Friday, November 18, 2011

Tripoli in the Dock--An Essay by Gamal Nkrumah From Al-Ahram

Tripoli in the dock

Cairo, Egypt

Libya's new leaders fiddle as Tripolitania catches fire with the remnants of Gaddafi's entourage at large, warns Gamal Nkrumah
A future in which Libya's rival political factions contend for power through multi-party politics, as opposed to violence, became more remote with the eruption of fighting in Tripoli this week.

What happens next, and to what extent the reconciliation process in Libya can be salvaged, depends in part on how persistent the pro-Gaddafi forces are in their determination to seek revenge and how strong their forces are. What does appear pretty obvious at this particular historical juncture is that Gaddafi still has a large following in the country and that his former henchmen will continue to fight a guerrilla war underground. What is also abundantly clear is that the Libyan reconciliation process is in danger of being derailed. In any case the Libyan reconciliation process was never going to amount to much with the pro-Gaddafi militias on the loose.

The National Transitional Government (NTC) of Libya was buoyed by a surprise windfall of $23 billion unspent by the country's late leader Muammar Gaddafi whose ousted regime has long been accused of a lack of accountability. Libya's estimated $160 billion of frozen assets have to be released and invested in sorely needed social and infrastructure upgrading.

Libya's new rulers are adamantly opposed to engaging the remnants of the Gaddafi regime. The new Libyan government's Western backers are equally reluctant to have any dealings with the pro-Gaddafi elements. In short, the process of Libyan national reconciliation has looked barren on the best of days since the capture, torture and grizzly assassination of Gaddafi.

The pro-Gaddafi network, at any rate, has plenty of reason to sabotage the Libyan national reconciliation process. From the perspective of the pro-Gaddafi supporters, reconstruction and rehabilitation plans are precisely what they do not want to see. From the viewpoint of the anti-Gaddafi forces, however, Libya is a country whose atrophied and self-serving political system under Gaddafi had threatened to destroy the country's economic prospects and the very fabric of Libyan society.

Tribal and clan politics are now surfacing in the post-Gaddafi Libya and they cannot serve to unblock the political stalemate between politically contending factions. Those who do not want to see the Libyan reconciliation process unblocked, such as the Gaddafi diehards, may be the main beneficiaries of the escalation of fighting in Tripoli and other cities of Tripolitania that were in the past closely associated with the Gaddafi regime. Cyrenaica and eastern Libya largely appear to be more united behind the new Libyan government, giving a slight hope of bridging Libya's deep tribal divisions.

On the regional level, too, a flurry of diplomatic activity spearheaded by Qatar, a country that was instrumental in the ousting of the Gaddafi regime, is fast gaining momentum. The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani managed to arrange for a meeting between the head of the Transitional National Council Sheikh Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, one of the staunchest allies of the late Libyan leader.

Gaddafi's family has sought political asylum in Algeria and the Algerian government granted them asylum based on humanitarian grounds. One of the most controversial questions is what to do with Gaddafi's enormous arsenal of arms and ammunition. Speculation is rife that huge quantities of weapons have been pilfered by neighbouring nations in the Sahel and the Maghreb. Al-Qaeda is particularly active in the countries of the Sahel, Sahara to the immediate south of Libya as well as countries such as Algeria and Morocco. Egypt, too, has expressed concerns that Gaddafi's arms stockpile is in danger of falling into the hands of armed groups and militias that are likely to stir up trouble in Egypt and Sudan.

The West has charged Libya's new rulers with investigating the whereabouts of Gaddafi's weapons. Furthermore, this particular issue may distract attention from the even more serious issues of reconstruction facing the new Libyan regime. Furthermore, for Libya as a whole, the search for Gaddafi's weapons stockpile could be counter-productive as it could fall into the hands of rival militiamen and political factions.

For this alarming state of affairs, the new Libyan administration is at a loss as to how to press on with engaging the various contending clans and tribal confederations of the country. The new Libyan government has signalled that its willingness to compromise with its protagonists, pro-Gaddafi or otherwise, is conditional on loyalty from all Libya's tribal groupings to its leadership. Insurgents and hold-out groups, Abdel-Jalil warned will be severely dealt with.

There is no detailed reconstruction plan for post-Gaddafi Libya, though it will be sure to include privatisation of local public services and state enterprises. Given the dispersed, largely tribal nature of Libyan society, such Western-inspired quick fixes are fraught with problems. Given the flare-up of anti-NTC activities, the disarray of the NTC, and the invasion of suitcases now underway, Libya's travails are sure to continue.

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