After The Revolution : The Libyan Civil War


Like any form of war, it is rare that revolutions unfold according to some preordained plan. This is because of course, there is usually several plans in operation, which just so happen to have a common interest. After the common interest is achieved, they will often turn on each other. This is particularly important for those who wish to establish a democracy after a dictatorship; unless the revolutionary constitution and new military provide a commitment to liberal and secular rights, the majority - without a familiarity with these concepts - may very well turn to theocracy, following the long-repressed religious leadership. Likewise a broad-based revolution really needs to be careful of its political preferences; being united with political opponents to overthrow a dictatorship is unhelpful if those opponents are worse that the dictator in question.

It is thus the outcomes of the civil war that becomes the deciding factor of what political system will rule a region after a revolution that has multiple participants, and this raises a matter of critical importance for social activists outside of the region of military struggle. The contemporary case of Libya is an illustrative example, starting from a review of the Gaddafi dictatorship, then the Libyan revolution, the current Libyan Civil War, and the relevance for similar countries.

The Gaddafi Dictatorship

In 2011, the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi's "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" came to an end. In a broad sense regime fitted the model of a quasi-fascist government, similar to the Arabic Ba'athist regimes. Like these governments, Gaddafi's regime was indisputably modernist, following the bloodless coup d'etat by the Free Officers Movement that he led against King Idris in 1969. The country at this time had strong ties with the US and the UK and was a constitutional monarchy. However oil wealth had been largely used to enrich the royal family and their supporters; the literacy rate was only 10%, some 40% of the population were without permanent dwellings, and life expectancy was 57 years. After jailing high-level possible opponents, the new government redirected funds towards providing education, health care, and housing. Income per-capita would rise to one of the highest levels in Africa. At the same time, the country became a one-party state with free media and free trade unions prohibited and existing institutions became part of the totalitarian perspective. Thousands were imprisoned, tortured, or executed by security services as the country became notorious for its disdain of human rights, often carried out by Gaddafi in person (e.g., Gaddafi's Harem, by Annick Cojean).

Attempts to establish a pan-Arab Federation of Arab Republics failed, and instead emphasis was turned on to an internal "cultural revolution" of al-Kitāb al-Aḫḍar, "the Green Book", a collection of often strange aphorisms (especially relating to women and sport) from which one can drive some supposed principles of direct democracy, socialist economics, and the desire to build a new international movement, all within a single-party state itself under the control of a military dictatorship, and ultimately Gaddafi himself holding the title "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution". Whilst engaging in cultural and political totalitarianism, the socialist economics shown signs of significant success. Foreign expertise required a higher level of private ownership in oil production and banking, but over time this diminished and local expertise improved. Property law forbade landlordism by preventing ownership of more than one dwelling, and a large number of companies were operated by self-management principles with state ownership. By 2009, life expectancy had risen to 77 years - only one less than the United States of America.

Libya under Gaddafi followed an active foreign interventionist policy which was a combination of strategic support for some national liberation movements, brutal dictatorships, and terrorists, and often foolishly over-playing the country's capacity with disastrous results. Gaddafi publicaly supported the African National Congress, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Polisario Front, the Irish Republican Army, and reportedly spent significant money on training the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. For these actions some leftists still think that he can be classified as an anti-imperialist figure. Yet at the same time, Libya actively supported the dictatorship of Idi Amin, with hundreds of Libyan soldiers dying for that regime as it was overthrown. A military force was also sent to the Central African Republic in 2001 to protect Ange-Félix Patassé. Other war criminals, such as Liberia's Charles Taylor, Sierra Leone's Foday Sankoh, and Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic were trained or funded by Gaddafi's Libya. Four separate military invasions, interventions, and support of rebels by Libya into Chad all eventually failed. Direct support was given to terrorist activities such the the Rome and Vienna airport attacks of 1985, the bombing of the La Belle discothèque in 1986, the bombing of UTA Flight 772, and Pan Am Flight 103.

The Libyan Revolution

In 1980 Libya had a per capita income with purchasing parity slightly greater than that of the United States of America. In the decades that followed this proportion would shrink to less than a fifth in 2005. Fluctuations in oil prices and the effects of economic sanctions would resulted in modest long-term real GDP growth punctuated by high levels of volatility. Despite a high Human Development Index, unemployment, corruption, and censorship was rife. The combination of factors should have been evident; an aging dictatorship, a population with some social security but declining relative wealth, high levels of unemployment (approximately 50% among youth, 30% in general), an educated population, and - still often overlooked - access to the international ICT infrastructure by which comparisons and secure communications could be carried out.

This was an explosive mix. As the initial rumblings of the Arab Spring began to have some effect at the end of 2010 and the start of 2011, major protests broke out against the government in February 2011 throughout the country, which was met with lethal response. In turn, members of the police and military began to defect as protest volunteers began to manage infrastructure services. By the end of the month, a National Transitional Council had been established in Benghazi chaired by former justice minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil and Benghazi, Misrata, al-Bayda and Tobruk were controlled by rebels. The United Nations Security Council suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council, implemented sanctions and the International Criminal Court (ICC) began investigations into the killing of unarmed civilians. For his own part, Gaddafi claimed that protestors were drugged, linked to Al-Qaeda, and ominously, "We will march to purge Libya inch by inch, house by house, alley by alley" (resulting in the popular parody song by Noy Alooshe, "Zenga Zenga").

As has been repeated elsewhere initially the Gaddafi government was able to use superior firepower to prevent rebel successes; protesting civilians with improvised weapons, and regime defectors light arms, are little match against tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers, mortars etc. Nevertheless, after the UN Security Council declared a no-fly zone to protect civilians from aerial bombardment, the enforcement by NATO began saw the balance shift. Whilst the resolution expressly forbade foreign occupation, Qatar has admitted that it sent hundreds of troops to support the Libyan rebels. Human rights violations were carried out by both sides in the conflict, most prominently the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in civilian areas.

By June the ICC investigation was complete and arrest warrants were issued for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam, and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi, head of state security, for crimes against humanity. By July, at Istanbul, over 30 governments recognised the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya and in August, Zlitan and Tripoli fell with coordinated attacks from the remarkably effective forces in the Nafusa Mountains and a Misrata coastal offensive. Shortly afterwards, the Arab League recognised the NTC to "the legitimate representative of the Libyan state". Weeks later, trapped in his hometown of Sirte, Gaddafi was captured and killed; it remains unknown whether he was subject to an extrajudicial execution. At the end of the revolution a total of around six thousand rebel fighters and civilians and three thousand soldiers had been killed.

The Aftermath and the Civil War

As can be expected sporadic and low intensity fighting continued occurring in parts of the country, most notably in the south of the country, with local tribal fighters rising in Bani Walid in January and September 2012, and conflict between two town militias at Zuwara in April. The National Transitional Council legalised trade unions and provided for greater press freedom, although in May legislation was passed prohibted the publication of material critical of the revolution, its institutions, or praising the Gaddafi family and his government along with granting immunity to participants in the revolution. Most importantly however was the elections for the General National Congress held in July 2012 with 80 seats for party lists and 120 for individual constituencies. Winning over 48% of the party list vote, the secular-liberal National Forces Alliance was well ahead of the second-placed conservative Justice and Construction Party, aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, who received only 10.3% of the vote. In August, the NTC formally transferred power to the General National Congress and dissolved itself. In 2012, GDP growth in Libya had improved from -62% (2011) to 104.5% (2012) with a GDP per capita increase from $6000USD (2011) to $12,100 (2012).

Despite these fairly clear results, the General National Congress was not dominated by secular liberals, despite the party list results. The majority of seats where held by nominal local independents, many of which were significantly more conservative that the party-list election would indicate. During 2013, this disparity would become evident, as Islamicists began to extend their control throughout the country and often within the GNC itself, eventually electing an Islamicist leader as Congress President, Nouri Abusahmain, in June 2013. Abusahmain established a militia force, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room which kidnapped the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October. By this stage oil production had virtually ceased as various militias had taken control of the country funded by the GNC to a sum of $720 million USD. In December the now-Islamicist controlled Congress endorsed Sharia law, with special clauses suppressing women, and voted to extend the mandate of the Congress.

With protests resulting, in February 2014 General Khalifa Haftar, who had been involved in the Libyan military since the 1969 coup, ordered the GNC to dissolve and called for the formation of a caretaker government committee to oversee new elections. The GNC ignored this call, and in May 2014, forces loyal to General Haftar launched a large scale air and ground offensive codenamed Operation Dignity against Islamist armed groups in Benghazi and against the GNC in Tripoli. Four days later, the GNC announced a schedule the elections, which resulted in an overwhelming victory for the secular liberals, although this time only 18% of the potential electorate voted and one of the country's leading human-rights figures, Salwa Bugaighis, was assasinated. In response, Islamicists launched Operation Libya Dawn to seize Tripoli International Airport and a group of Islamicist GNC members and failed candidates, convened as the New General National Congress and declared themselves the government with Nouri Abusahmain as president. The majority of the elected General National Council relocated to Tobruk, remaing itself the Council of Deputies; the Libyan Supreme Court ordered that body to dissolve, a response which was ignored by the Council (as it was made under duress), but also meaning that there was no legal government.

This is, of course, impossible. Whether it is as a criminal mob, a statist institution of class rule, a primitive stateless council of elders, or a democratic commune, all regions of space have a government of some sort. In Libya in 2015 there are several. The most secular and democratic and which enjoys the widest international recognition is the Council of Deputies based in Tobruk and which controls a large swathe of the eastern and central parts of the country, along with the western Nafusa Mountains and surrounds. This government also has the support of the Libyan National Army and controls the main oil-producing regions. Their main competition is the Islamicist New General National Congress, made up of the losers of the 2014 June elections and led by Nouri Abusahmain, and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room and the Al-Qaeda associated Libya Shield militia. In the central coastal region of Sirte and in the eastern town of Derna, the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Ansar al-Sharia hold control. Outside of these major forces, regional militia control the Sawfajjin region and groups associated with the Tuareg people control the sparsely populated south-western region.

The Lessons Learned

It is of course disappointing to discover that there are were sections of the political left which argued that the intervention against the Gaddafi regime was wrong and continue to do so. Chief among these are Michel Chossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalisation along with Takis Fotopoulos of the Inclusive Democracy journal. Both of these figures argue that of the existence of a Zionist transnational elite bent on world domination, a perspective in which they can find allies in such luminary figues such as the former Ku Klux Klan wizard, David Duke. They are noted for their apparent rejection of any international interventions, even those endorsed by the United Nations for humanitarian purposes, although Fotopoulos does suggest that a ground-up forces such as the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War would be legitimate.

Praise be, that a desparate population facing a massacre from a tyrant and their fascist allies can make an appeal for an international brigade to form; if only such dictators would wait. One also considers the 75 or so anarcho-communists who protested against the Libya intervention at Hamburg in March 2011 under the banner: "Yes to the revolt, No to the intervention". Needless to say, they established a brigade right on the spot and travelled to Libya to show practical support to the people of Benghazi facing extermination, no? One also discovers that small Trotskyite sects such as the Sparticist League in Australia likewise opposed "imperialist" intervention in East Timor (i.e., the UN-endorsed military intervention (INTERFET) followed by a UN-administration (UNTAET) that led to an East Timorese government) as the pro-integration militias were on a murderous rampage; they argued that the best thing that could happen for the East Timorese is a workers revolution that overthrows the Australian ruling class: "If you could just hold off a bit on the raping and torching for a moment, Senhor Guterres..."

For some apparently tyrants, on the other hand, being the "sovereign state" actors can engage in some "national self-determination" and ask for help from whomever they want (note the Stalinist slippage from national self-determination to state sovereignty). Just to make it clear - it is fine for the Assad regime, for example, to bring in foreign fighters from Iran and receive billions of dollars worth of artillery, tanks, helicopters, and fighter planes from Russia - that is not "foreign intervention" of course - but it is completely wrong for the Syrian rebels to receive modest support in the form of non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies. Under the guise of the "sovereign state" they blithely overlook the extensive terrorist activities of a regime against its own population.

How often does it need to be stated? "The worker has no country" National self-determination can only be genuinely established by free individuals, people who have the opportunity to join their own political associations, unions, and the like and engage in the educated and rational formation of public opinion. Where this does not exist, and the oppressed people rise up - at great risk to themselves - they have every right in the world to ask for political and military assistance, even from "imperialist powers". It is insulting to the extreme that suggest that they are pseudo-revolutionaries, just because they have deviated from some armchair revolutionary's idea of what is the "right" path for a revolution to take, or that they are insufficiently intelligent to understand that those who intervene will ask for their due.

For those who haven't abdicated their internationalism there is the realisation of the increasing and pressing concerns of universal rights that transcend state borders, of the global environment that transcends state borders - all of which which JA Hobson described as early in 1902 as "inter-imperialism", and Karl Liebknecht described in 1907 as "trustification", and which Karl Kautsky coined the term "Ultraimperialismus" in 1914, and most comprehensively by Immanuel Wallerstein's world-systems theory. Capitalism can indeed be a world system, and even as an international liberal capitalism - and this will most certainly be an advance on regional despotisms, no matter how independent. But even such an advanced stage of capitalism cannot provide a worldwide stateless commonwealth that is a free association of producers.

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