Don’t let Libya down

Libya is embroiled in bloodshed and chaos, terrorized and plundered by Daesh and feuding armed militias. Toothless rival governments—one operating out of Tripoli dominated by the Libyan Dawn, the other out of Tobruk, supported by the forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar—render the country virtually leaderless.

Once the wealthiest nation in the African continent Libya is on a fast-track to bankruptcy and a failed state, thanks to the fall in oil prices and low production.

This is not what the people had asked for when they turned against their longtime leader. I’m pretty sure that many, if not most, Libyans today look back on the Col. Muammar Qaddafi era as golden years. For all his weirdness—his travelling tent, his little Green Book, his burly female bodyguards—the ‘reign’ of Col. Qaddafi brought stability and massive social benefits, including free education, medical treatment and electricity.

Women enjoyed equal rights and equal pay. Citizens benefited from interest-free loans and 50 percent government subsidies on vehicle purchases.

Aspiring farmers were provided with land, equipment, seeds and livestock. The unemployed received salaries and on marriage, couples were gifted US$ 50,000 to begin their lives together.

Just as importantly, Qaddafi, although perceived as an authoritarian figure, was no dictator and didn’t deserve to end the way he did. People’s committees were legally empowered to override his decisions. Reagan’s anti-imperialist “Mad Dog of the Middle East” had mellowed and, ironically, before he was forced out of power he had dismantled his nuclear program and entered into strategic relationships with America and Europe.

The Libyan people were lured by Western-style democracy, just as many of their neighbors were; they were caught-up in the romance of revolution and now they are paying a heavy price. A former unnamed activist quoted by McClatchy DC, under the heading “Now fearful Libyans recall when life was sweet under Qaddafi,” summed up the general mood.

“We are not fighting for a civil state anymore or other rights like freedom of expression or freedom of anything,” she said. “We are just talking about freedom of life and freedom of food.” In a place where assassinations and bombings are weekly occurrences, Libyans who speak out prefer to do so anonymously.

It was NATO’s intervention that turned the tide against the Qaddafi regime, but although the member countries, the US, France and Britain, helped break it, they have no appetite to help fix it, at least not in any meaningful fashion. President Obama has admitted Libya was his greatest foreign policy mistake; that’s arguable. But if that’s what he believes, then why doesn’t he feel duty-bound to assist in putting the country to rights? He had no problem rushing in to topple Qaddafi, but is less enthusiastic to cleanse the country of terrorists.

Endless conferences or United Nations mediation won’t cut it. Military might brought Libya to its knees and only military might can free the country from the scourge of violence and terrorism. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that the two governments were able to form a government of national unity; not an easy task when they hold wildly opposing world views. That would be a good start but without a fully functioning military, does anyone imagine that self-interested militias, armed secessionists and Daesh that has a foothold around Derna, are going to melt away?

The legitimate internationally recognized government in Tobruk has admitted its forces lack the weapons to take on Daesh; it’s asked the UN Security Council to lift the weapons embargo, thus far to no avail.

Government spokesman Hatem Al-Oraibi expressed his frustrations, saying, “Unfortunately, the international community abandoned the Libyan people. After contributing to the overthrow of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s regime, it left the people to face terrorism without any support.” He hopes that the Joint Arab Force, currently being formed, will come to his country’s aid.

Trouble is, the US is actively discouraging Arab countries from taking military action on the grounds that the solution lies with dialogue. Egypt was condemned for bombing Daesh weapons warehouses and training camps in response to the beheading of Coptic Christians. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has repeatedly called for a UN-supported international military intervention. Egypt’s long, porous border with Libya makes it especially vulnerable. Tunisia is in the process of building a 220-km security fence to deter terrorist infiltrations and weapons trafficking.

In recent days, Libya’s government has asked its Arab allies to strike Daesh that’s recently overtaken areas of the city of Sirte, desecrated by a display of bodies hung grotesquely over bridges.

Libyans hope for a decisive answer; my hope is that the Arab League won’t let them down.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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