What started as a genuine revolution against Gaddafi, has been taken over by reactionary bourgeois elements. In the Interim Council, and now the newly formed Interim Government, direct representatives of imperialist interests have been promoted to leading positions.
The conditions that led to the beginning of the Libyan revolution in February were created by the policies that the Gaddafi regime has been following in recent years, involving opening up the economy to foreign investment and privatisations, that led to growing social problems, such as very high unemployment. Some calculate that it could be as high as 35%. This is the result of the dismantling of a part of the old state owned system.
Other important factors that fomented revolution are the rampant corruption within the regime and the stifling lack of democracy and basic rights. After decades of strict state censorship and control people feel they want to be able to speak their minds and put forward their grievances without running the risk of being imprisoned, tortured or simply “disappearing”.
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were the sparks that in these conditions led to the revolutionary uprising in cities like Al Bayda, Benghazi and Misurata. Initially the movement swept across Libya from city to city, and in such a massive upsurge the state de facto collapsed in many areas of the country. Power simply fell into the hands of the revolutionary people. As the revolt seemed to be winning in one town after another, the rebels in Libya thought Gaddafi’s regime would soon go, as did the imperialists. It seemed that Gaddafi’s days were numbered and that soon the uprising would engulf Tripoli. But it didn’t! We have explained why in Why has the revolution stalled in Libya?
Before it became evident that Gaddafi still had important reserves of support and also a well-trained and well-equipped military force, a section of the Gaddafi regime also drew the conclusion that the regime was about to fall. This explains the defections of a number of leading figures from within the regime, including ministers in Gaddafi’s government.
We have to ask ourselves why these individuals jumped ship so quickly. It is clear that they felt the revolution was going to go the same way as in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt and that Gaddafi would end up like Ben Ali and Mubarak. Just like the Egyptian military chiefs, these defectors must have thought that it was better to “side with the revolution” than to be swept away by it. No doubt they wanted to play the same role as the Egyptian generals or of figures like Gannouchi in Tunisia, i.e. put themselves at the head of the revolution in order to derail it and maintain it within safe limits.
The nature of the Interim Council and Government
This brings us to the role played by the Interim Council that was established in Benghazi. This Council was thrown up by a situation in which the masses had brought down state power, but did not know what to replace it with. There was a de facto power vacuum created. In this situation accidental elements came to the fore, who are now clearly playing a counter-revolutionary role.
Initially, the revolutionary youth were to the fore. From the very early days of the uprising we saw tension between this youth and the people appointed to the Interim Council. The youth were against outside interference. They wanted to carry out a revolutionary overthrow of Gaddafi. But that was not what the Council leaders wanted. They blocked attempts at a revolutionary overthrow and marginalised the revolutionary youth.
They successfully transformed what had started out as a genuine revolution into a war to remove Gaddafi, but without in anyway changing Libya’s relationship with imperialism, without in any way challenging the economic policies of Gaddafi. In fact on the economy both Gaddafi and the Council have similar positions: opening up to the west, privatisation, and so on.
How does one explain this dramatic turnaround in the situation? For this it is useful to look at the composition of the Council itself. The Interim Council has a significant number of individuals who had been part of the Gaddafi regime until very recently. These are people who have taken advantage of the sweep of the Arab revolution to push forward their own agenda inside Libya.
The President of the Interim Council is Gaddafi ex-Minister of Justice, Mustafa Abdel Jalil. We also have Gaddafi’s ex-Minister of the Interior, general Abdul Fattah Younes, who went over to the rebels at the end of February. Here we have two figures who until only a few weeks ago were in charge of Gaddafi’s police and judicial system. Among the “rebels” we also have the ambassadors to Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Malta and Italy, Abdel Monehim Al Honi, Libya’s ex-ambassador to the Arab League and Abdullarhin Shalgam, the ambassador to the UN.
The local councils which emerged in the cities where the revolution won, initially were made up of mainly human rights activists, lawyers, professors, experts of all sorts, some of which were most probably genuine democrats. Some of them were also appointed to the original Interim Council, together with former top Gaddafi officials. But now things have moved on further. As imperialist powers have become more and more involved in the conflict, they also want to make sure that their own people are leading the rebels, whom they do not trust completely. A whole layer of characters have now surfaced and been catapulted to the head of the rebels. Their common characteristic is that they are known to the West, some of them having spent decades in exile in the US, funded by the CIA and other agencies, others having been in charge of the implementation of the privatisation program and the “opening up of the economy” under Gaddafi.
One of these shady characters is Khalifa Hifter who only arrived in Benghazi on March 14, directly from his exile in the USA, and has been proclaimed as the military chief of the “Free Libya Army”. He is a former colonel in Gaddafi's army, who in the past set up the “Libyan National Army” which was a Contra-type group operating from within Chad, receiving training and funding from the CIA, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Iraq, the Saudis, donating $7million to the NSF. They also received support from French intelligence. Thus, the man now in charge of military operations is a direct agent of US imperialism.
A new “interim government” has been declared, and its make-up is an indication of the counter-revolution which has been carried out in the liberated areas of Libya. All of its members are also agents of imperialism.
Ali Tarhouni, who returned to Libya at the end of February, was appointed finance minister on 23 March. He fled Libya in 1973 in the period in which Gaddafi was beginning to move against private enterprise and was subsequently involved in the reactionary Libyan opposition abroad. He is a Senior Lecturer in Business Economics at the University of Washington and has always openly called for widespread privatisation in Libya.
Ali Abd-al-Aziz al-Isawi has been designated Minister of Foreign Affairs. He previously served as Secretary for Economy, Trade and Investment in Gaddafi’s regime. Prior to that he had founded the Centre for Export Development in 2006 and became its first Director General. He was also the Director General of the Ownership Expansion Programme (a privatization fund) in 2005.
Mahmood Jibril has been appointed Prime Minister of the Interim Government. Educated in Cairo and the US, he has spent most of his life training the Arab elite in capitalist managerial techniques. In 2007 he was appointed head of the National Economic Development Board in Libya, a semi-governmental body directly accountable to the Prime Minister, and charged with restructuring the economy and the state to make them compliant with international capitalism. A Wikileaks cable says this about a meeting with him at the US embassy:
“Jibril welcomed American companies, universities and hospitals to participate in this endeavour [of restructuring the economy]... According to Jibril, there are 11,000 development projects in Libya... The NEDB’s role in these projects is to ‘pave the way’ for private sector development, and to create a strategic partnership between private companies and the government.” (Full cable: 09TRIPOLI386)
Omar Mokhtar El-Hariri has been made Minister of Military Affairs. He was involved in the initial 1969 coup against the monarchy that brought Gaddafi to power. However, he was also involved in a plot to overthrow Gaddafi in 1975, a clear attempt to stop Gaddaf’s programme of nationalisations. After the coup failed, he was arrested, served 15 years in prison until 1990 when he was placed under house arrest. When the revolt erupted he sided with the rebels in the east.
As we can see, the lawyers and community activists, youth and so on, who were part of the initial Interim Council seem to have been pushed to one side. Of the four ministers so far announced we have two from the Gaddafi camp, two from the reactionary part of the opposition, but all of them stooges of imperialism. Some of them hark back to the early days of the Gaddafi regime, when it was an openly bourgeois military dictatorship. None of these can even be classed as “genuine democrats”. These are all people whom the US “know and trust”. All these people are direct agents of imperialism and are against the revolution.
It is precisely this change within the opposition, with its direct appeals to imperialist powers, that has strengthened Gaddafi. We have seen reports of people saying that they are against Gaddafi the tyrant, but if foreign powers bomb Libya they will stop fighting against him and join him in the fight against the imperialist aggressor. A recent report in The Independent explains that, “The conduct of those who should be allies nearer home is also causing problems for the rebels. At some towns and villages, residents turned against them and fought alongside loyalist troops.”
Imperialism manoeuvres behind scenes to defend its own interests
It is clear that imperialism has been manoeuvring behind the scenes to place trusted stooges in positions of command in the areas that have been liberated from Gaddafi’s forces. In all this the initial revolution has been snuffed out. We are no longer dealing here with a revolution to overthrow Gaddafi. It has become a pure imperialist aggression to remove one reactionary regime and replace it with a more pliant one.
If the government in the east should successfully come to power in the whole country it will not produce the regime that the masses wanted. It is sufficient to look at the Karzai regime in Afghanistan or the Maliki regime in Iraq to see what kind of regime we could expect to see in Libya. Any regime that comes to power on the back of imperialist bayonets cannot be a regime that solves the burning social and economic problems of the working masses. It cannot even guarantee genuine “bourgeois democracy”. It would be a regime in which the different factions and groupings, including the various tribal leaders, would vie for power and influence. It would be a corrupt regime, no better than that of Gaddafi’s.
The idea has been raised by some that this is a “war for oil”. Oil is a factor in the situation, but to limit one’s analysis to this would be simplistic to say the least, as imperialism already had access to Libyan oil, as the many lucrative contracts granted by the Gaddafi regime to foreign multinational oil corporations testify.
The decision taken by imperialism to intervene in Libya has to be viewed within the wider context of the ongoing Arab revolution. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions set in motion a process that has engulfed, to one degree or another, practically the whole of North Africa and the Middle East. Key countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing Gulf states, risk being toppled. Bahrain has seen a powerful movement that risked infecting Saudi Arabia.
Initially the imperialists were taken completely by surprise. Faced with the Egyptian revolution they did not know what to do. The Obama administration eventually concluded that some loosening up from the top was necessary in order to avoid losing control altogether.
Libya, however, has provided the opportunity for direct military intervention, which would have been impossible in Tunisia or Egypt. In Egypt they sent naval forces to the Suez Canal, but were unable to use them. In fact, had they used them they would have provoked massive opposition and would have destabilised the whole region even more.
In the case of Libya, however, they have taken advantage of the situation to present their intervention as being for “humanitarian” reasons. If this were the case, why are they not bombing the Bahraini regime, or the regime in the Yemen? There, they are de facto acquiescing to brutal repression of the revolution.
In Libya they have managed to place at the head of the rebels a government which is nothing other but their stooge. This “government of free Libya” called on the imperialists to impose a no-fly zone, thus giving the imperialists the cover they required. They can disguise their open imperialist aggression as being in “favour of the revolution”.
This allows them to regain some of the credibility they had lost in the Arab world after the war in Iraq, especially as the Arab League as well as the UN, who didn't support the war in Iraq, called for the action. It also establishes a precedent which can be used in the future to justify intervening in other countries.
For example, should the Saudi regime collapse, which is a concrete possibility in this situation, the US will not be able to simply stand back. The oil reserves there are crucial to the interests of all the imperialist powers, and they would have to intervene. Libya thus sets a dangerous precedent.
From no-fly zone to active intervention
It is now the stated policy of all the imperialist powers that Gaddafi must go, how and exactly when, they may not agree on. They still maintain, however, that the no-fly zone has been imposed merely to “defend civilians”. But where does one draw the line?
The intervention of NATO forces has already gone beyond the mere imposition of a no-fly zone. They are not just stopping Gaddafi’s planes from flying. They have bombed tanks, armoured cars, missile launchers and also specific buildings. This is not just about “defending civilians” as they claim. NATO has become the air force of the Interim Government in the east, i.e. of their own stooge government.
However, by simply stopping Gaddafi’s planes from flying they are not going to achieve his removal. He has far superior and better trained forces and this can be seen in the fighting that is taking place. The Interim Government’s forces are proving incapable of advancing militarily in any serious manner. In the past few days they have been pushed back from the positions that they had taken earlier, from Bin Jawad all the way back to Ajdabya, in spite of having the backing of NATO’s air power.
Thus, the only way they can really remove Gaddafi is to step up the level of NATO operations. There has now been some speculation as to whether NATO should arm the rebels. That would be the next logical step of the imperialist intervention. The only problem with that is that they are not sure where the arms would end up. That means the imperialists don’t fully trust the rebels to do the job for them.
Thus at some stage ground forces would have to be deployed. There has been admission to the fact that special forces, military advisers, etc., are already operating on the ground. The intervention risks becoming like Iraq, a war on the part of imperialism to impose a government to its liking. It has nothing whatsoever to do with supporting the revolution or guaranteeing the Libyan people their democratic rights.
Just as in Iraq, we must oppose imperialist aggression, be that in the form of aerial bombardment, “military advisers” or ground troops. Should the imperialists succeed in their aims in Libya, it would be a blow to the Arab revolution. Instead of a genuine expression of the will of the Libyan people we would have yet another imperialist-imposed stooge government that would proceed to serve the interests of imperialism.
Such a government would be corrupt and in the pockets of imperialism. It would proceed to accelerate the process of privatisation, which the multinational corporations would be keen to get involved in.
Let us not forget that in Afghanistan Karzai does not govern with a genuine mandate from the people. He wins elections through blatant fraud and stays in power thanks to the presence of foreign troops. In Iraq the “western-style democracy” has recently fired on peaceful protesters.
From the beginning we have made our opposition to Gaddafi and his regime clear. This was a dictatorial and oppressive regime which politically and economically was following imperialist dictated policies. However, the Libyan people cannot win genuine freedom by putting their fate in the hands of the imperialists. The Sarkozys and Camerons of this world are not interested in the youth and working people of Libya. Their interests are those of the capitalist class they represent. In their own countries they are attacking workers’ basic living conditions and are facing growing opposition as last Saturday half a million strong trade union demonstration in London clearly showed.
If Gaddafi is overthrown with the direct intervention of the military power of the imperialists, the people of Libya will not be free, but will have to prepare for a second revolution to remove the puppets of imperialism.