Gaddafi is Gone.

The brutal end of Muammar Gaddafi’s life marks a political new beginning for Libya. The circumstances of his demise speak volumes about the road ahead.

Gaddafi was summarily executed after being captured by rebel fighters (the term “rebel” rather than revolutionary is correct in that it properly places the armed opposition in a civil rather than revolutionary war whose outcome was largely determined by external interference).  His non-military convoy was attempting to flee the rebel’s final advance on Surt, his hometown, when it was struck by a NATO airstrike (in violation of the rules of engagement NATO publicly announced when it declared a no-fly zone that included attacks on land-based military targets that posed an imminent threat to civilians). Concussed and wounded by shrapnel, Gaddafi and a few loyalists took shelter in a culvert. They were discovered and some were killed then, while Gaddafi was dragged out and manhandled by a growing mob. Disarmed, confused, pleading for mercy and bleeding, at some point soon thereafter he was head shot at point blank range (images of his wounds show powder bruns at the entry point). He was not caught in cross-fire, as there was none.

Killing a captive after surrender or capture is a war crime, including in civil wars. The rage and thirst for revenge of Gaddafi’s killers is understandable, but it shows a lack of discipline and foresight. Gaddafi and his inner circle could have provided valuable intelligence on a broad range of subjects, be it the terms of the exchange that led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, the grey arms networks in which Libya operated, or the extent of Gaddafi’s funding of influential Western agencies such as the London School of Economics or Harvard’s private political and strategic consulting firm. Similarly, although the outcome would have been pre-determined, his trial would have provided the Libyan people with a facimilie of representative justice in which his crimes could be publicly aired, and which could serve as a foundation for a new justice system once the new regime was installed. Even Saddam Hussein was allowed that much.

The barbarism of putting Gaddafi’s decomposing corpse on display in Misurata for public viewing speaks to the levels of distrust and base nature of the sectarian divisions within Libya. These will not go away simply because Gaddafi and his clan have been removed from power. The tactical alliance against his regime will not hold now that it is gone, and given that all of the main factions are armed, this raises serious questions about the political future of the country. The cross-cutting divisions are multiple and overlapped: Eastern versus Western, Islamicist versus non-Islamicist, Berber versus Arab, Benghazian versus Tripolian, urban versus rural, coastal versus land-locked, elite versus commoner, old royalist versus new upper class. Although the role of foreign military advisors and logistical support was crucial to victory, many rebel military commanders have carved out power centres of their own, and not all of the rebel political and military leadership are democratic in inclination.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) headquartered in Tripoli has announced the formation of an interim government within a month and presidential elections in 18 months. Both goals are very ambitious and the latter is inherently flawed. Imposing a presidential system in a multi-tribal society with no history of democracy and a long history of conflict  is a recipie for authoritarianism, as political contenders will vie for and hold presidential power in pursuit of sectarian rather than national objectives. A parliamentary system with multiparty proportional representation would be a better fit given the realities on the ground, as it would force power contenders to negotiate and compromise in pursuit of coalition objectives, which in turn would put constraints on executive authority.

To put the issue in comparison, the Libyan polity is more fragmented than that of Iraq and does not have an occupying force that imposes transitional order and around which national opposition can coalesce. Iraq has a parliamentary system that recognises sectarian control of parts of the country as well as grant participation to key clans, and yet has yet to be free of violence or have fully cemented the institutional base of the post-Baathist regime. This portends darkly for the immediate prospects of a post-Gaddafi Libya.

The issue of disarmament and creation of a national military, to say nothing of disposition of Gaddafi’s purported chemical weapons stores and other sophisticated armaments, is bound up in the negotiations over the interim government and rules of the game for the political transition. Given that NATO allies are not the only foreign actors involved in Libya, and given that some of these actors are non-state or state-sponsired in nature and have conflicting agendas with NATO, this means that the post-Gaddafi situation may descend back into conflict sooner rather than later. To this can be added the purge and reconstitution of the Libyan state as a functioning sovereign entity, a process that will also be driven by mindsets as much focused on the division of spoils as it is by notions of the common good. That overlaps with the issue of oil resource control and distribution, as well as the status of contracts signed during the Gaddafi regime, both of which involve tribal politics as well as the interests on non-NATO foreign actors such as China.

All of which is to say that the circumstances of Gaddafi’s death tells us much about what the future holds in store for Libya, at least over the near term: chaos, violence and imposition rather than consensus, forgiveness, reconciliation and compromise.


3 thoughts on “Gaddafi is Gone.

  1. This is an informative post, Pablo, albeit one that pretty much confirms the reasons for the trepidation I felt as we (the West) entered the conflict militarily, even as I thought it was the right thing to do.

    Hopefully, the (western) forces that ensured the rebels prevailed can apply sufficient pressure to avoid the outcomes you suggest are at least possible, if not probable.

    The thing is, is this now an illustration of a new world order?

    For example, whereas Mubarak caved to western financial pressure, Gaddafi was of independent means and resisted.

    The looming question is whether the West will maintain that consistency of either financial or military pressure in the case, say, of Yemen, where it appears Saleh is gearing up for a full scale confrontation with his own people.

  2. These will not go away simply because Gaddafi and his clan have been removed from power.

    Something that applies to Tunisia and Egypt as well, and that our media appear woefully unable to grasp, as they seem to be fixated on a narrative better suited to movie scripts than journalism.

  3. Actually Milt, there appears to be four separate trends in the so-called “Arab Spring:” 1) the Tunisian variant, whereby a new constitution and government are ratified via popular vote as a first step towards democratisation after the fall of the old authoritarian regime. Alas, this is a slow elite-driven process and only seems to obtain so far in Tunesia, although Jordan and Morocco may see similar reforms in the future given the liberalising tendencies of the monarchs in each case; 2) the military reaffirmation route, which is what Egypt has done. Here the military-dominated regime engages in a process of political and economic liberalisation by opening up electoral space for previously excluded parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood), but retains ultimate control of the political process and economic assets. Algeria appears to be following this model; 3) the civil war/regime overthrow model, which is the case of Libya and most likely Yemen, and which could well be the fate of Assad’s regime in Syria should foreign actors decide the costs of his removal are less than the benefits obtained. This may or may not result in a more liberal, if not democratic regime. Iraq is a variant of this model; 4) the retrenchment model, which is what happened in Bahrain and is likely in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Here elites blame Iranian interference so as to justify cracking down on sectarian (Shiia) dissent while offering piecemeal concessions to the majority.

    Iran is a whole different kettle of fish, as the regime has an electoral basis already and is quite institutionalised in its form of governance. Thus the possible transition scenario would at this juncture appear to be one of liberalisation from within rather than regime change–barring of course the intervention of foreign actors, which could actually result in a political regression rather than a move towards increased democracy because of anti-imperialist and nationalist sentiment on the part of the majority (since it will be impossible to occupy and re-create the Iranian political order even if it is attacked for limited purposes such as pre-emptively eliminating its nuclear weapons capability.

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