Let Ghaddafi Be: Lesson from Arab History

By Nath Aldalala’a

The fall of Ghaddafi is both a solution and a problem for Libya.

United Nations resolution number 1973 granted NATO intervention in Libya to protect civilians from Ghaddafi’s alleged brutal fist. A consequence of the NATO campaign in Libya is that his regime fell, but he is still on the run. The coming weeks will determine the nature of Libya’s immediate future.

The situation will be influenced by a number of possible scenarios, that is, whether Ghaddafi is captured and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, or is killed during the remaining battles, or he remains on the run.  The calls for the capture of Ghaddafi or for him to be killed have grown louder during the frenzy which accompanies the attempts to invent a new Libya. Yet, it is my contention that the killing or capturing of Ghaddafi and his son and their subsequent appearance at the ICC might indeed serve justice for some, but it will not sustain peace in the country. On the contrary, amongst a good proportion of the Libyan population it will actually create a deep sense of ill feeling towards the National Transitional Government (NTC) and interviewing Western countries in the conflict.  My argument is based on the premise that in Libya and in the wider Arab world there is little respect for and acknowledgement of the ICC: for example, no one was brought to ‘justice’ after the Jenin massacre in 2002 or the Gaza massacre in 2009. 

Resolution number 1973 was granted in order to create a no-fly zone, that is, to enforce peace rather than trigger war. The effectiveness of the NATO intervention so far may be seen as satisfactory, especially if the intervening powers, along with the National Transitional Government (NTC), provide a solution that dignifies all parties involved, including that of any transitional government itself.

When Prophet Mohammed entered Mecca in the year 630 with his army of 10,000, Quraysh was defeated and the walls of Mecca were ready either for carnage or for lasting peace. Mohammed enquired: “O Quraysh, what do you think I am going to do to you?” His message to the people then was: “God forgives you and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. Go- you are free.” The generosity shown by the prophet changed the history of Islam, and stands as a hallmark of the munificence which has become a lasting signature of Arab society.

This example should be followed in a nation that pride itself of being based on Islamic values.

In March it was reported that Ghaddafi made a proposal to the NTC seeking an agreement which would allow him to step down. He wanted guarantees of personal safety for himself and his family, with further assurances that they would not be put on trial. According to Aljazeera’s sources, the Council told its correspondent in Benghazi that the offer had been rejected because it would have amounted to an “honourable” exit for Gaddafi, and this would be offensive to his victims. Yet questions of honour are not easily reconciled. Many Arabs, while denouncing Ghaddafi, and passionate in their desire for his demise, perceive the action taken by the rebels as a response to the dictates of Western governments. Thus an honourable act by the NTC would be to preserve the dignity, not of Ghaddafi himself, but of the tribe from which he descends.  This in turn would spare Libya years of vengeance and future fissures amongst its people. 

What Libya needs at this stage is a restoration of national unity, which will certainly be jeopardized by the consequences emanating from either Ghaddafi being killed, or his being handed over to the ICC. The scenario in which Ghaddafi is allowed go would not have any severe effect on national security, but it would demonstrate that the NTC is not concerned with seeking revenge. Besides that, it could demonstrate its independence from Western powers who are basically engaged in a witch-hunt for Ghaddafi. A sense of betrayal already dominates the mood in Libya. The rebels are not called ‘rebels’ across all pockets of the country.

Now, after the fall of Tripoli there seems to be new calls from Ghaddafi to negotiate the transfer of power. This is, as William Hague put it, “delusional”, but it does present a golden opportunity for restoring peace and calm to the country. 

Ghaddafi, as I argue, most fears being sent to the ICC. That would reduce his legacy to that of a criminal and he would wish to avoid that at all costs. So, while his offer might seem delusional, it actually demonstrates that he retains a sense of his own dignified survival. Having ruled Libya for such long time, then he must have a ‘grain of brain’; to think otherwise would reflect badly on the people he governed.

It is impressive that after all years of being identified by the world as a terrorist, Ghaddafi managed to host Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to Tripoli in 2007. In 2008 the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a landmark cooperation treaty with Ghaddafi in Benghazi. In the same year a meeting with Condoleezza Rice took place which was followed by President Bush signing the Executive Order 13477, which restored the Libyan government’s immunity from terrorism-related lawsuits and dismissed all the pending compensation cases in the United States. Also in 2009 Ghaddafi visited Rome for a meeting with Berlusconi and the Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. He participated in the G8 Summit, and during that visit was seated next to Berlusconi at a dinner hosted by the Italian president. Notably Barack Obama shook hands with Ghaddafi during that visit. He then went on to meet Senator John McCain and Joe Lieberman in 2009.  He had received Vladimir Putin in Tripoli in April 2008, and in October of the same year he was a guest of the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. This list of receptions and invitations indeed testifies that Ghaddafi was able to manoeuvre a significant position for himself in international affairs, one far beyond that of a man who had taken leave of his senses. At this juncture, his humiliating defeat has been brought about, but any further humiliation would be a dishonour to his tribe, and all his supporters, the likes of whom are certainly going to surface soon after the current storm has died down. The NTC should work to avoid this situation if they are serious about the harmony of a future Libya. 

Therefore, while recognising that there is an urgent need to restore normality in the capital and the other cities throughout the country, it is also imperative to establish the spirit of clemency and moderation amongst the people. This might sound wishful thinking in the current situation, especially when one hears the sentiments being projected by the NTC and Western diplomats. 

In a recent interview William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, stated that “A transition of power is already taking place. The NTC ministers are in Tripoli and in increasing control of the situation. What is needed from the remnants of the Gaddafi regime is the fighting to stop.” Hague repeatedly stressed the fate of Ghaddafi is a matter that should be left to the Libyan people. 

Guma el-Gamaty, the UK co-ordinator of the NTC, confirmed that “The only negotiation is how to apprehend Ghaddafi, to tell us where he is and what conditions he wants for his apprehension: whether he wants to be kept in a single cell or shared cell or whether he wants to have his own shower or not, you know. These are the kind of negotiations we are willing to talk about.” Such pronouncements do not show necessary sensitivity or measured response to an already irritated situation. It is a sarcastic aggressive tone not much different from Ghaddafi’s tone when he called the protestors “rats and drug addicts”.

The heroic rebels of the moment could possibly splinter into factions of the future, and these groups will be fighting for a slice of the pie. Most of the armed-rebels are former revolutionary committee members who switched sides and are likely to change again. The main Islamists Brigade refused to fight under the banner of the ‘infidels’, a group amongst many, which will certainly demand its autonomous voice. 

The endorsement of the TNC of a reward by an alleged Libyan businessman put the very nature of TNC at stake. This slowly becomes a ‘cowboy’ government. But the TNC still has a golden opportunity to grant an expedient amnesty to Ghaddafi and his followers, while at the same time consolidating the rule of law. This will not however guarantee a smooth transitional period for Libya, but it is the only path that can alleviate future hostilities and minimise the damage already created. 

– Dr. Nath Aldalala’a – School of English Literature, Newcastle University, United Kingdom – contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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