FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Libya is Liberated! But Please Don’t Visit!!

by PATRICK COCKBURN

It is revealing to read Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advisories addressed to British citizens about security, or the lack of it, in countries where the Government otherwise plays down the dangers. I used to enjoy reading scary FCO advisories about Iraq eight or nine years ago, warning travellers not to set foot there because of the ferocious and pervasive violence. This was sharply – and at times absurdly – at odds with Tony Blair and his government, who were berating journalists for exaggerating the dangers, and claiming that 14 out of 18 Iraqi provinces were at peace. Spouting the same optimistic drivel, Blair would turn up in Baghdad’s Green Zone on a “surprise” visit wearing a flak jacket after flying from the airport by helicopter.

Foreign political leaders are now similarly making “surprise” visits to Libya, as David Cameron did in January – when they dare to go there at all. Only a year ago, Nato action in Libya in 2011 in support of the rebels was being held up as a successful foreign military intervention that might usefully serve as an example of what the United States, Britain and France should do in Syria. Not many still believe this, but those who do might like to look at the latest FCO travel advisory for Libya last updated on 22 October, and accompanied by a useful map. This divides Libya into two zones, denoted by dark and light shades, to illustrate the different levels of insecurity.

The news is not good for potential travellers: the darker shade covers 85 per cent of Libya including the oilfields, the Sahara, and a large part of the coastline – areas where the FCO advises “against all travel”. At the top right and top left corners of the map are areas marked in a lighter shade which include Tripoli and the coast road as far as Misratah in the west and the bulge of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya. Here the FCO merely advises “against all but essential travel”. But travellers need to study the map and accompanying text very carefully because there is a brown smudge over Benghazi, the capital of Cyrenaica, indicating that the FCO regards the city as too dangerous to visit. In fact, anyone contemplating a tour of this part of Libya should note that the FCO map gives the impression that the whole of Cyrenaica is safe enough for “essential travel”, but the text speaks less confidently stressing that the traveller should stick to “coastal areas from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian border, with the exception of Benghazi and Derna”. Derna holds the record for dispatching more foreign fighters and suicide bombers to the war in Iraq than any other town in the Muslim world.

There is no doubt that the FCO has got it right. Libya has become one of the most dangerous parts of the world: 10 days ago, assassins shot dead the commander of Libya’s military police, Ahmad al-Barghathi, as he left a mosque in Benghazi. In the past year there have been 80 such assassinations of senior military and police commanders. The killing of al-Barghathi happened soon after Libya’s Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, was briefly kidnapped from his hotel in Tripoli without a shot being fired by his guards in his defence. Libya’s oil production is down to 600,000 barrels a day after almost ceasing during the summer because the militiamen who guard the oil facilities have seized the ports in the east.

Some of this could be dismissed as post-revolutionary chaos inevitable after the overthrow of Gaddafi, but that took place two years ago. And the security situation is getting worse, not better, with 225,000 Libyans registered as members of the militias that are armed and paid by the government. The idea was that these gunmen, only about a tenth of whom fought against Gaddafi, would gradually be incorporated inside state security institutions and so brought under government control. In practice, the opposite has happened with the power of militias and their commanders becoming institutionalised; it is often superior to that of the regular army and police. In Cyrenaica, a former rebel leader, Ibrahim al-Jathran, leads 20,000 militiamen who control facilities producing 60 per cent of Libya’s oil.

The militias and local warlords are filling the vacuum left by the fall of Gaddafi. The victorious civilian opponents of the old regime ascribe their failure to establish stable government to the lack of state institutions, which had withered under Gaddafi’s rule. There is something in this, but a better explanation is that Gaddafi was primarily overthrown by Nato using its air power, with the Libyan militias acting as a mopping-up force. When Gaddafi fell his enemies did not have the political or military strength to replace his regime, or solve economic problems which the old regime could not resolve. Unemployment remains at 40 per cent and young men without a job see no alternative but to carry a gun and join a militia.

But Libyans are not alone in this. Without exception, national liberation and opposition movements in the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus have failed to replace police-state dictatorships and foreign occupations over the past 20 years with something better. Chechen nationalists fought heroically against the Russians in the early 1990s, but turned into racketeers and Islamic fanatics by 1999. Saddam Hussein’s rule was a disaster for Iraqis, but the Iraqi opposition in power was even greedier, more corrupt and dysfunctional than the old regime.

What caused these failures? Both rebels and their foreign supporters failed to think through what they would do with power when it was won. They had long demonised Saddam, Gaddafi and Assad as the cause of all their countries’ problems. They believed all would be well once these rulers had gone. Believing much the same thing, the foreign media was perplexed as to why the problems of Iraq and Libya did not evaporate after the removal of old leaders.

Nationalism and socialism – or at least state control of the most important enterprises – were the political and social cement of states like Iraq, Syria and Libya under their old leaders. Corruption and privatisations to the benefit of ruling families had dissolved these bonds, but triumphant opposition movements had nothing to put in their place aside from sectarian or tribal solidarity. Libya may be failing to create a state demonstrably preferable to the old, but the same is sadly true of all opposition movements in the region.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of  Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail