If there was a country in Africa that had an admirable social welfare system, it was Libya. At the height of Gaddafi’s rule, Libya was the richest country in Africa and fewer people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands. However, recent reports about the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS in Libya, exposes the magnitude of lawlessness which has plagued the country since the fall of Gaddafi. Libya is currently ruled by militia groups who were once the united rebels who managed to topple Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. In early January 2015, the head of US Defense intelligence warned of the growing influence of ISIS in countries like Libya, which are compounded with governance issues. Currently, Libya has two governments, one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk. And Benghazi, the second largest city in Libya, is controlled by Islamist fighters with links to al-Qaeda.
In 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, travelled to Libya in the wake of a defeated Gaddafi. A jubilant crowd received Cameron and Sarkozy as the liberators of Libya that was to begin a new lease of life after Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime.
Cameron addressed the crowd saying “It is great to be in a free Benghazi and in a free Libya”.
Sarkozy also addressed the crowd and in his speech he had this to say, “You wanted peace, you wanted liberty, you want economic progress. France, Great Britain and Europe will be on the side of the Libyan people”
Cameron and Sarkozy reassured the population of Libya that Gaddafi was cornered and that Libya was to be free of his despotic rule.
The last minutes of Gaddafi’s life were captured on video by one of the rebel fighters Ali Algadi, who filmed a captured bloody and dazed Gaddafi. Both Gaddafi and his son Mo’atissim were captured alive, but were later reported to have died at the hands of the rebels who captured them in Sirte. Amnesty International and UN human rights officials raised concerns with the dubious way that Gaddafi and his son died, when conflicting reports of their deaths surfaced.
This should have been the first indication of what was to become of Libya which was once a prosperous and peaceful country. However, Libyans and the West hailed Gaddafi’s death as a victory for freedom and democracy, but what they did not realise is that some of the rebels they were aiding were Islamic radicals with known links to terrorist organisations.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, it is difficult to talk about Libya as a nation-state because the country has broken up into city-states. The central government which is supposed to be based in Tripoli has little control of affairs in a country which is ruled by about a 1000 militias. In 2012, the US ambassador to Libya was killed in Benghazi when a group of militants stormed his compound. In early 2014, there were attempts to unify Libya through a draft constitution, but the process failed miserably due to minimal support by the Libyans. Only 500,000 people participated in the votes of the draft constitution, when about 3 million people turned out to vote in the parliamentary elections in the previous year.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libyans have bemoaned the greed for power and money that has consumed militia groups who have reined terror in the once prosperous country. GlobalPost engaged with civilians on the streets of Tripoli and all of them complained about the current situation in Libya. On the streets, no one openly embraced Gaddafi’s rule, but in private many spoke fondly of the period before the revolution that was under Gaddafi’s rule. One rebel fighter said:
“I would say the majority of Libyans used to like Gaddafi and they still like Gaddafi especially now they see the chaos…But none of them can say this in public. In Gaddafi’s time we were all afraid of the regime, but now we have multiple powerful groups in Libya. Now you don’t know who could arrest you, detain you, beat you or even kill you without shame”
Another Tripoli native refused to believe that Gaddafi’s tenure was better even though a lot of people in Tripoli thought so. He believes that it is normal for a country to go through turmoil after a war, and he is optimistic that things will change in Libya.
It should be disheartening for some of the Libyan people to witness the destruction that has engulfed Libya since the fall of Gaddafi. NATO played a pivotal role in defeating Gaddafi, but they have chosen to ignore the chaos that is Libya today and leading western countries such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom, have all shut down their embassies. The task of brokering peace between the many militia factions in Libya has been left to the UN mediator, Bernadino Leon who has called it a difficult task.
Thus, it is not rash to suggest that the West should therefore bear a large part of the responsibility for the destruction of Libya because they were the ones who supported the rebels to topple Gaddafi. In fact some intellectuals have suggested that Western countries were at the forefront of orchestrating regime change in Libya, primarily because they were after oil, and profit from trading arms with the new regime that would be installed (see another source here). Whichever way one chooses to view the intervention, it was very premature for the West to support rebels they knew very little about, and evidently, we can all see now that their involvement in the Libyan civil war has helped to hand the country over to militias and Islamic fundamentalists of all shades.
The change the West promised the Libyan people is a far cry from the benefits that the Libyan citizen used to enjoy under Gaddafi’s rule. Under Gaddafi’s rule some of the benefits for a Libyan citizen included free electricity, no interest on bank loans, all newlyweds would receive US$50,000 from the state to buy an apartment, the country had no external debt and 87 percent of the population was literate. Gaddafi was indeed a dictator, and like all dictators, had a long list of imperfections and human rights abuses to his name. No one sensible can condone that list of errors.
But if you take an objective view of the situation from then and up till now, then it is clear that recent events in Libya prove that the country was far better off under Gaddafi’s rule, than under the so-called NTC government (and subsequent governments of the General National Congress and Council of Deputies), which again and again have demonstrated their failure to govern or unite the country.
The last words of a bloodied Gaddafi did not make sense when he posed the question to his captors,
“Do you know right from wrong?”
After all the bloody chaos (recently the beheading of Coptic Christians by Isis), one would hope that some of those militants who blindly fought Gaddafi’s rule under some misguided anti-dictator cum liberation sentiment now know right from wrong.