Will Libya survive Gaddafi?

By: Hafed Al Ghwell - Gulf News
Published: December 02, 2008, 00:41


Illustration by Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

The past year has seen a rehabilitation of Libya in the eyes of the international community, capped by a September meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and fueled by billions of dollars in compensations to American victims of Gaddafi sponsored acts of terrorism.
By granting compensation to the victims, and accepting responsibility for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of a West Berlin nightclub, Libya has mostly succeeded in its efforts toward establishing friendly bilateral relations with the United States and a greater reintegration into the international community. The Libyan rapprochement with the West comes also after Col. Gaddafis 2003 decision to scrap the countrys embryonic chemical and nuclear weapons development programs, and in the context of high oil prices, which are driving renewed Western interest in investing in Libyan oil field exploration and development.
Ironically, the Bush administration, which has made endless public statements of its commitment to democratic reform in the Arab world and refusal to talk to countries such as Iran and Syria, views the rapprochement with Libya as its most significant foreign policy achievement and a model for other countries, contrary to all available evidence to support such hopes.
But while Libya may be presenting a less roguish face to the world these days, life within Libya becomes increasingly precarious and desperate for the average Libyan. And as the West grants Gaddafi its seal of approval as a reward for good behavior, the stability of Libyan society and future survival is brought further into question as the country continues to decay.
Unemployment is widely estimated at or close to 30 percent, one of the worst unemployment figures in the world. Whereas record revenues have profited most oil producing states, few Libyans have seen any direct benefits. There is also deep resentment at the heavy-handed presence of Gaddafis clan in key positions throughout the security and economic structures, while the rest of society sees few benefits of the oil boom of recent years. Marginalized both politically and economically, the Libyan people grow increasingly restive as the country continues to be plagued with endemic corruption, political repression, economic stagnation, dilapidated infrastructures, semi-collapsed public administration, and a stifling culture of bureaucracy. Most of the countrys most educated citizens are either already outside the country or clamoring to secure jobs and visas to go abroad. To add insult to injury, the country has recently ranked 126 in the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index issued by Transparency International, and 160 in the Reporters without Borders Press Freedom for 2008, the tail-end of the world wide index.
And it is getting worse. The Libyan society seems to be beginning to fracture with regional, ethnic and tribal tensions growing. Only two weeks ago, Libya has seen an upsurge in political violence. In the province of Kufrah, 11 people perished in clashes between Toubou tribesmen and the security forces, with violence reportedly spilling over into Benghazi, the countrys second largest city. Families of about 1200 political prisoners who perished in an infamous massacre at the Abu- Sleem political prison in the late 90s also staged a rare public demonstration demanding information about their loved ones and threatening to resort to international courts to address their grievances. Meanwhile, the cases of scores of Libyan political prisoners are being championed by Libyan dissidents abroad and human rights organizations.
While Gaddafis son; Seif, who is being touted wishfully in the West as Gaddafis heir-apparent , despite his questionable capabilities and recent public vows to stay out of politics, has been issuing endless promises to Western media for political and economic reforms in the past few years that have yet to materialize, Col. Gaddafi, who finally publicly admitted the shortcomings of his infamous system of rule by committee, where committees are composed of sub-committees, and report to other committees, has , nevertheless, announced plans recently to abolish the government altogether and distribute some of the oil revenues directly to Libyan families, with the exceptions of foreign affairs, the security apparatuses and the petroleum sector. Gaddafi asked Libyans in a recently televised "debate" with his ministers who were literary begging him to give up his newest plan, to prepare themselves to educate their own children at home, and go abroad for health services, as both the health and education ministries will be abolished in the beginning of 2009!
Needless to say, Libyans seem to only get more confused and desperate about the direction in which their country is going and the prospects for any future peaceful reform or improvements. As Col. Gaddafi continues to experiment with the countrys future, as he did with its past 40 years, most Libyans know that what Libya really needs is not more grandiose and unworkable schemes, but a simple return to political legitimacy and normality.
It is now very clear that the rehabilitation of Gaddafi by the West came at the expense of neglecting Libyas dismal human rights record and serious internal problems for the sake of short term questionable economic gains. There is little doubt that the reintegration of Libya into the International Community does not seem to address the fundamental problems plaguing the country, namely, the legitimacy, configuration, and effectiveness of its governance structure.
Libya appears more and more to be caught between overall stagnation and total chaos. Ultimately, unless Libya is encouraged or pressured to undertake a serious and credible process of internal reform and national reconciliation, the country will drift faster toward becoming a security nightmare for the very West that is now ignoring its desolation, as the country risks fragmenting and becoming another version of Somalia on the shores of the Mediterranean when Gaddafi finally leaves the scene.
Hafed Al Ghwell is a Libyan-American writer in Washington DC:
This is an expanded version of the article published in Gulf News:

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