Goodbye Brother Leader, hullo uncertainty


Benjamin MacQueen

It should not be surprising that the final collapse of the Gaddafi regime came amidst a swirl of misinformation, government propaganda, and media mania. This has been the nature of Libyan politics since the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" took power 42 years ago. Indeed, even in the breath-taking pace of the "Arab Spring", the uprising in Libya has defied all forms of convention.

Gaddafi met his demise at the hands of a disorganised tribally-based insurgency that was led largely by former regime military figures and backed by NATO airpower acting on behalf of Security Council Resolution 1970 and an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

As it stands, the Muammir’s favoured son, Saif al-Islam, is in custody, awaiting extradition to The Hague whist the hunt continues for his father who will seek exile in a state that is not an ICC state party. This may include a number of African states, but would count out his likely destination of Venezuela.

Putting aside the tumult surrounding the collapse of the regime, the simple yet exceedingly complex question that will be increasingly asked is: what next?

What next in the short term to manage the immediate power vacuum in the country?

What next in the medium to long term in building new institutions?

What next in how to manage the intense interest in Libya’s future political and economic development from the Middle East, Africa, Western Europe and the United States?

These issues are interlinked, but perhaps converge more overtly in relation to Libya than they have in Tunisia or Egypt for two reasons. The first stems from the very nature of Gaddafi’s rule. Libyan politics was systematically dismantled under Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya where local and tribal allegiances were exploited to ensure direct, centralised rule.

This is certainly nothing new in terms of authoritarian politics, but Gaddafi’s model was highly personalised, with power exerted through local congresses by the Revolutionary Command Council, a coterie of close associates and family members. Whilst other authoritarian regimes used political institutions to exert personalised rule, Gaddafi ensured that this was informalised as much as possible, a situation enabled by Libya’s relatively small population and through sheer force and oppression of dissent.

As such, the National Transitional Council, the ad hoc leadership of the uprising movement, has no political machinery to work with. Indeed, they are reflective of the tribal mode of rule enforced by Gaddafi, consisting largely of groups from Cyrenaica that have historically been marginalised by the government. In constructing the new Libya, they will have to create stability in the short term to resist challenges to their own authority whilst embarking on the mammoth task of building new political institutions from scratch.

The second factor relates to Libya’s oil. Libya does stand as an exception on the surface for this reason; being the only country currently facing a significant uprising with large-scale oil deposits (Bahrain has relatively small deposits, particularly compared to its Gulf neighbours). However, this is complicated further in Libya’s case in that holds some of the world’s largest Light Sweet Crude reserves. The quality of Libyan crude oil, in addition to the volume of the deposits, makes Libya a significant player on the global energy market.

Europe is a particularly voracious consumer of Libyan oil due to proximity and the minimal refining Libyan crude requires. Therefore, should these events and the transitions to a new regime significantly interrupt supply, there will be major flow-on effects for European economic stability, a particularly sensitive issue across the continent at the moment.

Therefore, the Europeans and North Americans will take a direct interest in what new political arrangements emerge in Tripoli, an interest that may become more overt and vocal should there be an extended period of disorganisation. One may even venture to guess that the message will be delivered that NATO assistance did not come cheap.

Saying this, it is worth reflecting on the operation itself. We have witnessed what may emerge as a new model for NATO/US/EU operations where local uprisings are supported through targeted operations, sanctions, and even criminal actions against individual rulers. This has myriad consequences, all of which remain opaque, particularly in terms of how often, where and when this is applied.

More than any of this, however, the Libyan people face a new reality today, one denied them for the past 42 years.

There will be more chaos, and likely more violence. However, what will hopefully emerge is something more than a self-appointed control by a new select few.

Dr Benjamin MacQueen is Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University. 

House Rules

Comments (40)

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  • Ture Sjolander :

    23 Aug 2011 11:50:46am

    If (it happen already) the Gaddafi loyalists dress up and mingle with the 'rebels', and 'arrest' their own people no one would know at this point in time, and NATO would not know who to aim for.
    In other words uniforms are useless and the news media too would loose it's importance as a 'weapon' in this ugly game.

    • Doug Quixote :

      23 Aug 2011 11:50:34am

      It is a sad situation where oppressive secular regimes are most likely to be replaced by oppressive Islamist regimes, under the guise of democracy. :

      Iran : Shah of Iran to Ayatollahs, authoritarian regime

      Iraq : Saddam Hussein to corrupt authoritarian/flawed democracy regime

      Afghanistan : Taliban to corrupt authoritarian regime, probable Islamist warlord devolution if ISAF leaves

      Egypt : Mubarak to probable Islamist authoritarian regime

      Libya : Gaddafi to probable Islamist authoritarian/flawed democracy

      Syria : Assad to probable Islamist authoritarian regime.

      I'm sure there are others in this incomplete survey, but the trends are not greatly encouraging. Be careful what you wish for.

      • ant :

        23 Aug 2011 8:28:17am

        Let the people rule. That's what democracy is supposed to be but the conservatives hate that idea. They lose sleep over it every night.

        • FunkyMonkey :

          22 Aug 2011 10:20:39pm

          There is a larger picture many people do not see yet and that is the globally expanding militarism of the U.S./NATO/Israel alliance. Not only are strategic opponents of this alliance being successively targeted for regime change but this is occurring in conjunction with the militarisation and global expansion of military alliances. Despite the fact that history seems to be largely repeating, there is little recognition of this situation. The militarism of a different military alliance is now globally expanding as is the parallel military encirclement of Russia and China with military bases, multi-layered missile architecture.

          They tell us their missile shield is not aimed against us, but we tell them our calculations show it is aimed against us. (Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov) [and] This is a decision that has been made. We will not change it. (NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the alliance's decision to build multi-layered missile architecture) [and] If they (NATO) do not by the end of the year tell us exactly what they're planning ... we will respond. (Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin) [and] We are starting to build a deterrent construct that will be better than mutual assured destruction. (U.S. General James E. Cartwright) [and] We will never give any one control over our red button, never....... a NATO decision to go ahead with the missile defence system in its present form, without consulting Moscow, would have serious consequences. (Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin).

          With the parallel targeting of successive strategic opponents, the global expansion of U.S./NATO military infrastructure, the significant U.S. armament of Taiwan, escalating tension in the South China Sea, the impending conflict with Iran (and possibly Syria, Lebanon and Hamas), the probability of eventual conflict with North Korea, the militarisation of energy resource conflicts and the dangerous pursuit of nuclear primacy (the ability to launch a first strike in the event of war and destroy any surviving retaliatory missiles, which Russia and China have stated they will not allow others to attain this capability), there is a bigger picture many people do not see yet. If we do not recognise the likely result of current developments, it is unfortunate that within a few years, we probably will. How many forget what little spark is needed to set off an inferno capable of biblical consequences that will eclipse all previous wars. Let's see how many believe in war then.

            • Attention Kmart Shoppers :

              23 Aug 2011 10:39:11am

              A week from now, Left "intellectuals" will need to back-flip entirely on this sort of deranged rhetoric.

              By then, it will be changed to: "Gaddafi was long supported and armed by the West...."

              And the "intelligentsia" will shift their support to some other clown dictator.

                • FunkyMonkey :

                  23 Aug 2011 11:44:38am

                  Time will tell who is right and who is wrong and it is likely that we won't have to wait too long. In the meantime, feel free to believe whatever makes you feel better.

              • JoeBloggs :

                23 Aug 2011 2:10:47pm

                ummmmm.... "doomsday" was a couple of months ago... it came and went.

                and please humour me...

                so what is Russia going to do about it? start a nuke war? very unlikely whilst Putin is enjoying his dictatorship....*cough*... i mean presidency...*cough*.....i mean prime ministership.

                so what is China going to do about it? start a nuke war? and ruin all their hard work at obtaining a global economic dominance? Do you seriously believe the "democratically" elected dictators what to give up all their wealth?

                The rest are irrelevant little puppets.

                  • FunkyMonkey :

                    23 Aug 2011 3:59:46pm

                    ummmmm.... "doomsday" was a couple of months ago... it came and went.

                    In what fantasy world of yours was doomsday a couple of months ago? Nuclear war would only likely result from a seriously escalation in conflict between different nuclear armed alliances, not the successive military actions against non-nuclear armed countries. However, as the targeting of successive strategic opponents of the U.S./NATO/Israel alliance is being pursued in parallel with the global military expansion of multi-layered missile architecture, military bases, joint operation air forces, naval forces and the expansion and militarisation of opposing strategic alliances, it should be obvious that eventually an isolated conflict can ignite a far larger conflict understanding strategic treaty obligations.

                    You have little understanding that conflicts often escalate out of the control of any one party or that actions that create an existential threat to other nations will invite a largely predictable response in the event of conflict but you, your family and in fact all of us shall in all probability experience this phenomenon first hand within a few years. But please feel free to dismiss this assessment as you almost certainly will.

            • Shahram A :

              22 Aug 2011 10:17:06pm

              Well said. Thank you for your insights. It's very scary to imagine the future. I don't see an easy road to democracy. Instead a lot of pent up sub-state regional interests and energies will be coming up to the fore.

              • FunkyMonkey :

                22 Aug 2011 9:55:55pm

                One thing is certain, military interventions to achieve regime change will not stop with Libya. Many do not yet understand that Libya is merely the latest country targeted for regime change. After Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, the U.S./NATO/Israel alliance has other countries targeted for regime change including Iran, Syria, Lebanon, North Korea, Sudan, Algeria, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Belarus and even Russia (through covert support of opposition groups), being countries that are not aligned with U.S. interests.

                The pattern of pursuing regime change involves strategies of demonization to rally public support, covert support of uprisings / colour revolutions, economic strangulation through sanctions (or blockades), covert armament of opposition groups and finally (if other strategies are unsuccessful) a pretext for direct military intervention.

                The events in Libya are no basis for celebration. Unfortunately, this globally expanding aggressive militarism is far from over. To a large extent, history is repeating. It is a shame many did not learn from history and therefore we are all condemned to repeat it. Let’s hope any surviving generations actually learn from our history. It should be self-evident that there will be no winners at the end of this phenomenon of globally expanding militarism.

                  • JoeBloggs :

                    23 Aug 2011 2:17:09pm

                    Do you realise that Russia and also China both separately want to also control all those countries (via their 'man' or puppet) you listed?

                    Do you realise this 'game' of geopolitical dominance has been played for decades by the current super powers, and for thousands of years (by the powers of the time) when one cares to look at history.

                    Nothing new, just the same old human behaviours, one civilisation will have dominance for a while, their power will wain, another will rise.... yawn.

                      • FunkyMonkey :

                        23 Aug 2011 3:27:07pm

                        Some argue that man would not allow another world war to develop. Others would argue that it is unlikely that man would suddenly change established patterns of behaviour has evident throughout thousands of years of history.

                        Just as it is obvious that wars have increased in their destructive capabilities throughout human history with the development of military technology, ending in fire bombings of entire cities and atomic warfare in the last world war, it is easy to understand the likely outcome of any third global conflict resulting from an confrontation between different nuclear armed alliances. If faced with an existential threat, it should come as no surprise that all means of retaliation will be employed.

                        Only a fool would not realise that mankind must eliminate war or war will eventually eliminate most of mankind. As I stated before, time will tell who is right and who is wrong.

                • Jerra :

                  22 Aug 2011 8:16:48pm

                  Yeah, they will have something today they haven't had for 42 years. America. God help them.

                  • Dave :

                    22 Aug 2011 7:22:55pm

                    Libya is a desert on the edge of the sea. Take the oil away and there is nothing of value there, no culture or product that can be marketed to the world. It's no Dubai and not likely to ever be one.

                    • Peter Schmidt :

                      22 Aug 2011 6:29:46pm

                      I don't know much about Lybia, however around 1980 to 1985 there were a lot of Lybian students in Hungary studying agriculture trades. Everything was paid by their state. They loved Gaddafi, they said he put people first, he was the last one to move into a brick house, etc. Healthcare was the envy of the arab world. Of course the west did not like it, because he tried to share the oil wealth with his people.
                      Maybe there is a lot of sides to every story, which we did not get to hear.

                        • persep :

                          22 Aug 2011 6:59:09pm

                          It may help your credibility slightly if you bothered to check your spelling of the name of the country. Not much, but slightly.

                          • Ture Sjolander :

                            22 Aug 2011 7:40:08pm

                            Certainly this is not a civil war.

                            • Peter B :

                              22 Aug 2011 10:57:36pm

                              I don't think there's any secret to the fact that Libyans had a high standard of living, thanks to oil money. The problem is that they also had a horribly oppressive society, in which many people lived in fear of arrest, jail, torture or death simply for speaking their minds.

                              For example: "Libya also rejected a recommendation [by the UN Human Rights Council] to investigate past cases of enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions, including the fate of 1,200 detainees killed in Abu Salim Prison in June 1996, although the government made a public commitment in September 2009, after years of refusing to even confirm their deaths, to investigate the episode."


                              In other words, that's Amnesty International, speaking last year, before the uprising.

                          • philip andrew travers :

                            22 Aug 2011 6:22:57pm

                            Your opinion,and that is exactly what it is,provides no evidence of the reasons for the opinion itself in any manner that could be substantiated both forensically and any other possible type of proof.That is, you are indulging,from a long distance away in second rate history gathering and much else which proves, beyond all responsible and reasonable doubt,that you are a agent of influence,rather than a dedicated providor of truth that can be ascertained.I am shocked by how easy ,people like you get away with this.

                              • jonathan samuel deighton :

                                22 Aug 2011 8:07:04pm

                                Philip, I'm interested in what people think, which is why I read the opinion section of the ABC website. This is not the Encyclopaedia Britannica, nor is it presented as such thank goodness.

                            • dubious the third :

                              22 Aug 2011 6:19:49pm

                              Did they get rid of all insects in Libya, or just the flies?
                              It may seem like a silly question, but how else can one interpret the "no fly zone" that was declared prior to persistent massive air strikes?

                              It was reported months ago that the new provisional puppet government has already signed over all the oil belonging to the Libyan people. The Libyan bank was also privatised months ago.
                              Of course the people who signed such things were not representing the LIbyan people, it's not like they were ever elected. The are installed by US/NATO, same as in Iraq.
                              At least no-one is pretending that NATO and/or the US is bringing democracy, since Gadaffi (or his son) may have won an election if it were held. That's why they have to be removed from the scene. How fatuous that Dr Ben writes "the Europeans and North Americans will take a direct interest in what new political arrangements emerge in Tripoli". Sheesh, it's already been decided, why retend otherwise?

                              Just like the Arab Spring of the 1920s, the recent uprisings have been quelled by the same ol' colonial powers, and now they've reportedly gotten regime change for obstructionist neighbours like Gadaffi. Do we start applauding now?

                                • Peter Schmidt :

                                  22 Aug 2011 6:56:47pm

                                  Very well said.

                                  • Rashid :

                                    22 Aug 2011 9:10:23pm

                                    Very nice, Dubious.
                                    As Dave has said above—“Take the oil away and there is nothing of value there” suggest that for forty two years, Gadaafi was tolerated in spite of him being a thorn in the side of the West, that the politics of Oil again is hitching a free ride on the wagon, this time on ‘the Arab spring’.

                                    Dave may not be right though in saying that there is nothing of value there. The Americans know every thing there is of value in all the countries of the world, don’t they?

                                    • JoeBloggs :

                                      23 Aug 2011 2:22:53pm

                                      You have to applaud their cunning though.

                                      Decades locked out of the country, then suddenly a thaw... release a terrorist here, promise some cheap technology to improve oil production there, .... slip in a few spies, stir up a bit of trouble.... support the uprising with the media (and the odd bomb).... and "da daaaa" you have a brand new friendly nation ready to do business.

                                      Cool huh! ......I bet the Chinese are fuming!

                                  • Chaz :

                                    22 Aug 2011 5:59:33pm

                                    Nice article, Europe needs to udnertsand that like iraq & egypt the result of this overthrowing of another Middle Eastern despot and his family of kleptocrats will not be bloodless and may not fully in line with queensbury rules.

                                    There may be islamists in the next government but their influence may be minimal as Libyans have been more used to a secular society.

                                    In the end there is likely to be a COIN aspect to the transistion which should be primairily left to the Libyans to sort out. In the end NATO's primary role is in its end days.

                                    Now looking forward to all the hang wringing from Russia (prob down about $4 billion in arms sales), Venezuala & Argenitna (at the loss of a fellow progressive leader) & the PRC (at outside interference of another countries internal repression) oh and all the progressives who believe in what the above will spout out, rather than what Downing street, Mons and the Elysee palace says.

                                    I am looking forward to Syria being next on the list of a repressive country about to lose it's leader and his thieving family.

                                    • DocMercury :

                                      22 Aug 2011 5:30:09pm

                                      Memories of the European division of Peking, which did not come out well for above-the-table negotiators.

                                      Subsequently, negotiations have been done beneath the table.

                                      Ultimately however, the Chinese took back Beijing completely and gained Macau and Hong Kong on side wagers, along with Tibet, and only sacrificed Formosa in the process for as long as it takes, which for China can be somewhen near about 2311.

                                      Iraq has apparently been retaken by Iraqi, as viewed upon the small stage and in the smaller picture than the big picture view of China.

                                      Libya, like Egypt recently, Lebanon earlier, and Croatia-Yugoslavia before that, will sort out their problems of leadership far more quickly, it is hoped, than did Vietnam, which required about 30 years of warfare because of interference from outside.

                                      Worth remembering, before considering any return of a Shah to Iran.

                                        • Peter B :

                                          22 Aug 2011 11:01:04pm

                                          Doc Mercury said: "Libya, like Egypt recently, Lebanon earlier, and Croatia-Yugoslavia before that, will sort out their problems of leadership far more quickly, it is hoped, than did Vietnam, which required about 30 years of warfare because of interference from outside."

                                          I hope you haven't forgotten there was considerable "interference from outside" in the case of Croatia-Yugoslavia. Had it not happened, the current circumstances of that part of the world would be very different, and quite unpleasant for Muslims.

                                            • DocMercury :

                                              23 Aug 2011 12:19:17pm

                                              Fair enough Peter.
                                              Mostly nations fail in the same way as do schools and hospitals. They'd be really good places to be, if it were not for all the students/patients/people.

                                      • Shane 2 :

                                        22 Aug 2011 5:28:20pm

                                        Fascism is always better than caos.

                                        • marion daubney :

                                          22 Aug 2011 5:27:24pm

                                          I am 79 years old but, I assure you, I am not senile. Thank you for giving me pure journalist water when I was intellectually dying of thirst.

                                          Yours sincerely,

                                          (Miss) Marion Daubney,
                                          Newcastle. N.S.W.
                                          (The Intellectual Drought Lands of New South Wales)

                                            • Helvi :

                                              22 Aug 2011 5:51:37pm

                                              Marion, I believe there is also an artistic drought happening out there...

                                          • Anon :

                                            22 Aug 2011 4:36:04pm

                                            Now is a time for reflection.

                                            We must reflect on the many people who stated that NATO's actions would fail and the rebels would be crushed. Their faulty predictions will need to be kept in mind when contemplating their protests in the future.

                                            We must reflect on the military action itself. The way in which NATO masterfully clipped away at Gaddafi's armies until they were crippled and broken, without a single Western soldier needing their boots on the ground. This will need to be kept in mind when contemplating the use of Western military force in the future.

                                            We must reflect on Gaddafi's use of propaganda. The way he continued to state that rebels were being pushed back and defeated, even to the day when those rebels stormed Tripoli itself. Amusing, but also a serious reminder of the delusions held by those who oppose the West.

                                            And we must reflect on the future. Gaddafi seems to be on the verge of historic defeat. It is also a historic defeat for his de facto supporters, all those who opposed NATO action to remove him. May they always fail.

                                              • D J SCHWAn :

                                                22 Aug 2011 11:03:01pm

                                                Dearest Anon,we must also reflect on NATO's use of Al Qaeda's troop in fighting their battles.We must also reflect on NATO and its western allies stealing billions of Libyan dollars,monies that belong to Libyan peoples.We must also reflect upon the reasons why they chose this country over stronger ones.We must also reflect upon why we are involved at all.We must also reflect upon the propaganda we have been fed a constant diet of in order to fool us into supporting this invasion.To do all of this reflecting we will need a large mirror indeed.Reflect on,doodle...

                                            • ColdWarWarriors :

                                              22 Aug 2011 4:35:22pm

                                              Lets hope Gaddaffi is quickly apprehended and brought to justice, last thing we want is another Bin Laden 10 year manhunt.

                                              • Matt :

                                                22 Aug 2011 4:29:35pm

                                                Food, water, fuel, ammo for the enemy the capital no longer under siege. Qaddafi loyalist hiding among the population, the gap closed negating the one advantage the rebels had air power. Whats not to like.

                                                The loyalist just faded away into the population, now mixed in with the rebels as well as civilians, where are the 15,000 government troops, the tribes. Khamis is the one you have to watch, where is he and all those troops and tribes he commands?

                                                • Mission Accomplished :

                                                  22 Aug 2011 4:27:28pm

                                                  "Part of the drive to reshape the Middle East comes from the Christian fundamentalist belief that a major conflagration will fulfil biblical prophecies of a catastrophic conflict in the region. To the extent that it reflects this type of thinking, American foreign policy is itself fundamentalist."

                                                  - John Gray, 'Al Qaeda and what it means to be modern', faber & faber, London, 2003, p95.

                                                  Funny how the much derided 'Freedom Agenda' seems to be playing out, isn't it?

                                                  • Other dictators very upset :

                                                    22 Aug 2011 4:18:33pm

                                                    VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez, a staunch of ally of embattled strongman Muammar Gaddafi, has slammed Western powers for "destroying Tripoli with their bombs," as rebels surged to seize control of the Libyan capital.

                                                    "Today we are seeing images of the democratic governments of Europe, along with the supposedly democratic Government of the United States destroying Tripoli with their bombs," Chavez said on Sunday.


                                                    Puts poor old John Pilger in a spot when the boss goes on like that, I bet.

                                                    Still, not quite as bizarre as Syria's President Assad who keeps insisting that Gaddafi is still in power.

                                                    Best joke today?....

                                                    "Muammar Gaddafi has defected to the rebels, appointing himself as their leader, the Libyan dictator announced today in a six hour speech."

                                                    • Tony :

                                                      22 Aug 2011 4:17:16pm

                                                      "..the Europeans and North Americans will take a direct interest in what new political arrangements emerge in Tripoli ..."
                                                      I'd imagine so since they have pretty well dictated them at gunpoint for the past 6 months.

                                                        • Peter B :

                                                          22 Aug 2011 11:04:18pm

                                                          Before the uprising the Europeans were happy to buy Gaddafi's oil. They had no reason to overthrow him.

                                                      • realist :

                                                        22 Aug 2011 4:06:01pm

                                                        Hopefully there are enough strong leaders to make democracy work for all the different tribal groups without fear or favour. After years of a dictatorship the people deserve good government.