Monday, July 4, 2011

Libya: Movement For Democratic Reform Stifled

The Nato campaign and Gaddafi regime's actions have transformed it into a civil war with unpredictable results
 By Adel Safty
Speaking at a democracy conference recently in Vilnius, Lithuania, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined the road ahead for the Arab world to achieve transition to free societies. She referred to Tunisia and Egypt. She also mentioned Syria but only to regret and condemn the latest violence. Notably absent from her speech was any reference to Libya. Since the speech was about the road ahead and democracy, one may safely conclude that the absence of Libya is caused by the difficulty of having a clear vision of the future of democracy in Libya.
The vision for the road ahead in Libya has been muddled by a number of factors: First there were, inspired by Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries, street demonstrators who called for change and reforms. Instead of recognising the legitimate aspirations of the people for freedoms and democratic rights, the Gadaffi regime responded with brutalities that shocked the conscience of the international community. This paved the way for foreign intervention under the principle of humanitarian intervention to save civilian populations under attack or protect those under threat.
It should be said, however, that what has been collectively called by the media the Libyan opposition lacked cohesiveness, clarity of purpose and a programme for the future. They also lacked the determination that fuelled the revolutionary ardour of the Egyptians and the specificity of their revolutionary demands. They seem united in their demand for change, but beyond that the desperate members of the Libyan opposition looked and behaved like a secessionist movement locked in skirmishes and civil war with the forces of the central government.
By their actions, both the Gaddafi regime and western governments that launched the bombing campaign, stifled what might have developed into a movement for democratic reform and transformed it into a civil war with unpredictable results.
The Gaddafi regime did that by responding to legitimate demands for change with brutalities, excluding any form of dialogue and shutting down any avenue of participation. This confirmed the authoritarian nature of the regime; its mindless brutalities caused it to lose legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The regime is therefore responsible not only for the brutalities inflicted on its own people, but also for giving foreign governments an excuse for military intervention that has been inflicting additional brutalities on the Libyan people.
From the very beginning it was obvious that the Nato bombing campaign of Libya was ill-suited for its declared purpose: Enforce a no-fly-zone in order to protect civilians. The protection of Libyan civilians required political negotiations with the Gaddafi regime and the stationing of peace-keeping troops. But since none of the western powers engaged in the Nato campaign were prepared to send troops, they decided that protection of Libyan civilians can be achieved by neutralising Muammar Gaddafi’s war machine. In fact, they decided to do more: regime change and assassination of Gaddafi — clearly illegal actions under international law.
US Congressman Mike Turner publicly stated that US Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the Nato Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him that Nato forces were actively targeting and trying to kill Gaddafi, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s denial that they are pursuing “regime change,” which is not authorised by the UN mandate.
“I believe the scope that Nato is pursuing,” Turner said, “is beyond what is contemplated in civil protection, so they’re exceeding the mission.” Turner is in effect accusing Nato of taking the law into their own hands, and breaching international law.
There have been questions about the commitment of the Libyan opposition to democratic governance. David Kirkpatrick, writing for the New York Times, observed that “the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories... and making vastly inflated claims of his [Gaddafi] barbaric behaviour.” Notice how the opposition is described as ‘rebels’ (not protesters or democracy movement, or revolutionaries as in Egypt for instance) reinforcing the tribal war nature of the confrontation with Gaddafi.
In siding with the rebels, whose democratic credentials are at best unknown, and actively pursuing regime change and the assassination of Gaddafi, with considerable risk for civilians, are the Nato partners pursuing a humanitarian mission?
And what have they achieved after 12,000 sorties and 2,500 targets hit, including civilian populations? Gaddafi’s daughter Aisha, filed lawsuits in Brussels and Paris accusing Nato of the murder of her four-month-old daughter, her brother Saif, and two of his children when Nato war planes hit Saif’s home on April 30, when Gaddafi was visiting.
The behaviour of the Nato governments pursuing the war against the Gaddafi regime has also been similar to that of Gaddafi: adopting maximalist positions that excluded a negotiated political solution. By rushing to refer the case to the Permanent Criminal Court and having a warrant issued for Gaddafi’s arrest, the Nato countries were in fact raising the stakes, as did Obama’s call for Gaddafi to go. Gaddafi must have concluded that the only option left for him is precisely not to go, but to stay and fight to the bitter end.
If his forces are decimated and his army destroyed, he would probably rather be killed in battle than arrested and tried. If the rebels fail to take Tripoli and unseat Gaddafi, a stalemate would prevail in which Libya will be divided.
Even if this latter scenario were acceptable to the rebels and to Gaddafi, will it be acceptable to Nato? The embarrassment to Nato would only be matched by the loss of prestige to US President Barack Obama who ordered an eccentric strongman of a small country to go, only to see him defy him and stay. In either case, the road to democracy has been made long and arduous; saving people by bombing them would have discredited it as an effective humanitarian strategy.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 04/07/2011
-Adel Safty is distinguished professor adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky

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