematic destruction of the country, by both sides, and clear efforts on the part of the world’s most powerful nations to substitute a despot with another set of tyrants. In the process, Ghaddafi was himself sacrificed and the world looked the other way as gross human rights abuses were carried out.
Recent evidence show how Ghaddifi, his son Mutasin and many supporters of the fallen regime were subjected to subhuman treatments and killed. Many innocent black migrants (plus black Libyans, sometimes) were made to pay for the sins of mercenaries that the fallen dictator allegedly rented from countries like Chad and Niger.
Again, these gross rights violations were neither cautioned nor stopped. None of the countries fiercely backing the so-called revolution was heard strongly speaking against the manifest contraventions of the rules of liberty and fairness they claim to stand for.
Today, Libya is in ruins and the prospect looks very grim. But as Libyans mark one year of the fall of the regime of Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, they must pause and seriously ask themselves what they wanted from the revolution in the first place and where they are now headed. They must ask themselves whether the people running the country now fit into the job description or not. And they should decide what to do next – whether to allow the trend to continue or seek another means of properly altering it.