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The Libyan Revolution, Tailor Made in Paris

The Libyan Revolution, Tailor Made in Paris

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

History is a Sign from the heavens. Those with insight learn from it and use it as a guide to find the Light of God. Those without insight let it pass by, blind, heedless, without perception.  This is as true of events from the lives of the Prophets as it is of contemporary events.

The Libyan war, phase 1 is over, courtesy 26,000 sorties by NATO air forces. As with every war, there are winners, losers and bystanders, and there are lessons to be learned.

The principal lesson of this war is that the conflicts of the future will be fought for earth’s resources. The world has entered a phase where the sheer pressure of survival dictates a mad scramble for living space and security. This means energy, water and air will be the primary sources of conflict and war in the future.  The old divisions based on ideology, religion, nationality, color and creed will fade into the background, only to be used as slogans in marshalling resources for conflicts whose strategic goal is the capture of energy, water, air and living space.

I remember the speech that Anwar Sadat, the former President of Egypt made before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem in September 193434. I was in Muzdalifa that day, returning from the Plain of Arafat, having just completed my first Hajj. In the speech Sadat said that Egypt would renounce war unless it was forced to do so for the waters of the Nile. I have no use for his politics. At that time I paid no attention to  the import of what he said. But how true does it sound in retrospect!

A second lesson from the Libyan conflict that the Arab Revolution is squeezed from within and from without.  The Arab Spring was one of those rare moments in the history of the Middle East where a whiff of fresh air entered the body politic.  We were one of the first in Pakistan Link to point out that the Arab spring was as much a revolt against corruption and a call for economic justice as it was for democratic reforms( Reference: One River, Two Egypts, Pakistan Link, Professor Nazeer Ahmed, April-May 2011). The movement has since spread to the East and the West. But in the core Islamic lands, it is being throttled internally by the entrenched forces of despotism and hammered by forces of external intervention. Thousands die in Syria and Yemen and the dictators contemplate neither stepping down nor implementing reform. The voice of the masses goes unheard. Whether you look at it from an Islamic perspective or from the perspective of secular humanism, it is a travesty of justice.

From all published accounts, the Libyan war appears to have been the brain child of France. England was soon co-opted into the scheme and America joined in. The French, of late, have shown a particular assertiveness, indeed aggressiveness, in their foreign policy. Following the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, there arose a genuine call for democratic reforms in Libya. Qaddafi did not budge and paid the price. Enter the French, the British and NATO. A war was unleashed under cover of a UN sanctioned slogan of “protecting the civilians”. Heaven knows how many civilians have died in the conflict even while they were “protected”. I have read reports of as many as 30,000. And Libya lies in ruins, its infrastructure destroyed, its economy in shambles, its people, once considered comfortable if not rich, in poverty, at the mercy of international aid agencies.

Libya , which sits astride the North African coastline, is a grand prize for any foreign power. It controls the land routes from the fertile Nile valley to the Atlantic. The Romans knew this and waged incessant wars to capture the area. So did the Arabs and the Ottomans. Today, its oil wells produce some of the lightest crude in the world, so light that it hardly needs any processing before use.

So, Libya is worth about 100 billion dollars a year in today’s markets, not a bad prize for the battered economies of Europe, which are struggling to hold the tide of retrenchment. In the last century, they would squeeze their colonies to get well. But Britain no longer has India and the French do not control Algeria. Other venues are needed to sustain struggling economies.

So, the tactical winners are the French and British oil companies. The Italians, the former colonial power in Libya and poorer cousins in the NATO hierarchy, were reluctant to join the fray initially, but ultimately caved in. They will get a portion of the riches but will perhaps lose their dominant pre-war position. American foreign policy, in response to the anti-war domestic sentiments, has deftly managed to keep the US in the background but has been very effective in its moves to influence post-war Libya. An American trained engineer with no experience in politics or administration has been made the Prime Minister.

And the losers? Well, for one, the pan-African movement will lose one of its ardent champions. Qaddafi’s Libya, along with emerging South Africa, was a prime mover to integrate the African continent together. There were grand schemes to create a common market extending from the Cape of Good Hope to the Mediterranean Sea. Libya generously contributed to such grand schemes. Such schemes will now lie dormant, perhaps abandoned.

And the people of Libya? Well, it depends on what they do next. Libya is a tribal society where societal bonds are determined as much by tribal loyalties as a feeling of a transcendent nationalism or even religion. The looting and mayhem that we have seen in the aftermath of the war are not good omens. Will they rise to the challenge and create a national destiny worthy of their historical heritage? Only the future can tell.  If they are successful, they will escape the clutches of neo-colonialism. If they flounder, it is a tragedy for them, for Africa and for the Arab Spring movement.

The Libyan war has enormous implications for the emerging global world order which will be dominated by China and the United States. It is fascinating that these two powers are using different strategies to win the competition. China is focused on industry and commerce. It has clearly emerged as the dominant industrial power of the world. Its steel mills smelt more than 500 million tons of steel each year, more than the combined steel production of the rest of the world. It has aggressively moved to capture the markets as far away as Latin America. By contrast, the American strategy appears to be military. Its industrial base is in shambles. The steel production in the US is a meager hundred million tons and is dwarfed by that of China. Even as China has made inroads into the African markets and has gained access to African resources, the United States has moved to establish its military presence in Libya, the Sudan and now in Central Africa giving it a commanding physical presence in the continent. And the war for control of the Horn of Africa rages on.

From a perspective of the Islamic Middle East, the lessons are obvious. The west looks upon the Middle East and Africa as its turf and its backyard whose resources must be reserved for Europe and the United States. China, the emerging colossus on the horizon, attempts to woo the region with money, trade and development.

However, important the Middle East and North Africa may seem to be at the present, the world order for the second half of the twenty first century will be determined by events farther East, in Central Asia, in the region extending from Pakistan through Kazakhstan.  It is here that the interests of the emerging giants of the future, China, India, Russia meet and collide with those of the giants of the past in Europe and America.  It is at this roof of the world where rests the destiny of the world. I hope that the Islamic nations take heed and tailor their course accordingly, remaining strong but avoiding conflict and war, focusing on education and enduring institutions of public participation and public good, building strong links of trade and commerce with the emerging giants of China, India, Russia as well as those in Europe and America.

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