Revolution unfulfilled: Libya’s third anniversary

NATO-backed Libyan rebels

In three weeks time, the people of Libya are supposed to come to the streets and public squares in their hundreds of thousands to dance with joy on the occasion of the third anniversary of the revolution, writes Abdelbari Atwan.

Three years ago, the corrupt, dictatorial rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was toppled, this is true, but life in Libya today is far from joyful. It is, rather, terrifyingly violent and laced with insecurity. There is virtually no central state anymore to maintain control and security and only chaos thrives, along with enmity and conflict provoked by sectarian, tribal and regional divisions.

Colonel Gaddafi, one of his sons and his Defence Minister, were killed in a gruesome manner, their mutilated bodies were derided and gloated over and then they were buried in the middle of the desert. NATO battalions crushed Gaddafi’s men, taking them into custody or dispersing them in exile across the globe. The problem now is that a workable alternative model of power has failed to materialize. In fact, things are even worse.

The Libyan State was powerless to resist last October’s kidnap of its Prime Minister in his sleep; and this week it has been powerless, too, to prevent the kidnap of at least five Egyptian diplomats from within their own Embassy in Tripoli. This diplomatic outrage is believed to have been perpetrated in response to Friday’s arrest in Egypt of Shabaan Hadiya, leader of one of the hundreds of militia that are currently terrorizing Libya, the “Revolutionaries’ Operation Room.”

If the Libyan government cannot protect its own Prime Minister, and Arab (or indeed any) embassies in the capital, how can it look after its own people, the nation’s justice system or the country’s borders and wealth?


Our correspondents in Libya say the cities have become “dumps” in all senses of the word; there are no municipal services and there are mountains of garbage everywhere. The state health service is all but collapsed, and the nation’s main source of enormous wealth – its oil industry – is firmly under the control of militias who are selling stock on the black market through illegal ports.

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Meanwhile the Government is having to borrow to pay its staff’s salaries because oil production has dropped from 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) to less than 200,000 barrels, leaving the State Treasury empty.

Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist
Abdel Bari Atwan is a prominent Arab journalist

In Southern Libya, Fezzan province declared itself autonomous last September and the green flags of the Gaddafi regime flutter over buildings and from car windows. But the world’s press isn’t interested in Libya any more, we no longer see American correspondents dressed in military helmets and bullet-proof jackets providing ongoing coverage as they did under the wings of Nato planes during the no-fly zone.

Those who are subjected to bombardment by aircraft, those whose children’s bodies are ripped apart by shells will not expect Nato to intervene in a bid to protect them; nor will they call on the Zionist philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, to persuade the present inhabitant of Paris’s Elysee Palace to send aircraft to protect their lives, not because Francois Hollande is too busy with his domestic arrangements, but because the objective of military intervention was only political and economic.

Now Gadaffi has gone and western multinationals have their oil deals, the Libyan people are not really human, but insects that must be crushed underneath their houses. We have already seen this attitude in action in Sirte and Bani Walid, and Kararim; the latter saw one of the most brutal episodes of ethnic cleansing in recent history as black Africans were murdered and terrorized out of their homes. And by whom? Those who wave the banner of Islam, the ideology of tolerance and equality.

Executioner becomes victim

We did not expect this reversion to occur so quickly. After less than three years, the executioner has become the victim, and the victim has not only become the torturer but is committing the most heinous crimes, and is party to obscene corruption, plundering the country’s wealth and allowing it to be torn apart and dumped into isolated, warring divisions. Fear and terror are the common denominator of the lives of Libyans, without exception.

After the revolution, press freedom flourished in Libya, and hundreds of new media outlets emerged, but now outspokenly critical journalists are targeted for assassination, another measure of the corruption and terror that presides over Libya.

Militias, which form no part of the state apparatus, and are not even recognized by the State, make up their own laws, and impose their form of justice (torture and murder) on innocent citizens, imprisoning those who dare challenge or oppose them.

Gaddafi was overthrown with significant NATO military assistance
Gaddafi was overthrown with significant NATO military assistance

The question is not: “Why doesn’t the West intervene to put an end to this chaos?” because we have always opposed external interference in Arab affairs. But we could justifiably ask why, having brought about regime change in Libya, the west does not advise its new allies in Tripoli on the best way to establish the political infrastructure required for stable government, and how to strengthen the police, army and intelligence services so that they can actually protect the people from the lawlessness of the militias.

The Libyan people should also be called to account. We pray that righteous and sincere leaders will emerge who can repair the last three years’ damage, right all the wrongs, bury the hatchet and transform vigilante tendencies into a desire to build a new Libya based on law, justice and equality and national unity.

I was in Tunisia two weeks ago to participate in the modest celebrations of the third anniversary of its revolution. I was greatly surprised to learn that there are nearly one million Libyan asylum-seekers there, escaping violence. I was happy, too, to find that my fellow guests in the hotel I was staying in were from the Libyan national team and that they were full of hope and love for their country.

We conclude this article by recalling that exclusion and revenge are tendencies that destroyed Iraq, and seem to be embedding their claws in Egypt and Syria. We pray that the people of Libya will be aware of the great danger that lies ahead for them if they allow their nation to be torn apart by racism and tribal, ethnic and even political divisions. The only path to survival and success for the new Libya is unity – as a nation, and as part of the Arab world.

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