Years ago, you heard very little about Libya except bad news. The Western media, quite deliberately, excluded good news about the country. Any Libyan story that was picked up was usually connected to bad things, such as terror attacks or some other tragedy. During Muammar Gaddafi’s 42 years ruling the country, he and his country were accused of almost every atrocity going, including the notorious 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Rarely did Western media outlets stop to question why and how they portrayed Libya as a place synonymous with evil.
Since 2011 we have heard a lot about the North African country as the same media report on its civil strife. Again, most reports are generally negative. The domestic turmoil is covered as if there is nothing but civil war and oil in a political vacuum; nothing is said about the role played by Western governments and the major media networks.
We need to ask why — and how — Libya has, in less than a decade, been turned from one of the most peaceful and safe countries in Africa into the most dangerous, a threat to its own people, the region and the rest of the world. That should be the first question on everyone’s lips, followed by this one: will Libya ever be stable, safe and functioning as a normal state again? If so, will it take two, three or four decades?
Libyans will eventually turn their country around and shape their destiny, I’m sure. They have the potential to make Libya a much better place than it was when they were misled into believing that Gaddafi was the main obstacle to everything good. Nine years since he was killed, and Libya is continuing its free fall into ever more chaos despite two national elections, a new constitution, a free press and dozens of political parties.
I have always believed that there is no political solution to the Libyan crisis. Conflict is very likely to continue, in one way or another, until one party overcomes the others and re-establishes state institutions by force. Even if it produces a clear winner, the current violence will not achieve that ultimate goal; ending the war will not end the tragedy.
What is certain, after nearly a decade of death and destruction, is that overwhelmingly Sunni Libya will be another Iraq minus the sectarianism. In repeating the Iraqi tragedy on the shores of the Mediterranean, the West does not really care if Libya will be stable again despite it being just an hour’s flight from Europe.
In 2003, Iraq was invaded by a US-led force without any authorisation from the United Nations, the international organisation which is supposed to keep the peace and authorise war when necessary. Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” were the public pretext for the invasion. When that proved to be a lie, just before America’s George W Bush and his willing British partner Tony Blair launched their attack, another more attractive lie was ready. On the eve of the invasion, the then US President Bush hinted that his troops were going in even if Saddam Hussein quit and left Iraq. Disarmament was cast aside for the real objective: forced regime change. Ultimately, we were told, Iraq would become a regional Singapore.
Today, Iraq has the appearance of a democratic state with all of the necessary trimmings: regular legislative and presidential elections; press freedom; and free speech, all enshrined in its constitution. Yet the same Iraq cannot provide for its people, is unable to agree on a prime minister and cannot defend its territory without outside help. Daesh took over nearly half of the country in just a few days before its eventual defeat last year. Now the terror group is regrouping and launching new attacks, and Iraq will need outside help again.
Almost the same scenario was repeated in Libya in 2011, except that it had UN authorisation. Claiming that Gaddafi was killing his own people who were protesting peacefully against him, the UN passed Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in less than 3 weeks, which called upon all willing countries to intervene in Libya to “protect its civilians”. As NATO aircraft were preparing their bombs, the pretext changed gradually into something more favourable: Libya would be a flourishing democracy once Gaddafi was gone. Hopes were high and the stakes got even higher; regime change was again on the Western agenda.
Before long, the Gaddafi regime was toppled, the man himself was dead and dozens of political parties unheard of before February 2011 were preparing for elections in new “democratic” Libya. The Western narrative was complete.
Most of the justifications for the military intervention, under the vague idea of “Responsibility to Protect”, were allegations which were never proven. Some turned out to be fabrications about mass murders and rapes that never happened.
Although there were clearly some Libyans who wanted to see Gaddafi go, they certainly still wanted to keep their country. Nine years later and they are discovering that they not only lost Gaddafi but also lost Libya. Many regret what happened, and always remember the Iraqi model.
Eventually, they believe that they will have their country back, but that day is still a long way off. And even then, Libya will be in the same situation that Iraq has been in for the past seventeen years, an all but failed state. In Libya today nobody talks about democracy, political parties and a free press. The majority simply wish for a peaceful day and a return to life without water shortages and power cuts. Powerful regional countries like Turkey and, less so, Qatar and the UAE have turned the civil war into a proxy conflict fought on their orders for their own interests. NATO countries, meanwhile seem to like what they see and keep watching. In the middle sit ordinary Libyans waiting and longing for the day that normality returns.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.