Light at the end of the tunnel for Libya

June 27, 2011 - 0:0

From the very beginning, the wave of protests and clashes in Libya was regarded as a prelude to a civil war in the mostly tribal country. But the foreign military intervention by NATO and its allies, albeit authorized by the UN Security Council, further complicated the situation.

To understand the situation better, it is necessary to carefully examine these complexities and their potential impact on Libya’s future.
The protection of the anti-Gaddafi forces and civilians was assumed to be one of the immediate results of the foreign military intervention, but many believe that the NATO operation also marks the beginning of the disintegration of Libya. Although the main reason given for the military intervention was the need to protect civilians, the war has actually increased the number of civilians killed during the airstrikes.
The victims of the NATO attacks on Libya can be divided into two groups: civilians killed by the airstrikes and civilians who fled from the cities as a result of the increase in attacks on residential areas. As a result of this, neighboring countries are facing a huge wave of refugees rushing to the borders to escape the airstrikes.
Most accept the fact that the West is brazenly trying to effect regime change in Libya. This is the immediate goal of the NATO intervention in the country, but the main objective of the military operation is to wipe out the technical and economic infrastructure of Libya, which is one of the largest countries in North Africa. In fact, NATO wants to see a wrecked and backward Libya arise from the ashes of the war.
Libya is divided into two sections in the current situation, the eastern section, which is controlled by Muammar Gaddafi’s opponents, and the western section, which is controlled by pro-Gaddafi forces.
If this situation continues, it will create many strategic threats for Libya’s neighbors, such as the worsening situation of refugees and the threat of Al-Qaeda. In other words, it will create an opportunity for Al-Qaeda to infiltrate into Libyan cities from countries such as Algeria, Niger, and Mali.
Another issue is the prolongation of the war. In other North African countries, such as Egypt and Tunisia, developments were so swift and rapid that no one expected direct intervention by external forces. In Libya, the presence of external forces is supposedly benefitting Gaddafi’s opponents, but the external players have not been able to end the crisis.
There are several reasons for the failure of the military intervention. The Libyan government is not a rational system. The political structure devised by Gaddafi is based on two foundations: first Muammar Gaddafi himself and his ideology, which is elaborated in his famous Green Book, and second, the political culture of the Libyan people. There is a well-known proverb in Libya which says “following a political party is an act of treason against the country.” Therefore, the dissemination of political views is regarded as a negative concept in Gaddafi’s regime. Thus, the opposition’s efforts to overthrow Gaddafi mean replacing him and his tribe with another person and tribe.
The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were against the ruling president and his family, but in Libya the uprising is against Gaddafi and his tribe and all other connected tribes. This makes the situation in Libya very different. In fact, the people of Gaddafi’s tribe are regarded as first-class citizens and they will not give up power so quickly.
So, which side, Gaddafi or the opposition, will benefit more from a prolongation of the war? Political analysts believe that a prolongation of the war will benefit Gaddafi’s opponents more for a number of reasons.
(1) As the war drags on, Gaddafi will eventually run out of money. There is no accurate assessment about the extent of Libya’s oil revenues which have been deposited in Gaddafi’s personal accounts and the personal accounts of other members of his family. However, if the conflict continues, all these resources will run out.
(2) If the crisis continues for a longer period of time, there is the possibility that airstrikes will be launched on oil installations that are under the control of pro-Gaddafi forces. This will cause Gaddafi to surrender and step down.
(3) The prolongation of the war could also create a situation like what happened to the Yemeni dictator, in which there is the possibility that Gaddafi will be directly targeted.
The continuation of the conflict will also create some risks for the opposition. First, the longer the conflict continues, the higher the number of casualties among the opposition will rise, which could reduce the level of popular support for the uprising. Second, if Libya breaks up, two sets of identities will be created among the Libyan people, one eastern and the other western. The third point is the influence of Al-Qaeda elements, which could increase if the two sides become weaker and weaker.
Meanwhile, as the conflict drags on, human suffering and economic decline will increase in areas under the control of Gaddafi’s forces. When the situation gets worse, hostility will increase toward the opposition because Gaddafi will be regarded as innocent and will be viewed as a hero standing up to foreign intervention. The final point in this scenario is the increased security, economic, and political costs of a protracted war for Libya’s neighbors. The prolongation of the war will increase concern among neighboring countries, resulting in more dissatisfaction about the situation in Libya.
Therefore, many believe that it is time to end the military conflict in Libya and start political negotiations.
So far, both sides have rejected any possibility of negotiation. The opposition has declared that Gaddafi’s departure is their precondition for starting negotiations. Gaddafi also rejects the idea of talks because, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, the United Nations resolutions on Libya include a number of provisions calling for those responsible for the killing of civilians to be tried at the International Criminal Court. Gaddafi knows better than anyone else that when the war ends, he will be subject to such a criminal proceeding at the ICC. Thus, the prospects for negotiation have reached an impasse.
A series of diplomatic measures may be appropriate under the current circumstances.
Due to the lack of tangible efforts by organizations like the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the African Union, other influential governments, such as Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, and Egypt, could be called on to play an important role by activating the role of a third party such as the D-8 group. Through this third-party mediation, it may be possible to persuade both sides to start negotiations. The next step would be to establish a ceasefire between the two sides in order to determine their respective boundaries.
Gaddafi will not give up power until he is granted some kind of immunity. Equal rights for all Libyan citizens and a general amnesty must also be ensured. The final step would be to establish a parliament and draft a new constitution for the country.
Mohammed Hassan Sheikholeslami is a member of the faculty of the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s School of International Relations.