Columnists

Murray Dobbin
The tyrant's poison pill: The suppression of civil society

| February 25, 2013
Sirte during the 2011 war for Libya. (Photo: vittoare / flickr)

The West's hypocrisy and oil-greed are coming home to roost with a vengeance in Libya as the Arab Spring in that country turns into a nightmarish winter characterized by armed gangs, economic collapse, a decline in services by an incompetent government and increasing political domination by radical Islamists.

Whether or not the Libyan people think this is better than living under the autocratic and bizarre Muammar Gaddafi is obviously for them to decide. But the notion that getting rid of Gaddafi was somehow going to bring liberal democracy to this oil-rich country was never believed by the Western powers, including Canada, who brought about his downfall. We will never know if a civil war in that country without the West's intervention on one side would have seen Gaddafi ousted. It seems unlikely Gaddafi would also still be alive without U.S. intelligence provided to the rebels on his attempted escape.

But Western powers knew the risk they were taking and took it anyway. They are no doubt busy doing their own calculations -- a cost benefit analysis of regime change and its grotesque blowback. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of Gaddafi's brutal, summary execution: "We came, we saw, he died." Then she laughed. It was a repulsive performance (perhaps she was trying to outdo another woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright who, when asked if half a million dead children was too high a price for sanctions on Iraq, replied, "We think the price was worth it.") 

The U.S. is not so sanguine now about the results of their spurious 'no fly zone' war on the Libyan regime. And talk about bad Karma. Clinton's not laughing now as her political career has been severely damaged by the subsequent murder of the U.S. ambassador by her cherished freedom fighters. She was responsible for the level of security at the U.S. embassy and she will wear that responsibility for the rest of her career -- including her run for the Democratic nomination.

It's hard to know if the arrogance of the West is rooted in willful ignorance or hubris but the governments involved in regime change, including our own, should have known the inevitable outcome of their actions. The poison pill of regimes like Gaddafi's and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is that the disappearance of a dictator leaves an enormous power vacuum that gets filled quickly.  Democracy -- and all the things that underpin it like tolerance, human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law, and pluralism -- doesn't suddenly appear just because you hold elections -- even "fair" ones. It grows out of decades of robust civil society organizations through which virtually all citizens, to varying degrees, absorb the values and attitudes critical to a functioning democracy.

None of the Arab Spring nations exhibited diverse, strong civil society groups before their rebellions because such organizations were a threat to the regimes and thus ruthlessly suppressed. The result in Egypt was that secular forces -- responsible for Mubarak's overthrow -- were unable agree on a single candidate to defeat the Islamists and their religious agenda.

If Egypt's spring is a huge disappointment, Libya's is a catastrophe. According to Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail, Ansar al-Sharia (allegedly tied to Al Qaeda), the Islamist militia widely accused of being responsible for the murderous assault on the US embassy   “...has now taken control of the key western entrance to Libya’s second city [Benghazi] – including the highway to the capital, Tripoli.”  Ansar al-Sharia along with three other militias have divided up Benghazi. The new government is so inept and has so little moral authority that it is said to be actually signing "co-operation" agreements with Ansar al-Sharia to receive detainees arrested at its checkpoints. The collapse of the former regime’s police and military means the central government is increasingly dependent on the militias for security. Ansar al-Sharia is also taking advantage of the collapse of central government services by setting up its own humanitarian services.

Throughout the country both militias and armed criminal gangs operate with impunity and kidnappings, killings, armed robberies and the destruction of Sufi shrines and Christian graves go completely unpunished. Rigid enforcement of religious rules have many people terrified. According to one example from York, two young businessmen have been forced to sleep in their business establishment for fear it will be trashed. "Islamists have denounced the businessmen as ‘infidels’ because their company’s name, Odysseia, is a reference to Greek mythology."

The combination of government incompetence, the politics of revenge and the Islamist suspicion of any kind of secular governance means that the economy is in a downward spiral as well. Gaddafi's huge infrastructure projects -- including the largest irrigation project on the planet -- have virtually all ground to a halt. There is nothing on the horizon to suggest they will be restarted soon. Many of the workers who were key to their completion have fled the country out of fear of the militias. Obsessed with religion and purifying Libyan society the last thing on the Islamists minds is a functioning economy.

So, if Western governments knew that the "revolution" would result in chaos and another Islamist state what could possibly make such a result worthwhile? Was it just oil?  The West already had access to Libya's oil but the proceeds went to Libya.  What few people in Western countries realize is that it was Gaddafi's African nationalism that really had them worried. Gaddafi -- the so-called lunatic -- was seriously messing with capitalism’s international institutions and threatening the U.S. dollar as the global currency.

That threat was serious enough that even his major compromises with the West -- ending support for terrorism, dropping his pursuit of nuclear technology, working with the U.S. military and intelligence services -- were not enough to protect him. One of the few African nations with independent wealth, Gaddafi had plans to make the continent independent of Western institutions like the IMF, and World Bank.

Gaddafi was the force behind the creation of the African Investment Bank, and in 2011 of the African Monetary Fund to be based in Yaounde, Libya with a $42 billion capital fund and the African Central Bank based in Abuja, in Nigeria. The IMF, whose economic blackmail has resulted in social devastation throughout the developing world, was headed for irrelevance. The same countries the bombed Libya tried for years to undermine these efforts but failed. Faced with the severe damage caused to the global financial system by the 2008 meltdown, getting rid of Gaddafi was even more important. Gaddafi's longer term plans for a single African currency backed by gold -- and no longer accepting U.S. dollars in payment for oil -- was an even greater threat as it would have weakened an already weaken U.S. dollar.

It seems virtually certain that Gaddafi's projects aimed at freeing Africa from the ravages of Western banks will not be completed. They relied for their fruition on the billions Gaddafi had earmarked for them. The radical Islamists who will ultimately control Libya's government have no interest in assisting any part of Africa that is not Islamist. African nations will now slip back under the pernicious influence of the IMF and the World Bank knowing that if they dare get out of line NATO may find a 'no fly zone' excuse to bring them back.

But almost no one in Canada knows any of this because the mainstream media and all the political parties in the House of Commons (except the Greens) are complicit in not wanting us to know. Our collective ignorance means Libya is now effectively off the radar of the Canadian media (York's reports excepted).

The dominant image of Canada's shameful involvement (cost: $100 million) is thus likely to be Stephen Harper's boasting about Canada "punching above its weight" as if the trashing of international law and brutal regime change in the interests of international banks was a sporting event.  

 

Murray Dobbin is a guest senior contributing editor for rabble.ca, and has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's bi-weekly State of the Nation column, which is also found at The Tyee

Photo: vittoare / flickr

Comments

Thanks Murray. Timely info that. Noam Chomsky notes, in "Hopes And Prospects" that Iraq (Did he say both Iraq and Afghanistan? I have no short term memory) in fact didn't work out for the U.S. as planned, making the idea of ravaging Africa, especially western Africa, all the more important to them. And then there's the news reports we are getting right now about Barack 'change we can believe in' Obama's project to build a drone base in raped over Mali.

Yep, Change we can believe in, but we must understand what is meant here by 'change'. Other disturbing - and blog-worthy - news coming out now is about the coup government in Hondduras working with special interests, including a Canadian pornographer, to create private cities in Honduras. Uh huh. What's the use of stealing a country if you aren't going to do stuff like that? As for change you can  believe in, Chomsky notes that the Democrats' usual response to coups that their government helps to bring about is to not say much, or endorse them openly, while their Republican counterparts (notably the International Republican Institute) openly support them. Under Obama, the National Democratic Institute, after the briefest pause, openly shamefully endorsed the coup that removed Honduras's democratically elected, and caring, government.

So, Along with 'innovations' such as war-making by Presidential decree alone, murder by drone, and more, you have this 'honesty in imperialism' happening. There's still lots of room for honesty among the corporatists of course.

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