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August 30, 2011

The future of the Libyan revolution

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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My two personal contacts with Libya have been at airports and both were shocking.

The first was at Tripoli airport seven years ago. The airport was in a very bad shape considering I was at the capital of an oil rich country. I wondered then why few billion dollars were not spent on the facility. The second time it was at a London airport’s book store three months ago when I picked up the second edition of a 2005 British book with, “He is a prophet and revolutionary. A seer and fighter,” the reference was to Muammar Gaddafi and his “vision”. I wondered then how much Gaddafi paid to get this propaganda published twice, and to whom he paid?

The final chapter of the life of Gaddafi has not been written but what we know is shocking even for a dictator. He ruled his country for 42 years as a family business. He held onto power when he was losing his touch with his people. He claimed to be “The King of African Kings,” “Grand Imam of Muslims,” and “The Dean of Arab Leaders.” He managed to buy his way to gain favors with the West. But last week Bab Al-Azizia compound in Tripoli, Gaddafi’s headquarters, was liberated by Libya’s revolutionary youth with AK-47s.

For all its oil wealth, Libya is a country that lacks the basic structures of a state and there has been little investment in education, health care or civil society. Gaddafi's spent the country's oil revenues on his family and on what he considered revolutionary causes around the globe, from Columbia to Ireland’s IRA. But it was his involvement in the Lockerbie affair that unleashed the full wrath of the West and led to an economic embargo that crippled the country.

Two main differences distinguish Libya’s revolution from that of Egypt and Tunisia. The first is that Libya has no constitution, no parliament, no legal system, no ruling or opposition parties and no national army but rather a military run by his family to protect him and to keep him in power.

The second is that the response of the Libyan dictator to the peaceful protesters was not to use violence to disperse them as in the case of Egypt and Tunisia. Instead Gaddafi started to use the full military might of his air, land and navy (all run by his sons) to kill all the one million inhabitants of the city of Benghazi near the Egyptian border where the protesting started on 17 February, five days after Mubarak was forced out. The Libyan people had no choice but to take up arms to protect themselves and their families and to seek the help of the Arab League, the Security Council and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

On the military side the challenges facing the people liberation army of the National Transitional Council (NTC) are two folds. One is to capture Gaddafi and his family, especially his son Seif Al-Islam who was groomed to take over his father’s job. The second is to liberate Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, a coastal city of 140,000 and the southern desert city of Sebha with a population of 130,000 which has an important military and air force base located at a strategic crossroad to neighboring African countries of Algeria, Chad, Mali and Niger.

Gaddafi failed to mobilize support last week even though he tried hard with his desperate speeches for his people to rise up against “the Crusaders and Western imperialists”.  If he is captured alive he will be tried by his own people or by the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague, Netherlands.  The NTC leadership rightly cautioned against a policy of vengeance and retribution.

But more challenging to the NTC is to build a modern democratic state with executive, legislative and judicial institutions where there are none. All this has to be done, and soon, by a coalition of contradictory revolutionary factions, many ideological movements and several political interest groups from the far right to the far left.

Is Libya’s revolution up to the task? I believe it is.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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