As the Libyan crisis continues, we witness a vast array of views within the ranks of anti-imperialist activists and radical writers. Richard Falk’s present article is one such example (Qaddafi, Moral Interventionism, Libya, and the Arab Revolutionary Moment). In this article he has raised many questions about the military intervention by the Western powers and the role of the Libyan opposition who have challenged Qaddafi’s long dictatorial regime.
Although he rightly says that Qaddafi had forfeited the legitimacy of his rule because of his long rule, maintained by an oppressive closed system, his views on the opposition that rose to challenge the despot need some critical assessment. I am commenting on only one or two points.
Does the anti-Qaddafi opposition that eventually rose against the dictator has no political identity or no political aspirations? For the last 41 years, the vast majority of Libyans had seen only the oppressive political order of Qaddafi; they had no chance to evolve an independent political identity. He did not allow any such activity; or freedom to meet or express any critical views against his rule. He had a vast authoritarian system in place throughout Libya where no opposite viewpoint was tolerated. Despite such an oppressive system, it is quite possible that ordinary men and women were dissatisfied with his rule and his policies. Not hard to imagine that they must had their hopes and aspirations for freedom, democracy and the end of his tyranny. This is despite the fact that he has some loyal followers who have been mesmerised by their ‘great leader’.
We should keep in mind that the pro-democracy movement that challenged Qaddafi cannot be regarded to have arisen due to some sort of conspiracy either. There were discontented elements within the military, bureaucracy and civil society. Libya was and is part of the common ossified Arab political order in the Middle East and North Africa. But the uprising that started in Tunisia gave inspiration to the Arab masses everywhere including Libya. That also means that Libyan pro-democracy movement has a general political context.
The popular uprising against Qaddafi was not confined to any one place even though Qaddafi had his major base of support in Tripoli. The people who stood against the heavily armed forces of Qaddafi are mostly ordinary people who had little or no training in the use of weapons. Their weapons have been small arms and rifles that are hardly a match to what the Qaddafi’s loyal forces have. When Qaddafi and his son Saif (the ‘PhD’ man!) threatened to take Benghazi by military force without any mercy to the rebels they meant what they said. By a clever propaganda trick the regime announced the first ceasefire and used the interval to bring the army and heavy weapons to crush Benghazi. The bloodbath in Benghazi was averted when the French intervened and destroyed Libyan tanks and heavy armour.