Some Thoughts on the Libyan Tragedy.

The art of revolution entails two things – uniting the masses and dividing the ruling elites. This appears to have been behind the success in Egypt, where the army top brass calculated that its interests would best be served by abandoning Mubarak, given the threat that ordinary soldiers would side with the people on the streets. The urban masses of Cairo – one of the great cities of the world – had overcome religious and other divisions and suddenly stood millions strong. In Libya, the opposite has now happened.
The revolution that began a month ago on Feb 17th also had initial success. Not only did the youth lead the seizure of cities from Benghazi to the outskirts of Tripoli, but the revolt also began to split the regime, with sections of it coming over to the revolution – including state and military figures. By the end of February Gaddafi looked isolated and ready to fall.
But Libya is different from Egypt in two ways – firstly it has OIL fields and secondly its tribal divisions are deeper. So Gaddafi had always been able to use the oil wealth to buy support from sections of the masses and play off one tribe against another – a long game of divide and rule. This oil means another thing – the Western imperial powers will want to use any opportunity to assert their power to protect their substantial interests in Libya’s oil fields.
At the end of February we saw a change of tone from the western political leaderships. While they had been lukewarm about the Egyptian revolution, praising Mubarak as an ally and scaremongering that the revolution was really an ‘Islamicist takeover’, suddenly they found a new stridency over Libya. It was then that David Cameron began calling for the overthrow of Gaddafi, for a no-fly zone, for arming the rebels – and the SAS made their abortive intervention in Benghazi. While the revolutionaries of Benghazi kicked out the SAS and hung a banner prominently denouncing western interference, the damage was done.
This was a gift for Gaddafi. He could now credibly portray the revolution as a western imperialist plot while posing as the great ‘national hero’ and ‘anti-imperialist leader’. Western threats would inevitably and rally more support behind his regime. Cameron’s sabre rattling – rather than opening up further cracks within the ruling elites, would help cement Gaddafi’s teetering rule. Ruling elites throughout history have used fears of foreign invasion – real or imagined – to suppress dissent. But in the Arab world, which has long smouldered under the heel of western colonialism, such threats of western interference are political and cultural dynamite.
The joy of the Arab Spring of 2011 was that the masses would (even if only briefly) take the centre stage of history – acting for themselves. This act of revolution promised to overcome years of indignity and oppression meted out by both Arab rulers and their imperial overlords. Bush and Blair’s adventure in Iraq has lead to such a bloody disaster because liberation can never come from above, from a foreign army. In contrast to the unity and solidarity achieved on the streets of Cairo, post invasion Iraq saw only years of civil war and sectarian strife.
Now it looks like the imperial powers will get embroiled in Libya – even given the experience of the Iraq disaster showing the bankruptcy of so called ‘humanitarian interventionism’.
Now the tyrant Gaddafi is threatening to become the butcher of Benghazi. But can the powers that levelled Fallujah in 2004 save Benghazi in 2011? In Iraq’s Fallujah, the USA and UK forces suppressed a city-wide uprising – when ‘our side’ used chemical weapons such as white phosphorous and killed thousands of civilians. The western powers are no better than the tyrant Gaddafi – and they can be worse. 100,000’s died because of Bush and Blair’s invasion.
If the west intervenes in Libya it will be to secure its assets and interests there, especially around Oil. Most probably they will partition the country, between East and West – a Balkanised Libya, leading to bitter civil war. Tyranny will be strengthened – not democracy and freedom. This is the Libyan tragedy. The people of Libya are stuck now between a rock and a hard place – between the murderous Gaddafi regime – and the imperial greed of the west.
And the stench of hypocrisy rises pungently from every utterance of Cameron. For at the other end of the Middle East, the dictatorship in Bahrain is also using bloody force to crush a democratic revolution. And the forces of repression are being backed up by the pro-western absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, armed by Britain. What do we do? The Queen is inviting the murderous and brutal King of Bahrain to London to the Royal Wedding! Why don’t they be even handed and invite the murderous Gaddafi as well? The palace garden party will be full of dictators, corrupt monarchs and war mongers – he will feel in good company.


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