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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism:  Transcending the Masters tools
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Chuck Collins
Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Robert Koehler
Costa Rica’s Peace Journey
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail