Gloating about their resplendent achievement in Libya, an anonymous British official stated in an interview with the ‘Economist’ that ‘NATO’s involvement in the Libyan uprising means that ‘now we own it”.

By Sobia Hanif

The Libyan Revolution is undoubtedly the most significant event in contemporary world politics. The collapse of Col. Gaddafi’s 42 year old despotic regime presents a new dawn for the Libyan people who may cherish the boons of democracy after decades of tyrannical rule. On the contrary, there is a note of grave concern amongst all the optimism. If things were to go terribly wrong, the oil-rich African state could be plunged into turmoil with the out break of civil war amongst various power hungry factions, with foreign involvement further exasperating the dire situation. For now all eyes are on the performance of the National Transitional Council (NTC) which is the leading body responsible for coordinating efforts to dismantle Gaddafi’s forces and consequently, his control over Libya.

The NTC was established in February this year and comprises of people across the Libyan society. While the NTC has been widely acclaimed for the constructive role it has played in the Libyan uprising, it has also been subjected to criticism on two major accounts. Firstly, the NTC comprises of individuals who are mostly dissidents of the Gaddafi regime but have not been elected by the popular vote and therefore, do not reflect the desires and aspirations of the Libyan people. Secondly, in order to defeat Col. Gaddafi and his forces the NTC resorted to ask for western assistance. In a country which has been breeding on hatred against the United States and the west for so long, the NTC’s initiative has been viewed with much skepticism. It is no longer a secret now that the NATO forces initial mission to launch airstrikes in order to protect Libyan civilians soon transformed into a comprehensive strategy, integrating undercover ground troops along with massive jet power to defeat Col. Gaddafi’s forces.

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The NTC now faces a number of renewed challenges. While the hunt for Gaddafi continues amid a huge bounty of $1.5m placed on his head, the war-torn country faces the 

perils of civil unrest. After the initial united efforts to overthrow Gaddafi succeed, there is a potential risk that the various factions may develop differences and engage in a tug of war for control over Tripoli. This, in turn could lead to further loss of human life and an embittered state of affairs for the rebel factions as well as the Libyan society. With extensive arms having been distributed by Col. Gaddafi’s forces to his civilian supporters on one hand and the western supply of arms to anti Gaddafi elements, the entire Libyan society seems to be in possession of weapons by now. The NTC will have to devise policies to disarm the population or else the dangers of a mishandled isolated incident could trigger the outbreak of bitter fighting between various armed elements.

With much of the Libyan territory now under the rebel’s control, there is a fear that a culture of vengeance might overpower the desire for a peaceful transition to democracy. A number of incidents have been reported in which Gaddafi loyalists were shot in the hand by rebel fighters to signify their loyalty to the tyrannical despot. The recent discovery of mass executions of 52 Libyans on August, 23rd 2011 has created a sense of urgency among the NTC to restore peace in Libya. Although the rebels have disowned this inhuman act and held Gaddafi and his forces responsible for it, the facts need to be winnowed from fiction as yet. It has called upon all Libyans to show restraint and tolerance towards one another. Mustafa Abdul Jalil has threatened a number of times to resign as chairman of the NTC if the rebel commanders did not respect the law indicating that atrocities were also being committed against Gaddafi loyalists.


Another issue that lies dormant for now is the uncanny murder of the NTC military chief, Abdul Fattah Younis. He served as interior minister in Gaddafi’s regime but revolted against him soon after the Libyan uprising gained momentum. His tribesmen are demanding a thorough interrogation and retribution from the NTC. This, in turn could lead to splits in the rebel ranks and precipitate further unrest.

The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon in a recent statement has asserted that ‘there is a need to put an end to the conflict and restore order and stability’. The African Union, Arab League and European Union have also called for halting human suffering and restoring peace in Libya. The NTC has responded to these calls by inviting police forces from Arab and Muslim states to help in restoring the peace in Libya.

While NATO has played a pivotal role in bringing down Gaddafi’s forces in coordination with the NTC, the assistance does not come without a price. Countries which have played the most significant role in the NATO’s mission in Libya feel they are entitled to a lion’s share in its oil reserves once the dust begins to settle. The UK, Italy and France along with The United States are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries, whereas China and Russia may be left licking their wounds as both states have not yet formally recognized the NTC despite meeting their representatives.

Germany also shocked its European allies with its refusal to back a UN Security Council resolution authorizing NATO intervention in Libya on humanitarian grounds. Later on, Germany extended recognition to the NTC as the sole representative of the Libyan people this June. The Arab League and the European Union have also accepted the NTC as the primary political force in Libya. However the African Union has voiced its concerns over the legitimacy of the NTC and has criticized it for lack of transparency in its decision making process.

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NATO’s presence in Libya signifies a renewed challenge for the NTC. While the western forces may have intervened in Libya on humanitarian grounds, an early departure does not seem imminent. Having attained a strong foothold in the African heartland, Libya presents a golden opportunity to the West for securing its oil interests in the region. The country produced 1.6 million barrels of oil prior to the war and has oil reserves worth 46 billion, the largest in Africa. 

Some analysts have referred to this as the “second colonization of Africa”. This can be best understood as coming straight from the horse’s mouth. Gloating about their resplendent achievement in Libya, an anonymous British official stated in an interview with the ‘Economist’ that ‘NATO’s involvement in the Libyan uprising means that ‘now we own it”. Therefore, another daunting task for the NTC would be to rid itself of western influence. A failure to do so would greatly undermine the sacrifices made for emancipation by the Libyan people thus replacing an authoritarian rule with western domination.