Libya: who’s fighting who?

By now, we expect that you’re familiar with the ‘official’ narrative describing events taking place in Libya. A spontaneous uprising against the repressive regime of Muammar Gaddafi sparks brutal retaliatory attacks from the dictator; Britain, France, and the US step in to offer military support to the rebels, backed by UN resolution 1973 authorising action to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s vicious assaults. That pretty much brings us up to the present day, with NATO striking repeatedly at Gaddafi strongholds and the apparent prospect of a free Libya justifying increasing military intensity (and casualties). This comprehensive article written by Abdel Bari Atwan and published by the Stop The War Coalition paints a very different picture.

Atwan contends that the de facto leadership of the rebels consists of former Gaddafi loyalists, who have simply defected and are piggybacking on the support of NATO in an effort to assume Gaddafi’s mantle — or at least to shift the burden of guilt for previous atrocities from their own shoulders. Abdul Jalil Mustafa, for example, is Gaddafi’s former minister of justice, a post in which he repeatedly sentenced those who dissented against the regime to torture and death. Major-General Abdel Fattah Younis’ history of service to Gaddafi goes back more than forty years, and he was Libya’s minister of the interior as recently as February.

These are the people who are heading up the rebellion and who are commanding the backing of NATO. If Atwan is to be believed, the chances of them initiating a free Libya once Gaddafi is removed are about as great as the chances of Muammar himself taking up needlework.

This is not to denigrate the initial uprising, nor even the intention to protect civilians. It does appear that the Libyan people, worn to the bone by despotism and the gradual erosion of the benefits they received from Libya’s oil wealth, rose up in genuine protest. That civilians were and are endangered by Gaddafi’s callousness is beyond doubt. Increasingly, however, it appears that the heartfelt longing of the Libyan people has been co-opted by opportunistic ex-members of the Gaddafi regime, and by the governments of nations who benefit from the export of Libya’s oil wealth.

In these circumstances, it’s impossible to trust military intervention in Libya — especially now that the stated intention has shifted from protecting civilians to forcing regime change. For the people of Libya, the situation is a heartbreaking one: having protested against one form of autocratic rule, they risk entering into a bloody struggle, and perhaps losing their lives, in support of the establishment of another.

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