Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Libya could easily tip over the edge - (Today's Times)

The Times is now a subscription-only newspaper. Therefore links to pieces in it won't work unless one is a subscriber. However, I have been able to copy a first-class article by Deborah Haynes, who is the paper's Defence Editor.

The situation in Libya is deeply worrying (I wish that the Libyans had been left alone to sort out their problems, but out gung-ho government couldn't resist having a go at Gaddafi).

It has seemed to me all along that we know nothing of those who desire to replace the Colonel. It seems to me now that Deborah Haynes has similar concerns.

Here is the article, which is headed -

Beware. Libya could easily tip over the edge

"The mixture of distrust and disorder on the streets could yet prove to be explosive

Anyone who believes that with the fall of Colonel Gaddafi Libya will smoothly transform itself into a peaceful, progressive democracy is naive or delusional.

The rebels offer hugely persuasive assurances that the country can unite behind their cause and work together to recover from 42 years of one-man rule. They also dismiss concerns that the hunted dictator’s supporters pose any form of destabilising influence, saying that their number is too small.

However, a lot of the ingredients are in place for a new insurgency.

I would love to be proved wrong after a revolution that involved truly inspiring individuals: doctors, teachers, lawyers and engineers willing to die for their freedom. But with Gaddafi still on the loose, his followers still willing to fight and a desire for revenge still fresh within the opposition, the chaos that grips Tripoli has the potential to breed further violence rather than to mark a low point from which the new Libya will rise.

The absence of the sectarian divide that fed the Iraq insurgency, pitting the Shia majority against the Sunni minority, with help from Sunni al-Qaeda and Shia Iran, is confidently cited as the reason why Libya without Gaddafi will not go the same way as Iraq without Saddam Hussein.

But religion is not the only cause for tension. In the post-Gaddafi world there will always be underlying friction between the “pros” or “fifth column” — the militants who remain loyal to the colonel — and those who rebelled.

The emerging evidence of revenge killings on both sides should come as no surprise. This was a bloody civil war with Western assistance. People were fighting for their survival, and it will not be as easy as the rebel leaders would like to switch off such emotions, given the huge number of weapons in ordinary people’s hands and the exposure to extreme violence that most have experienced.

With Tripoli under the control of the National Transitional Council (NTC), now is the time for a brutal period of war to give way to one of restored order and reconciliation, even with Gaddafi still at large.

The restoration of water, electricity and fuel in the capital will help to build confidence in the new leadership, particularly among the people of western Libya who remained longest under the control of the old regime and are the least-well represented around the NTC table. Also, regular policemen must quickly return to Tripoli’s streets, hospitals must be restocked and even rubbish collections resumed — the stinking piles of garbage on roadsides add to a sense of lawlessness.

So far the rebel leaders have had a relatively easy ride each time their fighters have taken control of an area — Benghazi, Misrata, the Western Mountains — because the overwhelming majority of the population supported them.

But Tripoli is different, with a significant number of residents loyal to Gaddafi and hostile to the NTC. The more frank rebel estimates put the number of loyalists at 20 per cent, while regime supporters claim that it is far higher.

A wave of suicide attacks by loyalists or retaliatory killings by rebels could ignite even worse violence, preventing people from focusing on restoring public services and law and order.

There is also an external dimension. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s new leader, has called for Libya to become a new front line for global jihad, while countries that would prefer to see the Nato-backed uprising fail will be looking for ways to exploit the power vacuum, as happened in Iraq.

The only way to counter this is through strong leadership, competent international support and by making sure that the disparate groups of rebels continue their allegiance to the NTC.

More must be done to defuse suspicion between rebels and Gaddafi supporters — not easy while he remains at liberty. The names of many loyalists are on rebel lists, so they will be detained for questioning if identified. The NTC says that only those with blood on their hands will face justice. Anyone else will simply be disarmed and allowed to go free. This sounds sensible and fair — but with emotions running so high there is little to prevent people seeking revenge for any suffering endured under Gaddafi.

An interesting insight into this was offered by a man I met who had spent two months in Abu Salim prison after the failed uprising in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, early in the revolution. He was beaten, had the nails on his big toes pulled out and was urinated on.

The man, well-educated, well spoken and moderate, knew exactly who tortured him. Asked what he would do if he saw them again, his response was simple: “I will kill them.”

Libya has a chance to emerge from four decades of dictatorship as a fair, democratic society but will require forgiveness, courage and resolve to prevent further strife."

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