Smoleński: The End of Gaddafi. Can we sigh with relief?

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he rebellion against Gaddafi, probably the longest reigning tyrant of the 20th century, has been going on for half a year and now the rebels have taken Tripoli we know that the process of overthrowing the old regime is finished. Bombings and Gaddafi supporting forces’ attacks are probably just the death throws of the falling tyrant, although we can’t rule out anything yet, not even the use of weapons of mass destruction against the rebels. However, looking at the happy joyful faces of the rebels celebrating the conquering of Libya, I have mixed feelings.

My feeling towards Muammar Gaddafi is just disgust, but the example of Iraq teaches us that overthrowing a dictator is not enough. That was a moral (though not only moral) failure of all those who in good faith supported invasion into Saddam Hussein’s country. Of course, the world without a criminal, using mustard gas against his own citizens, is a better world. However, we need to remember the cost, as well as the result, of overthrowing him: creating the military training ground for Al-Qaeda, the predatory privatisation of services and the natural riches of Iraq as well as some disgraceful breaches of human rights by the “coalition army” (e.g. the tortures in Abu Ghraib).

So after some moments of justified euphoria because of overthrowing a hideous regime the time comes to ask a couple of difficult questions. It is going to depend on the answers as to whether we call the Libya rebellion a revolution or just a long coup. In other words, these are questions about who is going to establish the rules of the new order and what is going to be the reality after the rebellion. And that is why we can’t sigh with relief just yet.

My doubts are raised by a couple of things. First of all, there’s no state structure in Libya. A complete institutional collapse and uncontrollable clan identities allowed Gaddafi to keep power effectively. Using the “divide and rule” principle, the dictator, though not having any official statutory duties, could have absolute power over the country. As he controlled the income from oil, he was able to reward loyalists, throw money at his opponents and close the mouths of his most vocal critics in another way.

Let us remember that Europe also benefited from Gaddafi’s power. Gaddafi promised he would stop all those who wanted to get to the EU illegally. And he kept his promise in a cruel way. Is Europe – where fascist sentiment is growing (from the open fascism of people like Anders Breivik, to the wrongly directed frustrations of the “uneducated masses” to “rationally motivated” cultural racism of the middle classes) – going to welcome the power that refuses to build camps for immigrants on their territory?

Another problem is the scale of NATO’s participation in overthrowing the tyrant, which seems bigger than the media has portrayed it. It’s known that the UN resolution authorising the operation in Libya was very extensive, allowing NATO to wage war against Gaddafi, an authorisation that NATO eagerly used. It is not known, however, whether NATO provided the rebels with guns. Minister Sikorski’s answer (or lack of it) to the question (whether Poland provided guns) makes one think. If that was happening, then the results of such actions may be dramatic for the Libyans. Guns do not disappear after civil wars, they remain in the hands of those who used them. In the histories of countries that went through bloody civil wars, one motif repeats itself: after the end of the fighting, demobilised and demoralised units change into gangs that rape and support themselves by robbing, often by smuggling drugs too. That’s what happened in Guatemala, that’s what happened in Nicaragua where practically half of the country is out of control. I don’t know if such a pattern will repeat itself in Libya, because the civil war was relatively short, however, there is such a danger.

Western commentators, when observing any disturbances in the Arab world, usually ask, whether they might bring the Islamists to power by chance, because they are supposed to be the biggest threat to democracy in the world. There is obviously such a possibility in Libya’s case, and it’s dangerous especially because of the biological weapons and uranium ore in Gaddafi’s arsenal. Such a question, however, reveals the anti-democratic resentments of those who ask. Behind the question there is a tacit desire for “one of us” to rule over Libya, even if he’s a son of a bitch (the democratic West has a long history of justifying their support for the cruel dictatorships in this way).

Presenting the case this way covers the real problem, because it’s assuming that the obstacles against Libyan democracy or self-determination lie only inside Libya i.e. at the mosques where radicals are making plans of creating a caliphate. However, the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Libya before the rebellion, teach us that danger can be hidden outside, in the cabinets where Western “advisors” are planning the future for those broken societies.

There’s a risk that while Libyans are licking their wounds after the bloody conflict, the countries that came with “brotherly help” will take advantage of the chaos in the country. It’s possible that NATO’s intervention was not only just directed against Gaddafi, but was also aiming to take control over the potentially revolutionary event and force it down the road, well described in “The Shock Doctrine”: opening it to unregulated privatisation when the interested parties have no time or strength to oppose it.

Libya’s raw materials- mostly oil – but also water which has only just one source in Libya- as well as public services (whatever else we say about Gaddafi, he gave his subjects free public health care) are very attractive for the international corporations. A country without state structure, torn by feuding among clans and devastated by a half year civil war is an easy target for such an enforced “modernisation”. NATO’s members’ will use their participation as an argument to justify this – “after all, we helped you, if not for us, you’d never have succeeded”.

In this context it’s important whether the war against Gaddafi constituted an authentic nation (a political subject ready to create a new order), or whether was it just a reaction to the crimes of the old regime. If Libyans have not become such a nation, western “advisors” are going to have an easy task. Obviously globalisation of capital affectively limits sovereignty of all states. It becomes an illusion- the requirements of global competitiveness are often more important than citizens’ preferences. However, this illusion is necessary to talk about democracy at all.

That’s how important it is that Libyans take decisions themselves regarding the basic issues in such an important moment in the creation of the new order. It’s all about independent election of the representatives of the new government (without the blessing of the West); it’s about choosing the basic rules regulating their economical life (and not imposed on them by the IMF) such as how to divide the income from the oil or widely understood social policy (including public services or health care). Otherwise Gaddafi’s dictatorship will be replaced by another one, maybe less cruel, but equally- if not more- alienated from Libyan society.

Translated by Katarzyna Abramowicz


Krytyka Polityczna
Krytyka Polityczna (Political Critique) is the largest Eastern European liberal network of institutions and activists. It consists of the online daily Dziennik Opinii, a quarterly magazine, publishing house, cultural centres in Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk and Cieszyn, activist clubs in a dozen cities in Poland (and also in Kiev and Berlin), as well as a research centre: the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.