It has been a while since I last talked about Libya, but a few events and incidents in the past few weeks have brought it back firmly in my mind ( my traditional “wait and see” attitude the other reason for the gap). As with my previous posts on the subject, allow me to state some points and expand, based on the news that we see coming out of the country, as well as provide a link dump for anyone who wants further reading.
Things Aren’t Getting Better
As with other Arab Spring nations, Libya suffers from unrealistic expectations, leading to Benghazi residents storming NTC buildings when they become unhappy that not enough is being done to reform the country, to make their lives better. Bad enough that it gets to that point, worse that the actual sitting government of the day is vulnerable to this kind of incursion, the Chairman of the NTC inside the building at the time. What would have happened if the crowd had been a little bit more angry? The NTC’s legitimacy and authority takes a huge hit when things like this happen.
Added to that, the other day Medecins Sans Frontieres decided they would no longer go through the horrifically mundane process of patching up prisoners just so they could be sent back to get tortured. Good Lord. It’s a rock or a hard place for the ruling establishment here: either they are actively promoting such treatment (or ignoring it), in which case they are no better than the previous regime, or they are unable to stop it, in which case they are powerless. They deny it, and are placing themselves on the opposite side of a respected NGO, that has no reason to lie.
And, the constant refrain of racism against black Africans within the country continues, this story just one of many that has been reported on. This is an issue that the NTC seems unwilling to address, NATO even more so.
It isn’t clear what kind of people the NTC or the militias are, and whether it was a good idea to get into bed with them. It never was, but NATO did it anyway and these kind of reports are the reward.
The Power Vacuum
The overthrow of Ghaddafi and his system of government has left an inevitable power vacuum in Libya. The NTC has yet to prove itself at all capable of dealing with the militias, who shoot at each other on a regular basis, and cannot be disarmed. How you can you possibly consider the NTC to be the governing body of the state, when they are unable to get their armed forces to listen to them? They have no central authority worth talking about, and a militia member on the other side of the country to Benghazi couldn’t care less what the NTC has to say. The various militias seem more concerned with cementing and expanding their own power and influence, violently if necessary. The young men who make up its numbers have nothing else to turn to, no great employment prospects elsewhere, so they carry a gun and wait. That does not mean civil war now, but may be a precursor to greater violence in the future. The NTC could make greater moves to create something resembling a proper army, give high ranking commissions to those prominent men in the militias, who may in turn bring as many followers as possible with them.
The elections, when they do come, will be unsatisfactory to some. That is the nature of democracy of course, but Libya is in danger of choosing a course that will ignore and disenfranchise extremely large sections of their society, namely, those tribes who previously gave support to Ghaddafi. It is a dicey issue, but the “free world” that intervened in Libya should not be willing to tolerate a system where a huge proportion of the population are deliberately targeted for political abandonment. It is too large a group to ignore, as events in a small part of the country are showing.
This little town, a tricky issue. That certainly got media interest in the country going again, albeit briefly. Anything for a revolt. The seizing of the town by people dubbed “Ghaddafi loyalists” is not really evidence of reverse uprising or counter-revolution, and it does not, as previously stated in relation to inter-militia violence, mean civil war. But it is still a problem.
It would be easy to characterise what is happening in Bani Walid as “pro-Ghaddafi”, but the time may have come for us to set aside such descriptions. “Anti-NTC” may be more apt. And they really are. The militias may be hellbent on portraying the Bani Walid population as hardcore Ghaddafi-ites, but I smell a rat. Ghaddafi is gone, and these people must know they stand little chance of military success.
Little is being done by the media to analyse the grievances of the Bani Walid residents, and if what members of the militias are saying is true, it probably won’t matter. The Bani Walid residents forced out their own resident militia forces (yet another hit to the NTCs legitimacy: why can’t they stop things like this?), the world is watching Bani Walid now, and the NTC response is crucial. If it gets violent, or excessively bloody, it’s very bad. Unfortunately, from the words and rhetoric (describing the Bani Walid residents as “murderers and criminals”) that members of the militia are throwing around, that would seem to be a likely outcome if they are given the go ahead to advance. I doubt NATO will be rushing to institute a protective no-fly zone if that becomes the case.
NATO: No Accountability
On NATO, the make-up of this short article, by the excellent C.J Chivers, is cause for concern. Mistakes happen in war, this is true, but the covering up of NATO’s performance is bad for numerous reasons, not least that it reduces their accountability to people back home. Going so far as to not even reveal which air force carried out particular attacks is especially notable. This was not a covert black-op, this was a large scale intervention. Its results cannot be ignored. The democratic societies who paid for this intervention have the right to know some of the details. Mistakes happen in war, as stated, but they should not go unreported and little-investigated.
As it has always been, Libya remains a quandary, which cannot, and never could be, easily solved. The NTC needs more centralisation and control over the militias. It needs to create something resembling a proper army. It needs to give the “rank and file” members of the militias another option. It needs to deal with Bani Walid in a suitable manner, along with the formerly pro-Ghaddafi portions of the country, the racist element, and those who continue using Ghaddafi’s methods of punishment and terror long after he is dead. I have never been of the opinion that the NTC could do any of that, and I doubt they will be able to convince me any time shortly.