Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Libyan Confusion

Last weekend I attended a rally for democracy in Libya. It was, to be honest, a rather Chaotic and confused event. We were all there, I suppose, in support of the uprising against the Gaddafi dictatorship calling for democratic reforms.

There were people calling for the restoration of King Idris, whom Colonel Gaddafi deposed in a military coup in 1969, waving the Libyan flag of that time. I don't support the restoration of monarchs. I prefer democratic republics.

There were also people calling for Britain and NATO to enforce a No Fly Zone to stop Libyan Government planes attacking the rebels in the oil rich east of the country. I don't support Western Imperialist interventions either.

Thankfully there were also some people who supported the introduction of democratic rights and a secular progressive government in Libya and, indeed, throughoutNorth Africa. Admittedly these are in short supply.

Each of the revolts we have witnessed this winter has had one thing in common in that they are spontaneous uprisings of the masses against brutal, out of touch, governing regimes. But whereas in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen protestors shared at least an agreement on what they were against, even though there was not much evidence on what they were for, in Libya that is not the case. Things are somewhat different there. First of all Gaddafi has clearly retained a large measure of public support, perhaps even the majority, particularly in the west of Libya around the country's capital city Tripoli. Secondly, the armed forces have, by and large, stayed loyal to him. Thirdly the divisions in Libya are largely tribal. Benghazi, Libya's second city, has long been a centre of opposition to Gaddafi, and not without reason. But the tribal leaders have not managed to link up with Gaddafi's other opponents, like those angry at his corruption, his neo-liberal economic policies and his pro-Western stance.

The confusion I witnessed in Edinburgh is nothing, however, compared to that in Whitehall. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised it to an art form. He was the one who told the world in the first few days of the revolt that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela. He initiated the call for NATO to impose a No Fly Zone, only to be informed that Britain had no planes with which to enforce it. And this weekend Hague secretly ordered the SAS into Benghazi in helicopters, only to have them shot down by the very Libyan rebels he was trying to help. The elite British unit were lucky not to have been shot. Perhaps Hague got his No Fly Zone after all, even if it wasn't the one he wanted.

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