Gaddafi's downbeat doomsayer

Gamal Nkrumah The Libyan leader has plenty of ground to make up. The Libyan armed opposition forces are bracing themselves for a long and bloody confrontation with the well-armed forces of Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan leader is licking his wounds and aims for a restoration of some semblance of dominion over his war-battered land. His supporters both at home and abroad believe that Gaddafi should be well up to the task. The ragtag army of rebels enjoys especially high morale. They concede that their fight with Gaddafi's forces is an unequal contest, but in the east of the country and certain parts of the west, the armed opposition forces claim that they are fighting on their home ground. The same cannot be said of the central stretch of desert territory surrounding the Gulf of Sirte. The untrained volunteers fighting Gaddafi's heavily armed forces are marching unabated towards the west, Tripolitania, the heartland of the pro-Gaddafi forces. Already, they have captured key oil terminals in the east such as Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold, and are moving cautiously towards Ras Lanouf on the eastern approaches of Sirte, Gaddafi's own hometown and administrative capital with perhaps one of Libya's largest arms depots. Still, an explosion at an arms depot in Benghazi, parts of which are reported to resemble a ghost town after dark, do not augur well as far as firm rebel control of Libya's second city is concerned. No optimism dilutes Gaddafi's Green Book's description of the alternatives that await complacent policymakers. Gaddafi is determined to re-instill fear and terror into the hearts of his opponents. Whether this strategy is working is another question altogether. Simply re-enforcing the status quo will not do now. The Libyan popular uprising against Gaddafi has a strong ethical component. There is no canon of sacred books in rebel-held areas but the Quran. Gaddafi's infamous Green Book is trashed and derided as absolute rubbish. But not everyone in the Arab world or the West for that matter is particularly enamoured by the Islamist new order in the "liberated zones" held by Libya's rebels.

This reads like a timely warning to Libya. And this is where the initiative of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez comes into play. The Political Council of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA), an acronym which also means "dawn" in Spanish, under the leadership of Chavez has initiated the formation of an International Humanitarian Commission for Peace and Integrity of Libya. One of its main goals is the promotion of interaction and dialogue between the central government and opposition forces. The Libyan rebels have so far insisted that neither Chavez nor ALBA has approached them. One of the goals of the Chavez initiative is to deter foreign military intervention and to find a solution to the Libyan crisis that is peaceful. Even so, the government offensive against armed opposition forces is fast gaining ground and Gaddafi's henchmen have recaptured cities of consequential strategic and symbolic importance. While Libya and its oil fields are smoldering, ALBA, Chavez and the Libyan armed opposition forces are agreed on one thing, and that is that no foreign troops are welcome on Libyan soil. There is little Gaddafi can do to emulate his fellow South American anti-imperialist loudmouth whose dramatic overture comes at a most opportune moment. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has named former Jordanian foreign minister Abdelilah Al-Khatib as UN special envoy to Libya. The UN secretary-general warned against the Libyan "government's disproportionate use of force and indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets". The West, and especially the United States, has been caught unawares. There is no consensus in Washington as to how to deal with the Libyan crisis other than demanding that Gaddafi step down forthwith. Though there is much talk of a no-fly-zone imposed by Western nations, and a US contingent of 2,000 marines is just a few miles off "the shores of Tripoli", or rather Libya's oil terminals. Unsurprisingly, this stands in sharp contrast to Chavez's determination to resolve the Libyan crisis by peaceful and diplomatic means. American politicians have lined up to attack and discredit the administration of US President Barack Obama's inaction. Railing about the failure of US presidents is a satisfying ritual for American politicians and a rather boring pastime. What matters to the Libyan people is that US policies towards Libya make them safer. Should things take a turn for the worse in Libya, the Libyan people do not trust the West, and the US in particular, to be there to help. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are pressing for a UNsponsored no- fly-zone. There was no love lost between Gaddafi and the oil- rich GCC countries though their rulers are themselves facing growing unrest, especially in Bahrain and Oman. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa joined the anti-Gaddafi chorus with a strongly

worded statement Monday night saying that if Gaddafi wants to make peace with his people, he should desist from the use of excessive violence. Gaddafi's army ruthlessly uses Russian-made Sukhoi and MIG warplanes as well as French Mirages to bombard strategic rebel-held positions across the sprawling desert country. Which perhaps explains why the Russians, in particular, are vehemently opposed to the notion of imposing a no-fly zone on Libya. The Obama administration is not above criticism. And neither is Chavez, who has in the past had to contend with his own domestic opponents. The difference between Gaddafi and Chavez is that the latter is democratically elected and has not repressed his people. However, tempers in Libya and abroad in Africa and the Third World at large are flaring over the demands of the Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces for a Western- imposed no-fly-zone. The latest in on the act are the leftist leaders of South America with Chavez at the helm. What then can Chavez do to persuade Gaddafi and his cronies that he values Gaddafi's Jamahiriya as highly as his radical anti-imperialist predecessors in the Third World did? Gaddafi markets himself as the champion of secularism, earning the sympathy of non-Muslim Third World leftist leaders like Chavez. What is clear is that the anti-Gaddafi armed opposition forces, if they are to command the support of non-Muslim nations, should stop using religion for political ends. Many of their leaders have spouted militant Islamist rhetoric. Moreover, the Libyan uprising has emerged as the spark for the biggest single outbreak of racial violence in North Africa. The sight, as the New York-based Human Rights Watch and Londonbased Amnesty International have rightly forewarned, of Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces wielding weapons and shouting racist slogans and lashing out against innocent Black Africans in Libya is alarming. The Gaddafi regime itself must share the blame for the fact that Libya now faces such a sizeable core of virulently racist anti-Black Africans. Gaddafi's foes are flirting with chauvinism and xenophobia directed primarily against Black Africans. Permitting such chauvinist racism rather visibly and quite audibly to roam freely in "liberated" areas is hazardous. The anti-Gaddafi forces should cease using the backlash against Black Africans seen as politically sympathetic to Gaddafi and used as pawns and mercenaries in the Libyan political arena for unfortunately Libyan tribal society has a strong propensity for blatant racism. There is also the risk of losing control of xenophobia as a dubious means of political consolidation. The parading of Black Africans as soldiers of fortune on Pan-Arab satellite television channels was a warning signal that racial war may be close. Be that as it may, Libya's business climate is fast worsening, as investors' mood is nervous. The big issue, to be sure, is uncertainty. The Libyan leader and his lackeys are suffering from a liquidity crisis of unprecedented proportions. The crisis in public finances was triggered by the

spectacular advance of the armed opposition forces and their control of key eastern cities in Cyrenaica including several oil terminals on the Mediterranean. The personal financial reckoning of the Gaddafi clan has also been embarrassingly and precariously acute. Libya is still on paper a pivotal petroleum exporter. Potential investors may, however, lose interest in Libya if nothing happens soon. Ironically, the easy oil-fuelled boom decades have brought a destructive legacy. Gaddafi and his henchmen must be kicking themselves for throwing the oil bonanza away and rightly so. It is not crystal clear either whether the armed opposition to Gaddafi's rule centred in Cyrenaica is confident of stopping the rot in the Jamahiriya. Aberration or not, the rebels pin their hopes on oil to underpin Libya's post-Gaddafi economy. Indeed, the official pro-Gaddafi state television proudly announced that the Libyan government has removed custom duties on essential and basic commodities and eliminated taxes in celebration of the victories on the battlefields against "the terrorist gangsters". However, mopping up after the bubble that burst with the popular uprising against Gaddafi will take some time. Funding, in spite of Libya's considerable oil wealth, will arguably be the more difficult challenge in the months to come. No sector of the Libyan economy has been unscathed by the armed opposition to the Gaddafi regime. He espoused socialism, some will call it state capitalism, and Gaddafi's state influence extends far beyond the issue of ownership and direct management control. In the short-term, the Libyan economy is in an unenviable mess. With Libya's economy in freefall, xenophobia is a most perilous genie to let out of the bottle. It is against this bloody backdrop that Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa, one of Gaddafi's most loyal men, has been negotiating with the UN and the African Union to ease Libya's political impasse. As one of the Gaddafi regime's best communicators, Kusa has been pushed in recent weeks to make the case for his beleaguered leader. Chavez, Moussa and Kusa are all brainstorming for a face- saving endgame for Gaddafi. In this context Chavez's call for peace is also long overdue.

*Published in the Cairo-based ALAHRAM WEEKLY for 10 - 16 March

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