When, in 1969, young Muammar Gadaffi and fellow officers overthrew the corrupt monarchy in Libya, they had some good intentions and did some good things.
They seized the royal palace in Tripoli and did not go to live there themselves, but turned it into a public library. They closed British and United States military bases. They nationalized the oil wealth, which so far had been profitable only to foreign multinational corporations and a small clique around the royal family. Education and public housing expanded.
However, Gadaffi’s revolution eventually degenerated into an oppressive dictatorship. Economic policies shifted in the direction of neoliberal capitalism. Lots of money which should have gone to the Libyan people instead went to cliques around the Gadaffi family, to oil and other multinational corporations, and to advisers to the Gadaffi regime like Tony Blair. Meanwhile, privatization meant for many Libyans unemployment and other deteriorations.
After the Tunisian people managed to drive away their dictator Ben Ali who was supported by NATO countries until he had to flee … after the Egyptian people managed to drive away their dictator Mubarak who was supported by NATO countries until his own army deposed him … many Libyans, especially young people, felt inspired to drive away Gadaffi similarly.
There were and are important similarities, but also important differences, between Libya and Tunisia to its west and Egypt to its east. There was justified discontent about political oppression and Thatcherite-Reaganite economics in all three countries. However, the average standard of living in Libya was higher than in other (North) African countries (will it still be after the present devastations of war?).
Also, both in Tunisia and Egypt, workers going on strike played a key role in the downfall of the dictators. In Libya, I have not read about such a working class movement. In Libya, until very recently, most lower paid jobs in the blue-collar hard core of the working class were done by immigrants: from Egypt, from Tunisia, from Black African countries. “Autochthonous” Libyans tended to work more in white-collar jobs.
When the revolt against Gadaffi started, workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, etc. did not participate, but fled the country. This is different from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia where immigrant workers do play a role in pro democracy movements.
As for immigrants from Black African countries: rumors about some of Gadaffi’s troops being African mercenaries contributed to bloody racist attacks on Black workers in anti-Gadaffi areas. Two caveats here: certainly not all anti-Gadaffi Libyans approve of anti-Black racism and the bloody crimes which it is causing. And Gadaffi is no hero of anti-racism, as he agreed to help his xenophobic European allies (allies until a few weeks ago) like Berlusconi of Italy in stopping African migration to Europe.
Still, the massacres of sub-Sahara Africans are a sign of the anti-Gadaffi revolt, which, like Gadaffi’s 1969 revolt, started with some good intentions and good actions, degenerating, like Gadaffi degenerated.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the people managed to drive the dictator away, basically with non-violent mass actions, even as the dictators killed many hundreds of protesters. This one-way (top down) violence is also a feature in many Arab and non-Arab countries where pro democracy movements have not yet managed to drive away their equivalents of Ben Ali or Mubarak: Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Jordan, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Swaziland, Georgia, Albania, etc. etc.
In Libya, like in Tunisia and Egypt, the anti regime movement started in a mass, non-violent and non-hierarchical way. Unfortunately, it did not stay that way. People who until very recently had high positions in Gadaffi’s armed forces and police repressive apparatus tried to capture the leadership of the movement; and succeeded, if we are to believe Western media. Within the opposition, there was a switch from a mass strategy to a militaristic strategy. Militaristic strategies tend to exclude women and people who are too young, too old or not able-bodied enough to join armed forces, from movements.
Of course, that governments of countries like the USA, France, and Britain, and their organization NATO, which used to have an excellent military and economic relationship with the Gadaffi regime, now claimed to support democratic rebellion in Libya, and “proved” that by war and bombing, greatly helped this tendency from mass movement to militarism and secret services. When, a few weeks ago, the British Conservative Cameron government sent SAS soldiers into eastern Libya, anti-Gadaffi rebels arrested and expelled them. Today, however, we can read that the CIA, world record holders in human rights violations, are active in Libya. Those Libyan rebels who expelled the British SAS may like now the expel the CIA. However, I do not hear about them now. Have they died in battle against Gadaffi forces? Have they been sidetracked? How is the situation now, for, eg, the Libyan anti-Gadaffi anarchist Saoud Salem who wrote on 17 March against Western bombing of Libya?
Recently, ex-Gadaffi general Khalifa Hifter, said to be a CIA agent, was appointed commander of the rebel armed forces.
While Libyans were rightly indignant about Gadaffi’s privatization, the boss of Gadaffi’s privatisation program, Mahmoud Jibril, now turns up as an official rebel leader, as Prime Minister of the Benghazi government. What do the people who revolted peacefully against Gadaffi because of government privatisation and unemployment policies think of this?
Many people revolted against Gadaffi as they wanted democracy, not dictatorship. However, yesterday, in Dutch TV program Nieuwsuur, their Benghazi correspondent had an interview with anti Gadaffi lawyers. What is wrong with laws under Gadaffi? the correspondent asked. The lawyers said that now laws are not based on Islamic religious shariah law. For instance, if someone is convicted of theft, under Gadaffi his hand is not cut off. That is wrong and should change, the lawyers said (for Islamophobic readers: there are many views of what shariah law exactly is, and very many Muslims do not favour such a cruel interpretation. What if someone’s hand is cut off, and later it turns out that the theft was by someone else? Not even a very good surgeon will be able to restore the hand to the innocent ex-convict).
Gadaffi sought to get support for his regime by claiming his opponents were Al Qaeda. Correctly, in Western media, people laughed about that. Like they also laughed about claims that most or all opponents of George Bush’s bloody occupation of Iraq were Al Qaeda … oh, wait a moment, Western media did not denounce those spurious claims. Like they also laugh about claims that most or all opponents of the bloody occupation of Afghanistan are Al Qaeda or Taliban .., oh, wait a moment, Western media do not denounce those claims. Like they also laugh about claims that most or all opponents of the bloody dictator of Yemen are Al Qaeda .., oh, wait a moment, Western governments do not denounce those claims. They give the dictator of Yemen some more weapons to kill democratic oppositionists. Like they gave weapons to Gadaffi until oh so recently.
As for Libya: high level US officials now say at least some Libyan anti-Gadaffi forces are Al Qaeda. Are they lying, like about Iraq, Yemen, etc., or about the democratic opposition in Bahrain supposedly being controlled by the regime in Iran? Those US generals and top bureaucrats might be lying if the US-Gadaffi alliance would be still intact, like a few weeks ago. Now that saying such things is not good for anti-Gadaffi war propaganda and they still say it, I am not so sure.
Among people who would like to lead the anti-Gadaffi movement is Crown Prince Mohammed El Senussi, pretender to the Libyan throne which his dynasty lost in 1969. That, of course, does not mean that all anti-Gadaffiists are monarchists. That the flag from the monarchy days now flies in Benghazi does not say everything. Just like only a small minority seem to be Al Qaeda, it just means that not all are genuine democrats. And that Western governments waging war are extremely unlikely to support the genuine democrats. They will prefer to help degeneration of the original anti-Gadaffi revolt.
By John Green:
Dancing with Dynamite
History teaches us that once some revolutionaries successfully gain power they become conservatives or, even worse, congeal into authoritarian regimes.
How can we ensure that a revolution maintains its momentum for change and radicalism?
How can the grass-roots movements that brought about the change ensure that they are not neutered and absorbed into the new power structures?
As debate rages in Washington over whether to arm anti-Gaddafi rebels, an exclusive report by The Daily Beast indicates al Qaeda forces are gearing up to join the rebels and seize power in Libya: here.
Campaigners warned today that depleted uranium (DU) munitions have probably been used by US forces in Libya: here.