People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 48

December 01, 2013





Libya in Chaos


Yohannan Chemarapally


LIBYA has been surely but steadily sinking into anarchy since the killing of Muammar Gaddafi on October 20, 2011. The regime change, supervised under western military tutelage that followed, has failed to provide either stability or security. If any further proof was needed of the state in which the country finds itself after the death of Gaddafi two years ago, it was graphically provided by the kidnapping of the country’s prime minister, Ali Zeidan, on October 5. Zeidan was forcibly taken away by an armed militia from the tightly guarded “five star” Corinthia hotel where he resides, in the early hours of the morning. He was released unharmed by the afternoon and appeared on television, blaming an unnamed group of trying to plan a coup against his government. In November, militias opened fire on protestors in Tripoli with heavy weaponry, killing more than 50 people. The protestors were demanding withdrawal of the militias from the Libyan capital.





The incident involving the prime minister had happened in the wake of the abduction of a former Al Qaeda leader, Nasih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, popularly known as Anal al Libi, from outside his home in Tripoli by US commandos. Washington had claimed that it had the approval of the Libyan government for the operation which was timed to coincide with a similar action by the US Special Forces in Somalia. Though the attempt in Somalia to kill or capture a wanted Al Shabab leader ended in failure, the capture of Al Libi has been hailed as a great success in Washington. Al Libi was on America’s “most wanted” list. The American authorities have claimed that he played a key role in planning the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar-e-Salaam (Tanzania) in 1998.


The Libyan authorities had publicly criticised the capture of Al Libi, describing it as a kidnapping. Libyan government officials, including the prime minister, had initially claimed that they were not consulted about the American commando raid. But American state department officials were quick to rebut these claims. They told the media that the Libyan government had in fact given permission for two commando raids --- one to capture Al Libi and the second one to nab the key militia leader responsible for the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi and the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other American citizens. American officials have not explained the reasons for not going ahead with the planned operation in Benghazi, which has become a stronghold of militias having marked radical Islamist tendencies. The head of Libya’s police force, Ahmad al Bargathi was assassinated in Benghazi in the second week of October as he stepped out of a mosque after prayers.


Following the American commando raid in Tripoli, the Swedish consulate in Benghazi was subjected to a bomb attack. The Egyptian consulate in the city, the cradle of the Libyan counter revolution, was bombed in August. Earlier in June, the “Libya Shield Force,” a prominent militia co-opted by the government in Benghazi, used lethal force to subdue a peaceful demonstration, killing 31 people. Many of the militias and groups that NATO propped up in its fight against the secular government of Gaddafi had known connections to radical Islamist grouping like Al Qaeda. Many of the leaders of these groups, like Al Libi, were allowed to return to Libya after 2011. Gaddafi had warned on several occasions that the opposition was dominated by known Al Qaeda sympathisers. Now Washington has once again identified the Al Qaeda and the Islamist allies as the new enemies to be targeted in Libya.




It was after the revelation that the Libyan government had prior knowledge of the US commando operation in Tripoli when the kidnapping incident involving the Libyan prime minister took place. On October 20, Abdelmonem Essid, head of the Libyan government’s interior ministry’s anti-crime unit, told journalists in Tripoli that he was “responsible” for the “arrest” of the prime minister and was “proud” of what he had done. Two groups --- the Operations Cell of Libya’s Revolutionaries and the Brigade for the Fight against Crime --- had claimed responsibility for “arresting” Zeidan on charges of endangering the sovereignty of the country. A senior member of the militia told the media that Zeidan was arrested after the acknowledgement by the US secretary of state John Kerry said that the Libyan government was aware of the US commando operation in Tripoli.


Prime minister Zeidan, meanwhile, said that his captors had tried to force him to resign from office during the period he was in their captivity. He told a separate news conference that those opposed to him had tried “to resort to force to oust him.” He had earlier said that “a political party” was behind “the criminal and terrorist act.” Political commentators say that he was referring to the Justice and Construction Party, political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya. Zeidan is likely to face a strong challenge in parliament in the coming days. Islamist parties dominate parliament and popular mood seems to have turned against the US, despite the prime minister insisting that the Libyan people remain grateful to Washington for the help it provided in “liberating” the country. Al Libi’s capture by the US Special Forces has particularly inflamed public opinion, especially as he was living openly in the capital since 2011 after returning from the UK, which had given him political asylum. At that time he was an outspoken critic of Gaddafi. He had made no efforts to conceal his identity.


The Islamists in parliament also have the backing of many of the powerful militias, which are in de facto control of the country. The militias, particularly those in the east of the country where much of the oil is pumped, seem intent on secession. Prime minister Zeidan said that the chaos in recent months had halved crude production and the country lost 4.98 billion dollars in oil revenues. According to reports, oil production has dropped from 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) from earlier this year to 160,000 bpd. The government is now dipping into its cash reserves to pay the salaries of civil servants, doctors and teachers.




During the ferocious bombing campaign in Libya of 2011, NATO was careful to ensure that the oil infrastructure remained unscathed. Oil and gas account for 70 per cent of the country’s GDP and 95 per cent of its exports. Oil production had reached its pre-war production last year before the downward plunge started soon after when the militias started demanding their pound of flesh and the workers in many refineries and oilfields went on strike demanding higher wages.


Many western oil companies, which had hoped for a bonanza after the ouster of Gaddafi, have started radically scaling down their expectations. Some of the western oil majors like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have warned that they would even scale down their projects in the country. The militias are in control of all the oilfields and export terminals. A large quantity of the oil is being sold in the black market to unscrupulous foreign traders by the militias. Prime minister Zeidan had threatened to use the Libyan air force to bomb unauthorised tankers from entering Libyan waters. After the assassination of the American ambassador, very few businessmen from the West have the courage to even visit Tripoli.


Killings of journalists and politicians have now become routine affairs. Col Yussef Ali al Asseifar, who was given the job of investigating the rash of assassinations, was himself eliminated, after an unidentified group put a bomb in his car. According to a report, Torture and Deaths in Detention in Libya, prepared by the UN, thousands of people remain locked up in prisons under the control of the militias two years after the western sponsored “revolution” in Libya. “Some have been detained apparently on the basis of belonging to certain tribal or ethnic groups, including Warfalla, Tawergah and Mashashia, as these groups are collectively perceived by some as having supported the former regime,” the report said. The report has cited instances of 27 detainees being tortured to death this year alone. The Report warned that “there is a danger that torture will become institutionalised within the new Libya.” The UN secretary general, Ban ki-Moon has said that he is “deeply concerned” about the issue.


“Right now, the only factor significantly bringing down the number of detainees being mistreated and tortured is the number of mass prison breaks that are taking place,” according to the Amnesty International’s researcher in Libya, Magda Mugrabi. The Libyan justice minister, Salah Marghani, acknowledged recently that the country is facing a serious law and order problem. “We are still in a state of revolution. You can see the amount of weapons that are spread around. The amount of control that you can have in this situation is limited,” he admitted.




There have been other consequences for the Libyan people as a consequence of the Obama administration’s “humanitarian intervention” in their country two years ago. Basic services, which the Libyan people had taken for granted during Gaddafi’s time, have been affected. The capital Tripoli recently had to go without water and electricity for one whole week. In the third week of October, soldiers from the Libyan army briefly occupied the prime minister’s office, demanding their back wages. Their salaries have remained unpaid for months.


Libya has once again become the staging post for migrants to cross over to Europe. Many of the boats carrying migrants which sunk off the Italian coasts had started their journey in Eastern Libya. An American political scientist Alan J Kupperman, writing in the journal International Security, concluded that NATO intervention “increased the duration of Libya’s civil war by about six times and its death toll by about seven times, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and neighbours.” Already there are dire predictions that Libya may soon join the ranks of “failed states” despite having the fifth largest oil reserves in the world.