The first signs of roadside executions by the victorious rebels in Tripoli should serve a warning that all will not necessarily be well with the new regime, if indeed it finally ever gets established. While there is no doubt that the victory was hard won, even with most of the experts pronouncing that “Frizz head” (as the rebels call him) is finished, it does not necessarily reflect massive support for the rebel cause since NATO air support had a huge impact on swinging the balance in the rebels’ favour. The frequent assertions of the Benghazi-based Interim Transitional National Council to be representative of the people of Libya, while clearly acceptable to the Arab League, France and Portugal, has met with only grudging approval from the other interested parties and the 30 or so nations now accepting the council, seem to view it as a marriage of convenience. On looking at the membership of the Council the key leaders seem largely dominated by the anti Gaddafi half of the tribal divide.
The rebels’ leadership is also strongly dominated by the previously downtrodden tribes from the north-eastern Harabi confederation and some of the key Gaddafi leaders who defected early on also had Harabi affiliation. These tribes have strong affiliations with Benghazi that date back to before the 1969 revolution which brought Gaddafi to power. The fact that the rebels in Misrata (which is nearer Tripoli) claim that they have no intention of taking orders from the Transitional National Council underlines the failure of the Council to convince all of their representational status. The rebels have been supported by a motley collection of those wishing to dominate in the area including al Qaeda. Although the official line from Britain takes no official note of the underlying sectarian and tribal interests, it is unlikely that their diplomats and intelligence organisations have not kept their government informed. Despite President Obama’s muted protests cautioning against on the ground support of such a disparate group including al Qaeda, the US are compromised by their commitment to NATO and their natural desire not to have their NATO allies take over control the rich oil reserves by default.
Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” When the rebels arrived in Tripoli, the abrupt surrender of the force commissioned with the defence of Tripoli appears to have been strongly influenced by their leader whose brother had been executed some years ago by Gaddafi. In this case of rebel victory, the likely revenge killings in the aftermath of the fall of Tripoli are only one part of the equation. Many of the key oil workers have fled, many to Egypt, and it is hard to imagine they will be in a hurry to return until there are clear signs of stability. Since some of the more nationalistic of the rebels have made it clear they want a more equitable share of the oil revenues, the oil contracts will presumably need to be renegotiated. Since many of the Libyan leaders in the industry had clear ties to the Gaddafi government it is far from clear how this will be accomplished
Despite President Obama’s assurances 5 months ago that the US support for NATO was only to protect embattled civilians in places like Benghazi and that it would be over in a matter of weeks, the US involvement with NATO grew by the expected “mission creep”to a full air based military campaign of five months said to have cost at least $10 billion dollars at a time which the US could least afford it. Now the expensive part of reconstructing a good part of Libya begins with the winning of hearts and minds still a distant dream.
Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, Nick Clegg has assured us that Britain will not make the same mistakes in Libya as were made in Iraq. Good luck, Mr Clegg. If the downfall of Gaddafi and Sons was part of the Arab Spring, the forecast is for a long, hot and uncomfortable Arab Summer.