What Does the Libyan Opposition Want?

As everyone knows, Muammar Gaddafi is an authoritarian dictator.  Authoritarian dictators are a dime a dozen in world history, though, so that is not what would distinguish him from the rest of his kind in history books.  What might make him stand out is this: in the twilight of his autocratic career, Gaddafi had become such an arrant fool that he didn’t even know enough to vet his own envoys for their commitment to the sovereignty of Libya.  As the fate of Libya was being discussed by the powers represented in the NATO and the UN Security Council yesterday, among those most fervently calling for no-fly zones were Libya’s own UN ambassadors turned defectors, Abdurrahman Mohammed Shalgham and Ibrahim Dabbashi, making the same demand as the National Conference of Libyan Opposition (NCLO), an umbrella group of major Libyan exile organizations including the Libyan Constitutional Union (led by the so-called “Crown Prince” of Libya1) and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL, a tool of the CIA and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War).

Thus it fell to a few good Latin American socialists to do what they could to argue the case of Libya and defend its right to self-determination — that is, the right of the Libyan people, those who are for, against, or indifferent to the soon-to-be former Libyan regime, to sort out their own affairs, free from NATO or any other foreign troops — in the court of world public opinion.  And they tried, knowing that their efforts would be met with not only attacks from the Right but also total incomprehension on the part of not a few leftists.  The Latin American socialists, however, had some powerful tactical allies in and out of the UNSC: China, Russia, Brazil, India, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey, which all weighed in on the side of caution, counseling against acting in haste without enough information to make informed decisions.  Though the resulting UNSC resolution, unanimously voted for, referred the case of Libya to the International Criminal Court and imposed asset freeze, travel ban, arms embargo, and other sanctions, under Chapter 7 to boot, the Libyan exiles and defectors, US liberal and neo-con adventurists, and other usual suspects didn’t get everything they wanted: still no no-fly zones . . . yet.  So, the thankless job done by the 20th- and 21st-century socialists may not have been a complete waste of time, though the voices of bean counters reminding the deciders of the costs of the Iraq war probably counted far more in this age of austerity.

The zealous calls of the Libyan opposition for no-fly zones, in any case, suggest that the fall of the Gaddafi regime may not come as quickly as I thought it would.  After all, why call for any such thing if you are confident about being able to march into Tripoli and hang your enemy on your own in a matter of days?  So, the world may have a little more time to go look for missing information and think.

There are many unanswered questions in the fog of what is now a low-intensity civil war in Libya.  The least examined question in the corporate media, however, is the character of the Libyan opposition: what it is and what it wants.  Before the rest of the world learns anything about it, though, the opposition has already formed an “interim government” in Benghazi, headed by Mustafa Mohamed Abud Ajleil, the former Libyan justice minister who resigned from the government in protest just a few days ago.

Who else are involved in the formation of this interim government?  First of all, other high-ranking defectors, both “civilian and military,” from the Gaddafi regime.  The aforementioned Libyan ambassadors and other diplomats who have come out against the regime will represent it abroad.  Opposition tribal leaders are naturally part of it, too.  Is the NCLO, too?  That remains to be seen, but the odds are strong that its members will get their piece of the post-Gaddafi Libyan pie one way or another.

What might be the politico-economic philosophy of the interim government?  The Gaddafi regime’s neoliberal turn is well known, and the defectors will probably bring that bent with them.  As for the opposition in exile, the following excerpt from a report on a 1994 conference of Libyan exiles including the NFSL, hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, may give us a clue of their orientation: “Most participants argued for privatization and a strong private sector economy. . . .  [Economist Misbah] Oreibi warned that many of the big public sector enterprises will simply have to be shut down and the losses absorbed because they will never be profitable.”  It is hard not to conclude that the marriage of old exiles and recent defectors is likely to result in a doubly neoliberal offspring.

Is that what the Libyans who took to the streets — probably thinking that they were joining the Great 21st-century Arab Revolt for not only political freedom but also social justice — really want?  If not, what independent organization do they have to press their own demands?  If there is a Libyan counterpart of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt, or the Wa’ad Party of Bahrain, for instance, I have yet to hear from it.

Meanwhile, Libya’s ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, has already made a public statement in favor of the interim government, so it is a matter of time before Washington is asked to recognize it, and requests for recognition will soon begin to arrive elsewhere as well . . . though there is no way of knowing if this interim government is popular or unpopular among the Libyans, even among those who have been involved in the Feb17 uprising.


1  By the way, the “Crown Prince” of Libya is now represented by the same PR agency as the King of Bahrain: Bell Pottinger, a Tory firm in Britain, founded by a friend of Lady Thatcher’s.  Among its previous clients was the Libyan Economic Development Board led by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.  Just as this charmed company has profited from both sides of the current Libyan political divide, so will the empire, most probably, however this conflict shakes out, since it has wisely invested in both camps.

Yoshie Furuhashi is Editor of MRZine.

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