A liberated Libya remains haunted

A new Libyan government should devise policies that benefit the Libyan people, instead of avenging Gaddafi’s legacy.

‘Gaddafi is more of a nuisance, a security challenge; a background noise that will go away sooner rather than later’ [Reuters]

In order for Libya to liberate itself from four decades of the Gaddafi rule, it must also free itself from his persona.

Gaddafi no longer presents a political or even a tribal weight in the country. He’s more of a nuisance, a security challenge; a background noise that will go away sooner rather than later.

A liberated Libya 2011 is no occupied Iraq 2003. Contrary to certain sensationalist estimates, Gaddafi cannot seriously fight back long-term with a gold- or dollars-financed insurgency. The old man is finished, and neither he nor his family will be able to mount any serious challenge to reborn Libya.

Indeed, Gaddafi’s fate is bound to take similar path to his predecessors among the Arab dictators, whether exile, death, or prison.

Libya’s future, on the other hand, will be defined by more than bricks and ballots.

Psychologically and politically bruised, it will need a true reconciliation – including with its past – in order to build a better future.

Breaking with Gaddafi

Most of the civilians and fighters leading the revolution have either served under Gaddafi, served time in his prisons, or been forced into exile because of him. They are haunted by the image of the domineering and sadistic paternal figure who continuously molested his nation.

Listening to some of the Transitional National Council (TNC) officials speak of Gaddafi and his policies, it’s clear that they remain hostage to his persona even when he’s on the run and they’re in control of the capital Tripoli.

For example, Libya’s future relations with the African countries and the African Union cannot and must not be defined merely by opposition to Gaddafi’s past policies.

Gaddafi’s support for the ANC (which explains to a large degree South Africa’s hesitancy to recognise the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya) wasn’t wrong, even if the intentions were political: such were the anti-colonial/Cold War politics.

Likewise, the recently founded AU may have been a brainchild of Gaddafi, but it has since evolved into a serious organisation with momentous responsibilities that the continent badly needs.

Indeed, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya have important roles to play. If they don’t, others will take advantage of the young Arab democracies.

Bribes and corruption notwithstanding, helping some poor nations is not a waste of Libya’s wealth; indeed, investing in African nations is strategic in the long term.

That’s not to say that Libya’s reconstruction doesn’t come first. But that starts by devising policies on merit, not on the basis of how they fare with the Gaddafi legacy.

Just as the TNC leaders met with Gaddafi’s bedfellow, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, last week in order to unfreeze Libya’s assets, and asked those Europeans who embraced Gaddafi for military assistance, so they should also approach their African counterparts on the basis of mutual interests. There should be no Western exception.

In fact, unlike the South African President, French President Sarkozy supported Gaddafi and then turned against him for mostly cynical or state motives. The head of the ANC is acting less cynically, even if not exactly to the liking of the TNC. 

Freeing Libya starts with Libyans freeing themselves from their obsession with and hatred of Gaddafi. Not all those whom Gaddafi supported are Libya’s enemies.

That’s why Libya needs to go beyond, not merely opposite, the Gaddafi legacy. It will take time, but more importantly, it will take political maturity.

The challenge is to make decisions on the basis of what is good for the future of Libya, not what avenges the country’s recent past.

Healing the nation

For decades, Gaddafi has combined Libya’s politics, policies, and sovereignty in his eccentric leadership as if they were one and same.

However, healing the nation from the abuses of this “I-am-the-state” legacy begins by separating all that is political and ideological from the sovereignty of the nation.

That’s why in the transitional period, all measures must to be taken to underline the sovereignty, territorial unity and integrity of the nation under a civic and democratic constitution.

This is no time to give the West or NATO a foothold in Libya or distance Libya from its African hinterland. Not only will this be terribly divisive, but it’s also terribly wrong, in my personal view.

Rather, it begins with emphasising the inseparable national links between the West and the East, and the largesse of a Libya big enough for all its political trends and all its tribes – including Gaddafi’s. 

Libya can’t afford a mentality of revenge and retaliation, or an uprooting process similar to de-Ba’athification in Iraq. Its national reconstruction begins not with bricks, but with its peoples’ reconciliation. 

Only after they join forces to strengthen the national, legal and territorial infrastructure of a new pluralistic and diverse Libya should the various political trends – liberal, conservative or Islamist – underline their different visions for running their promising country.

These brave Libyans who proved they can’t be daunted by Gaddafi’s violence shouldn’t be haunted by his legacy.

Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst.

He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.


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