Dethroning Qaddafi was the easy part; the real struggle to build a new Libya begins now


by Aijaz Zaka Syed

We are living in truly interesting times, as the Chinese would put it.  What a remarkable year it has been for the Middle East, and the rest of the world! We will all remember and cherish these historic moments for the rest of our lives, wherever we are or whoever we are.  For it’s not every day that you get to see history being enacted and mighty men, who have ruled and controlled the destiny of millions of people for decades, come crashing down on the ground.

The Libyan people have finally joined the Tunisians and Egyptians in celebrations and are rejoicing the departure of their tormentor after four decades of vile, total tyranny.  And this isn’t just their victory or that of the people of the Middle East.  This is an epic triumph that belongs to us all—everyone who believes in freedom, human dignity, and an individual’s and people’s right to choose their destiny.

This is the best Ramadan the Libyans have had in decades. And this Eid the Libyans will have their celebrations doubled. Indeed, this will be a special Eid for the Egyptians and Tunisians as well.  For there’s not a greater gift than freedom—freedom from fear, freedom from tyranny and freedom from indignity.

However, this is also a critical point in the history of the liberated country—and the Middle East. Thanks to the decades of abuse of power and one man’s absolute tyranny, Libya today has no functioning institutions and infrastructure.  As in the other so-called Arab socialist republics, police and security forces and intelligence agencies have been so abused and accustomed to protecting the powers that be that they aren’t good for anything else.

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya, a largely tribal society, doesn’t even have a basic institutional framework in place.  On the other hand, this deficiency could also prove a blessing as Libya’s new leaders will not have to face the resistance of the forces of status quo as has been the case in the neighboring countries.

Libya’s new leaders and people won’t have much time to celebrate though. Dethroning Qaddafi may have been the easy part.  The real struggle to build a new Libya begins now.  The challenges facing the country on all fronts are daunting.  But for a people who have managed to surmount the greatest challenge to their existence with their determination and enduring faith in themselves and in a better Libya could transcend any obstacle.

While the Libyans are celebrating their hard-earned victory, there has been much jubilation and back-slapping in the West. Much is being made of the Western support to people’s revolt against Muammar Qaddafi. Of course, the NATO bombing targeting Qaddafi’s forces – and many innocent civilians – has played a significant role in tilting the scales against the tyrant.  However, the credit for this revolution in the end goes to the Libyan people.

Without their initiative, without their steadfastness, and above all without their monumental sacrifices, this dawn of hope would have never arrived.  It’s the Libyan uprising that persuaded the West to abandon its appeasement of the dictator for those handsome contracts and billions of dollars of deals and shift its patronage.

Again, it was the infectious courage and resolve of ordinary Libyans that forced the Arab and Muslim nations to give up their cautious indifference. Which wasn’t too difficult. Qaddafi had few friends and supporters even among his neighbors. Few tears will be shed for the despot. For all his rhetoric for the oppressed of the world, he offered his own people nothing but endless suffering.

His fate, and like that of his other disgraced peers, should be a wake-up call to others who have all these years abused the sacred trust and responsibility thrust on them. The ignominious end of Qaddafi is almost certain to hasten the departure of the Assads and Salehs. Their collapse is imminent, as inevitable as the sunrise tomorrow.  And the longer they drag their feet, the greater humiliation will be their fate.

All those sacrifices by the people of Syria, Yemen and elsewhere will not go in vain.  The dawn is nigh. And you could almost smell the sweet freedom, wherever you are and whoever you are.

As Faiz Ahmed Faiz, South Asia’s revolutionary poet, would put it, this is the time to demolish all tyranny and oppression:

Aye khaak nashinon uth baitho ke waqt karib aa pahuncha hai;

sab takht giraye jayenge sab taaj uchale jayenge

We shall see

When the insurmountable mountains of oppression

Shall blow as if cotton flakes

And beneath the feet of us common folk

This land will throb with a deafening sound

All crowns will fly

All thrones will fall

Let’s hope Libya’s new leaders will learn from history and do not end up as other wannabe revolutionaries of the Arab world have—assuming absolute power and turning on their own people to abuse it.

Let’s not forget Qaddafi, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Syria’s Hafez Al Assad, whose son is now trying to outdo him in cruelty, and many others had all thrown up previous regimes, promising moon to their people and look where and how they ended up. Road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

But the Libyans, or for that matter the Egyptians, Tunisians and others, are capable of dealing with future tyrants just as they have dealt with the just departed lot.  And they are equally capable of dealing with all those vultures waiting in the wings—waiting to move in for the big kill.

Western powers do themselves no justice if they believe they could arm-twist Qaddafi’s inexperienced successors into signing on the dotted line.  The people of Libya are watching. They are in no mood for more clever colonial games.  The West mustn’t squander the goodwill it has earned itself in Libya with such shenanigans.

The Libyan revolution for once saw the Western nations and Arabs and Muslims on the same side and, more important, on the side of justice and freedom. After a disastrous decade of wars and crimes against humanity, the West finds itself on the right side of history.  Which is to be welcomed even by cynics like us.

If this support for the Libyan freedom isn’t underpinned by the thirst for oil and all the riches waiting to be explored and exploited in Libya, let the United States and its comrades-in-arms across the Atlantic extend similar support to the Palestinians. Let Washington, London and Paris spread the cheer all around and bless the Palestinian demand for statehood when it comes up at the United Nations next month.

While the Libyans have struggled for freedom these past six months, the Palestinians have pined for it for the past six decades. And they aren’t any less committed and sincere in their aspirations for freedom and democracy. The Coalition of the Willing has an opportunity to redeem itself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR : Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published opinion editor, he looks at and comments on world affairs from a Middle Eastern and Arab-Muslim perspective. He received the European Union’s prestigious Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize in 2007 for his writings on the Darfur conflict. Write to him at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/aijazzakasyed

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  1. Debbie on the 28. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    You live by the sword, you die by the sword. These so-called Arab leaders have been playing Games for far too long. Do you believe the likes of Gadaffi and Mubarak could not have Israel lift the Gaza blockade into its 10th year now ?

    They have obviously been playing games, and for that alone they need to go, one by one all of them who have tolerated the status quo in Gaza and the dehumanization of a people for decades.

    The ol’ trash needed to be taken out. The public are understandably sick of the Games and the humiliation. They are in the mood for a fresh start. The young people are now no longer powerless. they are Free people. The old beards will have less power. It will take some time for the sand to settle down. Only those who have not had FREEDOM know the value of it. KUDOS to this young generation of freedom fighters who have shed their fear and dared the Thugs that ruled them for generations.


    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

  2. bill doon on the 29. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    Recent events in Libya are nothing more nor less than a good old-fashioned imperialist putsch in the tradition of Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Democratic Republic of the Congo 1960, Iraq 1963, Brazil 1964, Republic of Ghana 1966, Chile 1973, Nicaragua 1981-1990, El Salvador 1980-92 etc, etc and et bloody cetera.

    One simple question illustrates this:

    Where is the poll that indicates a majority of Libyans favoured regime change?

    Surely there must have been one. How else could Sarkozy, Cameron and Berlusconi ascertain the state of public feeling in Libya?

    The “rebels” could not have overturned a dustbin without the aid of forces that care nothing for the lives of ordinary Libyan people. It took NATO 20,000 sorties and more than 7,500 strikes against ground targets to effect this “popular uprising”.
    It will take many imperialis­t boots to maintain this re-colonis­ation.

    Meanwhile the massive gains for Libyan society – free health, free education, participation in Oil profits, the highest rate of home ownership (made possible by interest-free state loans) will be fed to the flames of on-going strife – as intended.

    Meanwhile Africa will once again be reduced to begging for the leavings of the Imperial rape-fest, stripped of Qaddafi’s development bank, the funds of which are already frozen by…..who’d a thought it…..Obama.

    “the best Ramadan the Libyans have had in decades.” – tell that one to the victims of NATO’s bombs.

    Further reading:



    “British military and civilian advisers, including special forces troops, along with those from France, Italy and Qatar, have spent months with rebel fighters..”

    “British troops may act as peacekeepers if Libya descends into chaos”


    “President Sarkozy vows to keep up Libya military operations
    French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France will continue military operations in Libya…”


  3. Debbie on the 29. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    Okay Bill. Granted.

    But, the Arab Youth have begun the process of discarding decades ol’trash, with help or without and that is a good thing. The status quo needs to change, period.

    Oh, there is much “trash” to discard……..in UA. UK. USA. CA. EretzIsrael;
    But the problem is more baseline education is required of the generally ignorant public before we can expect to see any meaningfully and effective action.. much more!

  4. bill doon on the 29. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    Last year, 1.7 million of Libya’s 6 million population were students enrolled in either compulsory primary and secondary education or one of the 80 some odd Universities and Advanced Technical institutions provided by the State.

    Not one of those students would emerge with student debt, education was free, including overseas travel to foreign Universities. Furthermore, these students enjoyed free health care, also including overseas treatment where necessary. There were no homeless in Libya – 92% home ownership.

    The Libyan administration that provided those benefits has just been arrogantly and violently overturned by, among others, the U.S. and Britain. Here is what they provide:

    Average Student debt upon graduation.
    USA: $23,200
    Britain: £23,000

    Average Health Insurance paid by Americans: $13,375

    In 2009, 1 in every 200 persons in the US used a homeless shelter.

    If “more baseline education is required of the generally ignorant public ” then I suggest that the U.S. and Britain be invaded and Jamahiriya installed forthwith.

  5. joy on the 29. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    Thank you Bill for providing truth.

  6. bill doon on the 30. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    Here is something to ponder upon.

    On the 23rd of March, the NY Times reported:
    “the army that rebel military leaders bragged about consists of only about 1,000 …..Those frank admissions came from Ali Tarhouni, who was appointed to the cabinet of the rebels’ shadow government..”

    NATO had begun bombing on the 19th.

    This soft-brained writer says:
    “It’s the Libyan uprising that persuaded the West to abandon its appeasement of the dictator”

    Let me inform him.

    People will make their opinions heard until the bombing starts. Then they shut up, try not to betray their allegiance because they don’t know who is going to win and take reprisals.
    If the majority of Libyans wanted regime change, the rebels would have been able to scratch up a whole lot more than 1000 men.

    The Libyan people had little to do with this adventure.

  7. Debbie on the 31. Aug, 2011 remarked #

    An honest edit by Craig Murray:

    Being a liberal isn’t easy – it has none of the certainties that other political creeds can offer.
    When this started I reluctantly supported intervention – the alternative seemed to be to leave Qaddafi in place, eventually to hand over to his sons. Realistically there was no prospect of the Libyan people ever being able to overthrow the petro-dollar funded Qaddafi regime.
    The problem is that supporting his overthrow raises a lot of other questions – particularly the motives of the outside forces which may not be the same as the Libyan rebels, and what was to follow Qaddafi.
    While I understand why you focus on NATO, who have clearly gone way beyond the UNSC remit, the problems stem as much from the disfunctional UN and the bad joke that calls itself the Arab League. NATO are not acting as the agents of the UNSC – they are acting as the agents of western business interests who want a share of a “liberalized” Libyan economy.
    While you and I might see Qaddafi as a despot and tyrant, western business sees him as a dangerously independent figure. While he and his family might have had their fingers in the till, it is for denying western financial a share of the booty that he is being punished.
    It is in this light that the attack on Sirte is taking place. The interests behind NATO’s involvement are not patient people – they want to call in their favors. To get what they want the victory must be absolute – a negotiated deal at this stage might see them come away with far less than they want. The plan is for total victory to be swiftly followed by the arrival of the “reconstruction advisers” – a motley crew of the usual suspects fresh from Iraq.
    As with Cuba, I hope that the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bathwater, but I fear the worse. The new Libya needs a strong, independent Government that puts Libyan interests first, and preserves what is good about Qaddafi Libya (and there are things that are good, notably a level of social provision unmatched in the region). What it doesn’t need a client Government eager to pay off their foreign benefactors, and dragging Libya into the neo-liberal fold.
    I guess that I may live to regret my support for intervention – I never kidded myself that it was risk-free, and the NATO route wasn’t my preferred option. Time will tell whether the new Libya will be any improvement on the old Libya.
    If it isn’t, I’ll hold up my hands and say I was wrong, but I won’t be any closer to knowing what was the right course to take. As I said, being a liberal isn’t easy.

  8. Syd Walker on the 08. Sep, 2011 remarked #

    I agree with Bill Doon.

    When I argued in this blog against western “intervention” in Libya c. March 2011, I was personally accused of Stalinism… by Jeff Blankfurt if I recall corectly. It was a bemusing experience, as I’ve long been a fan of Jeff’s output.

    After 50,000+ deaths, countless injuries, 30,000+ bombs dropped by NATO (and counting), millions displaced – I can scarcely believe there’s a debate about the NATO “intervention”. This has been an unmitigated humanitarian disaster for Libyans.

    An intelligentsia that can’t see that doesn’t merit the term.

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