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Libya is a North African country about the size of France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. It has a population of about 6.5 million and oil is the main source of revenue for this country. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi has been Libya's de facto leader the 1969 coup. Even though he does not hold any public office, in government statements and the official press, he is accorded the honorifics "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" or "Brotherly Leader and Guide of The Revolution.
On the first of September 1969, a small group of military officers under the leadership of Gaddafi staged a bloodless coup d'état against the then King of Libya Idris I, who was away in Greece for medical treatment. Gaddafi who was then captain accepted a ceremonial promotion to the rank of colonel and has remained at this rank to this day. This paper seeks to discuss the current situation in Libya with Gaddafi and the population. (Jewish Virtual Library)
Islamic Socialism and Pan Arabism
Ghaddafi based his new regime on a blend of Arab Nationalism together with aspects of the welfare state and what the colonel termed "direct popular democracy". He referred to this system as "Islamic Socialism. Private control over small companies was permitted; however, the government controlled the larger ones. Education, "liberation" and welfare were emphasized; he imposed a system of Islamic morals that that outlawed among other things alcohol and gambling. In Ghaddaffi's own words, Libyan utopian society was "ruled by the people".
The political system is thought to be somewhat less idealistic; from time to time, Ghaddafi has responded to domestic and external dissent with violence. A good example is when his revolutionary committees called for the assassination of Libyan dissidents who had sought asylum abroad, this was back in April 1980. Libyan squads were sent abroad to murder them. On the 26th of April, Ghaddafi set a deadline of June 11th for dissidents to return home or be "in the hands of the revolutionary committees". Nine Libyan nationals were murdered during that period, with five of them being killed in Italy.
Gaddafi was inspired by Nasser's ideas of pan Arabism. He became a fervent advocate for the unity of all Arab states into a single Arab nation and a loose union of all Islamic countries and people.
Tensions between Libya and the west peaked during the administration of President Ronald Reagan who tried to overthrow Gaddafi. Reagan himself dubbed Gaddafi "the mad dog of the Middle East" because of his uncompromising stance on Palestinian independence, his backing of "liberation movements in sub Saharan Africa"; his support for revolutionary Iran in its 1980-1988 war against Iraq that was then under Saddam Hussein.
The Protests in Libya Unraveled
On the 16th of February 2011 a crowd gathered outside the government office in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city. These demonstrators were armed with rockets and gasoline bombs; they were estimated to range from several hundred to several thousand and they marched to demand the release of a human rights activist. This initial protest has resulted in a massive bloodshed and calls for Gaddafi to step down.
The demonstrators were calling for the release of Fathi Tebril, a human rights lawyer who is a critic of the government. According to Foreign Policy Magazine, the lawyer was representing a group of families whose "sons were massacred by Libyan authorities in 1996 in Tripoli's infamous Abu Salim prison, where an estimated 1,200 prisoners, mostly opponents of the regime were rounded up and gunned down in a span of a few hours. (Williams, M).
Tebril was arrested on the 15th of February; while the protesters originally gathered to demonstrate against his arrest, upon his release, the protests turned into anti -government demonstrations. On Thursday, February 17th, Libyan dissidents took part ion a "Day of Rage to challenge Gaddafi's 41 year old iron rule".
The crowds that gathered were inspired by similar revolutions by the Tunisian and Egyptian people. Just as in these two countries, the protesters used social networking sites such as face book and twitter to organize and agitate for change in their country. Over time these protests spread across Libya and the demonstrators were met by riot police officers and the resultant clash led to many deaths. (Williams, M).
As protests continued, on the 20th of February, the government shut down nearly all forms of communication beyond Libya, including the internet and the use of cell phones. Despite international backlash, Gaddafi vowed to "fight to the last drop of blood" as the violence between his troops and demonstrators intensified; according to the New York Times. Gaddafi made a long public address in which he said that those who were challenging his regime "deserved to die" and went ahead to blame the unfolding situation on "foreign hands". Without acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, the colonel described himself in megalomaniacal terms: "Muammar Gaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution". (Williams, M).
Libyan Uprising Fuelling Racism against Black Africans
Muammar Gadaffi's use of Black African mercenaries to crush the rebellion against autocratic regime has brought fourth a deep rooted racism between Arabs and Black Africans. Libya has a population of about two and a half million migrants; of these, about one and a half million are Sub Saharan African migrants and refugees. These migrants provide cheap labor in Libya's oil industry, construction, agriculture and other service sectors.
"Mercenaries, of course, are extremely useful because the regular army forces include conscripts -- who can easily leave their posts and join the uprising. Mercenaries work for money and have no compunction about whom they kill." This is according to Na'eem Jeenah, the executive director of the Afro-middle East Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa (Russeau,S).
Why Gaddafi will never go quietly
Before the current uprising, the total number of Libyan personnel in the defense force was estimated by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) at 119,000, with 45,000 reservists. The main suppliers of arms to Libya have been China, Russia and Brazil, with additional supplies coming in from Belarus. As a result of the uprising, this substantial military force was reduced by defections, but it is however safe to assume that Gaddafi could still have at least half that force loyal to him.
There was a popular expectation that what happened in Egypt and Tunisia would happen in Libya. This was never well founded as the situation is different in each nation; it is quite erroneous to generalize about the likely spill over effects throughout the region. There have been allegations about Gaddafi killing his own people in Libya. This has led to calls for international action that went further to demand referral of Gaddafi, his top aides and also three of his sons to the International Criminal Court to answer to charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes; imposition of a United Nations arms embargo and more recently, the imposition of a no fly zone on Libya (Williams, C.)
Although Gaddafi's regime is ac reprehensible one, more so in terms of its human rights record, its absolute lack of moral standards and its past support for terrorists, we should be careful not to assume that the end game is imminent. Despite the obvious chaotic situation on the ground, a majority of the Libyan defense force is loyal to Gaddafi and he still controls key infrastructure and the country is still able to sell oil to countries like China, it will not be surprising to see his regime linger on for sometime (Williams, C.)
Gaddafi's Response to the Current Uprising
The Libya uprising has clearly demonstrated to all and sundry that the Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi, or as the former American president once called him the "mad dog of the Middle East "still has plenty of fight in him. On realizing that the revolt threatened his h41 year old grip on power, the dictator fought back viciously; this is in sharp contrast to the reaction of other Arab leaders for example Hosni Mubarak of Egypt which is right next door to Libya. President Mubarak resigned from power peacefully. The United Nations passed Resolution 1973, which was aimed at establishing a no fly zone so as to protect the civilians in Libya from Colonel Gaddafi's counter attack. In March 2011, U.S forces engaged in Libya in an effort to enforce the U.N resolution. The final outcome of the conflict and Gaddafi's reign as a brutal dictator is anyone's guess (Longo, S.)
Muammar Gaddafi has vexed American presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barrack Obama. The ongoing air strikes on Libya raise a critical question: will the dictator be overthrown by the rebels who are backed by western powers or will he survive and find a way to cling to power? More importantly, if Gaddafi survives the attempt to overthrow him, which Gaddafi will emerge: the Gaddafi who slaughters his own citizens without giving it a second thought and who has in the past ordered terrorist attacks on civilians abroad, or the Gaddafi who ended his weapons of mass destruction program in a bid to foster better relations with the west? (Longo, S.)
In a past interview, the Libyan strongman, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi dismissed western powers led by the United States and France stating that he would award all of Libya's oil contracts to Russia, China and India. He stated that "We do not believe the West any longer that is why we invite Russian, Chinese and Indian companies to invest in Libya's oil and construction sphere" He condemned western powers stating that Germany was the that still stood a chance of doing any kind of business with Libyan oil in the future, "We do not trust their firms - they took part in the conspiracy against us", he said of the western powers. Gaddafi also added that to the best of his knowledge, the Arab league had ceased to exist since it stood up against Libya. According to the colonel, the uprising was a "minor event" planned by Al Qaeda that will soon come to an end (codewit.com).
Khaled Kaim, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya promised that the country will honor the current oil contracts with Western oil companies. He however stated that the current crisis in Libya could affect future cooperation. As a result of the current crisis and the ensuing violence in Libya, Foreign companies have stopped oil production in Libya and consequently evacuated their personnel from the country. The Colonel spoke about France, the only country that went on to recognize the rebel movement known as Libyan National Council as Libya's legitimate government and called for targeted air strikes. Colonel Gaddafi said "his good friend" the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy has "gone mad and is suffering from a mental disorder." (codewit.com).
"Libyan people terrorized by Al Qaeda"
According to Gaddafi, the situation in Libya differs with what has happened in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and a host of other Arab countries and that what has happened and is happening in these other Arab countries is not connected to what is happening in Libya. He argues that in the affected countries, the people are protesting against their authorities whereas in Libya the people are protesting, demanding the revolutionary leadership to remain and implement the power of the people and that the other people don't have power because power is vested in the Presidents and governments. He says that in these other countries citizens chant "Down with the president! Down with the Government! Down with the Parliament!" And in the end a new government is created and is led by a newly appointed president. (codewit.com).
"World misled by false reports"
Gaddafi has a misconstrued view that that Al Qaeda leadership took advantage of Libya's silence and began to tell the world about protests in the country and also about the shooting of thousands of civilians. He said, "All of a sudden we found out the whole world was against Libya. But we have had no protests. How could news agencies have reported such things? The number of victims is 150-200, how could one speak about thousands?" Gaddafi believes that the world built its stance based on reports from news agencies that had a sinister agenda. He opined that the UN Security Council should have sent a commission to Libya to investigate the facts before deciding to act (codewit.com).
"West is not interested in destabilization of Libya"
Muammar Gaddafi is either out of touch with the situation in his country or is still in denial. Insisting that he is not a conspiracy fanatic, the colonel said of the west:
All happened the way I told you. Now they have admitted they were wrong and began to feel confused. Why? It's because there is no information proving there was a conspiracy in Libya. Indeed, stability, the absence of any Islamic radicalism, unrest etc - this situation in Libya is in their interests.
Gaddafi thinks that because Libya is an oil producing nation, the west is not interested in destabilizing Libya so as to prevent a rise in the price of oil (codewit.com).
It is quite interesting to hear Colonel Gaddafi's point of view about the political environment in Libya. Even after being in power for over forty years, the 68 year old dictator is still convinced that is a democratic country. In the Colonel's own words, Libya's democracy is "democracy of the people" .He goes ahead to praise himself and the important role that he plays in supporting peace in Africa in areas such as Darfur (codewit.com).
The current turmoil in Libya is without a doubt the most serious challenge tghat Gaddafi has faced since his rise to power in 1969. When asked about the situation in his country, and if the protests were against him, Gaddafi retorted "They love me. All my people with me, they love me," he said. "They will die to protect me, my people."Not only did Gaddafi rule out any chance of him leaving Libya, but he also, in very strong terms, denied using any force whatsoever against his people. This clearly shows that his version of the truth is at odds with what is going on around him (Amanpour, C.).
James Clapper, the US national intelligence director has predicted that the Libyan strongman will defeat the rebels challenging his authority in the long run because of his superior military force. He warned that Gaddafi's military was stronger than it was previously described. In his address to the US Senate, Clapper said, "I don't think he has any intention, despite some of the press speculation to the contrary, of leaving. From all evidence that we have... he appears to be hunkering down for the duration."(BBC Mobile).
Libya Rebels want Muammar Gaddafi Ousted, Not Dead
Ali Zeidan, an envoy for the Libyan National Transitional Council, a leading opposition group said in an interview with The Associated Press that the rebels wanted to drive Gaddafi out of power and see him face trial as opposed to having him killed. This was a clear indication that the rebels were considering a peaceful exit for Gaddafi. He also said that allied missile strikes against Gaddafi's forces had neutralized Gaddafi's air defenses (Huff Post World).
Defiant Gaddafi Pledges Victory
After airstrikes by the US and France, Gaddafi made a public appearance to rally his supporters and urged "all Islamic armies" to join him, saying: "We will be victorious." This shows the sheer determination in Gaddafi. It also shoes his intention to shape this conflict into an ideological war much to his advantage. In order to drive out Gaddafi from power, there has to be sustained pressure militarily so as to incapacitate Gaddafi's forces and arming the rebels for them to be able to tackle Gaddafi's forces (BBC Mobile)
Muammar Gaddafi is an embattled dictator but whether or not he will withstand the overwhelming onslaught directed at him by rebels in Libya as well as the west, is a question that only time can answer. More sanctions need to be applied to Gaddafi and members of his administration and the international community needs to continue arming the rebels. It also quite important for Gaddafi and his henchmen to stand trial for atrocities they have committed and continue to commit.