“Regime change” failure: Libya’s 8-year-old civil war comes to Tripoli
Libyan protesters attend a demonstration to demand an end to the Khalifa Haftar's offensive against Tripoli, in Martyrs Square in central Tripoli, Libya - Photo: Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS

“Regime change” failure: Libya’s 8-year-long civil war comes to Tripoli

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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Eight years ago, Libya was the most advanced African country until Western intervention to topple Muammar Gaddafi plunged its territory into a civil war

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“We came, we saw, he died!”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Muammar Gaddafi (2011)


Eight years ago, Libya was the most advanced African country until Western intervention to topple Muammar Gaddafi plunged its Mediterranean oil-rich, vast and arid territory into a civil war that is threatening to put Tripoli under siege, as part of the offensive launched by General Khalifa Haftar.

Despite Gaddafi’s military adventures in Chad, the Egyptian border, and even Tanzania, it is undeniable that the Atlantic Alliance air campaign that supported an Islamic and tribal uprising in the middle of the “Arab Spring”—Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak was also overthrown in 2011 by the Muslim Brotherhood—unleashed chaos and instability in Northern Africa, without offering a viable political alternative.

Gaddafi, in power since 1969, developed a system of direct democracy and autonomous communities based on Local Committees, People’s Congresses, and Executive Revolutionary Councils, which proclaimed ten years later the Jamahiriya or “Government of the popular masses by themselves and for themselves."

There were achievements behind the slogans rejecting materialistic capitalism and atheist communism.

Taking advantage from the oil high prices, per capita income in Libya rose to more than USD $12,000, and the United Nations Human Development Index became greater than that of Saudi Arabia, without foreign loans.

On the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombardment of the country, the U.N. Human Rights Council had just prepared a report praising Tripoli for improving its legal protections for citizens, educational opportunities and access to housing.

Unlike many other Arab nations, women in Libya had the right to education, to work, to divorce, to property, and to have an income.

As of 2013, more than half of university students were women and working mothers enjoyed benefits such as cash bonuses for children, free daycare, free health care centers, and retirement at 55.

In general, financial support was provided for free electricity, interest-free loans, university scholarships, and employment programs.

Fewer people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.

In addition, the largest underground network of pipes (nearly 3,000 kilometers) and aqueducts in the world, the Great Man-Made River, was built in 1984-1996, supplying fresh water to Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sirte, while fostering economic development in the southern region, part of the Sahara Desert.


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Gaddafi’s mistake

It is said that the big mistake committed by the popular Colonel Gaddafi was his pursuit of an independent foreign policy and regional leadership, which led to military clashes with the U.S. over the Gulf of Sidra.

In 1986, Washington launched air strikes against Libya killing 60 soldiers and civilians in retaliation for its alleged role in the West Berlin discotheque bombing.

Trying to accommodate in the new post-Cold War environment, in 2003 Gaddafi renounced to its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical agents and a nuclear arms program.

However, he promoted the creation of a new African Union based on the “Gold Dinar” as backing for African currencies—the West African Central Bank, for example, is controlled by about 70% of the Banque de France—and also planned to sell, as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Libyan high quality light sweet crude in euros, yuan, and currencies other than the dollar.

Killed by rebels near Sirte, Gaddafi left behind a country where tribal and regional divisions have been exploited by foreign powers to the extent that the White House toyed with the idea of splitting Libya following the model of the former Ottoman provinces during the early twentieth century: Tripolitania in the North, including the capital; Cyrenaica in the East with the rival city of Benghazi, and Fezzan in the South.

The refugee and migrant crisis which have affected southern Europe cannot be understood without a grasp of the current conditions in Libya.


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According to the U.N., militia groups are involved in human trafficking, manning detention centers, and facilitating boat rides across the Mediterranean.

In 2017, international media reported the existence of a buoyant slave market in the country, where young West and Sub-Saharan Africans were sold for as little as USD $400.

Last Sunday, the weak U.N.-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announced it was launching a counter-offensive against Benghazi strongman Khalifa Haftar’s advance that it had named Operation Volcano of Anger.

Both sides exchanged air attacks, more than 50 people have died and about 3,000 people had been displaced by fighting in Tripoli’s outlying suburbs.

Haftar (75), head of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), took part in the coup that brought Gaddafi to government, but later changed sides.

While held prisoner of war in Chad, Haftar was co-opted by the CIA, which sponsored him to launch a coup against the Libyan leader.

The plan failed and since 1990 Haftar has lived in Langley, Virginia, where he also became a U.S. citizen.

In the last three years of low-intensity war, Haftar consolidated his power in Benghazi defeating Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other factions with support from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, and France.

If the LNA’s offensive is to succeed entering Tripoli without a major, protracted battle, Haftar needs to take the road between the capital city and Misrata, home of powerful Islamic militias backed by Algeria, Turkey, and Qatar.

Nevertheless, in the ever-changing war scenario of the Maghreb sands, full of movement, deception, and treason, the reunification of Libya and the last chapter of the conflict could be written after a political compromise is reached in a negotiating table as the one scheduled for this weekend in the town of Ghadames, postponed on Tuesday by the U.N. due to the deterioration of the security situation.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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