Rumours of rebel victory a few days ago in Libya were replaced by a reemergence of government forces in the Gaddafi compound. Rebel claims to have captured the Gaddafi heir apparent Saif al-Islam were followed by his defiant tour of certain streets in Tripoli in government vehicles, demonstrating that he was still, in fact, at liberty. Such is the chaos of war. The victory often goes not only to those with the superior guile and might, but also to those who can demoralize the enemy by telling the best story.
It certainly looks as if the Gaddafi regime’s days are numbered, but the future for Libya is far from certain. Both sides have armed civilians and the struggles of recent months have not only caused death and destruction but have put many more weapons in circulation than is desirable in a peaceful society. Some maintain that a decisive military victory is one of the most stable bases on which to build peaceful governance. Others will point to the importance after such victory of avoiding the humiliation of the former enemy, and the wisdom of retaining some of the best of the past regime alongside the emerging new leadership, in the interests of future stability. But that requires the triumph of pragmatism over fervor.
What kind of regime will emerge? Gaddafi’s apocalyptic warnings of a Libya overrun by Al Qaeda sit alongside the calls by Western governments, including our own, for regime change and espousal of democracy, freedom of speech and no doubt certain liberal economic market models tucked into the equation. Certainly other Middle Eastern observers will watch carefully for evidence of Western involvement or interference – in the forms of government that emerge in the post conflict period.
Outside help is often required to get the genie of whole scale violence back into the bottle of relative peace. But peace, like love, is neither easy nor will it automatically overwhelm all observers of the newly born regime. Trust must be built, a rule of law established, new relationships within and beyond Libya’s borders established. Perhaps Libya can consolidate a new and hopeful development in the Middle East, if the outside powers can resist reducing it to a battlefield of their competing interests. Ultimately, the Libyan people will have paid the highest price , so let us hope they get an outcome that respects their rights to independent, democratic self government and to shape their own future in their own best interests, whilst recovering from what will soon become Insha’Allah, their bloody past.
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