Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya: It's Time To Heal The Wounds

Libya, like Iraq, has political and tribal factions, and re-establishing peace and security will be a challenge
By George S. Hishmeh
The stunning takeover within 24 hours of most of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, by anti-Gaddafi forces has come as a shot in the arm to the six-month-old Arab Spring that has so far led to the downfall of two Arab regimes — in Egypt and Tunisia — and may influence the ongoing, but inconclusive uprisings against the diehard autocratic regimes in Yemen and Syria, if not become an inspiration to others elsewhere in the Arab world.
The imminent downfall of the Arab world's longest serving autocrat, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, is bound to give second thoughts to other autocratic Arab leaders as well as some western analysts, such as George Friedman, a holocaust survivor and chief executive officer at Stratfor, a Washington think-tank, who recently wrote dismissively that "the Arab Spring is, above all, a primer on wishful thinking in the face of the real world".
Writing under a column titled A cloudy Arab spring, David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, also disagreed with the term ‘Arab Spring' because of "its implicit message of democratic birth and freedom", and suggested instead Arab transition, "which conveys the essential truth that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading".
Regardless of these hackneyed views, there is no doubt that the Libyan revolutionaries, despite being identified as "a ragtag army" in the western media, have impressed with their courage.
They have taken over most of the oil-rich country except possibly Gaddafi's hometown Sirte, and Sabha, another small town. Gaddafi may be in either of these places now after fleeing his tunnelled home in Bab Al Aziziya.
To set the record straight, the Libyan uprising would not have been very successful without Nato, a point that has troubled some in the Arab world concerned about the role of this western alliance in the region, especially given that some see Libya as a quagmire.
A Reuters dispatch from Libya underlined: "The uncharacteristically efficient rebel advance into Tripoli, coordinated with an uprising inside the city, seemed evidence to some analysts of the military advice and training western and some Arab powers, including Qatar, have provided."
It was also noteworthy to hear the otherwise colourless head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mahmoud Jibril, calling on anti-Gaddafi fighters to spare life and property and to avoid reprisals against individuals and leaders who served the deposed dictator during his 42-year rule.
Here, the Libyans should learn a lesson from the unfortunate experiences of the Iraqis who are still divided and remain in a state of turmoil after the departure of most American troops. Libya, like Iraq, has many factions, political and tribal, and it too, like its predecessor, is bound to face a mammoth job in re-establishing peace and security.
Keeping the peace
This point has apparently been well recognised. "We've sought to learn the lessons of the failures of Iraq, which have very much influenced our thinking — trying to make sure we don't make the same mistakes again," British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said.
Once law and order returns to Libya after the six-month uprising, there is no need for concern about the availability of financing to rebuild their strategic and oil-rich country, since many Libyan accounts, reported to be in the billions of dollars, have been secretly established in foreign countries. Foreign governments have reportedly assured the revolution's leadership in Benghazi that these accounts will be transferred once the revolutionaries have established themselves in Tripoli.
Just as it was with the people — Egyptians, Tunisian and now Libyans — who kicked out their corrupt dictators, the NTC should remain confident that it can now launch a serious reconstruction programme to repair all the damage that occurred during the six-month uprising and establish institutions to build a modern democracy.
The last question that is probably on Arab minds elsewhere in the Middle East is whether what the western powers have achieved in Libya may be repeated in other Arab countries in the midst of uprisings.
It is doubtful. US President Barack Obama is on record as having characterised the Libyan uprising as different from how the West handled Saddam Hussain, underlying the point that the Libya revolt is a home-grown uprising inspired by other Arab protest movements that overthrew western-backed autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 25/08/2011
-George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist

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