An Unpredictable Future for Libya

Finbarr O'Reilly for Reuters

As I watch the recent events unfolding in Libya, I find it hard to decide what the ideal outcome would be. On the one hand, I am excited for the rebels, who have finally taken down an oppressive regime and now have a shot at creating a new Libyan democracy. On the other, I am frightened for what is to come. The future is full of uncertainty for Libyans of all walks of life. There are too many different forces at work for any kind of accurate prediction to be made with regards to future of the country.


For one thing, the rebels are not an easy group to understand. They do not seem like the ‘ready-to-die’ rebels that are usually seen fighting oppressive rulers. After an initial mighty advance into Qaddafi territory, they were almost completely wiped out by Qaddafi troops in a single counter attack. And when Qaddafi’s troops were right outside their gates, preparing for a final attack on Benghazi, the stronghold of the revolution, the rebels did not prepare a last stand. They were not willing to hole themselves up in Benghazi and defend it no matter the cost. They had already begun to retreat when NATO stepped in and bombarded Qaddafi troops, effectively saving the rebels. Their lack of strength is what fuels conspiracy theories (some have hinted that the rebels were actually paid by the CIA to overturn Qaddafi), but I tend to believe that their intentions were indeed noble. They really did want to overrun a corrupt regime and democratize their country. But their lack of resolve, and their apparent disorganization, makes the future of the country seem perilous. How are these completely inexperienced young men now supposed to run a country?

Historical examples also predict a grim future for Libya: when in 1991 rebels overthrew Siad Barre in Somalia, Westerners were immediately overjoyed and claimed that democracy had triumphed once again. But the country immediately collapsed into a state of civil war that is still ongoing today. It is certainly not impossible to imagine a similar scenario in Libya. It is a country divided by tribal factions, whose rivalries Qaddafi expertly exploited to maintain himself in power. With Qaddafi out of the picture, it is unpredictable what might happen. But for the country to follow Somalia’s example is not impossible, albeit being the worst possible outcome. The odds are bent even more in that direction due to the fact that a significant amount of the young population is now armed. Having an armed youth is hardly ever a reason for stability, in fact, it makes the next few months highly unpredictable. Because now if things don’t begin to improve then there could easily be splits within the rebels themselves and splits between armed people easily leads to counter-revolutions. If there’s one good thing to be said about dictators, it’s that they often unite everyone else against them, the common enemy. But come the end of the dictator, the opposition often realizes that they don’t have so much in common with their ally after all.

Goran Tomasevic for Reuters

Another complicating factor is the NATO intervention, which constitutes a difficult dilemma. Some immediately condemned NATO for its latest imperialist adventure, while some praised it for its dedication to support global democracy. I find it hard to claim that it was either. It doesn’t resemble the usual imperialist crusade simply because the rebels were inviting them in. There are pictures of them hailing the foreign interveners as heroes. And yet, I still hesitate to believe that NATO’s intentions were entirely noble, because there have been plenty of similar situations in other countries in which they did not get involved (Bahrain, Syria, Ivory Coast). Yet another factor that makes NATO’s intentions murky is the fact that Libya is one of the world’s largest oil producers with 95% of its export earnings deriving from oil. But although some are quick to state that NATO intervened to gain control of Libya’s oil, I tend to believe that NATO would have found a better strategy to do so, rather than fuel an extremely unstable revolution and halt Libya’s oil production for months. Qaddafi, at least in recent years, was more than willing to provide foreigners with as much oil as they desired.

Yet another problem that the new Transitional National Council will face is that of rebuilding the country. Unfortunately, it will most likely require require vast sums of money, and will seek loans. And unfortunately, those loans are often provided by Washington, the IMF and the World Bank; who are known to take advantage of a country in dire straits to impose their radical capitalist vision. When the new government seeks foreign aid, I hope that they will not be subject to such drastic conditions as those organizations have sought in the past. One of the most significant catalysts for the Arab Springs movement was the increasing price of food. Forcing the new government to create a completely free market economy and remove all price controls could very well cause another revolution, the conditions for which are ripe, as I have already mentioned above. With the added leverage that it was thanks to NATO that the rebels even succeeded, there is no guarantee that the new government, once in power, will have any real power.

Bryan Denton for The New York Times

But what really heightens all of my suspicious is the media’s very strange behavior regarding Libya. When the revolution first began, back when Egypt still hadn’t overthrown Mubarak and democracy seemed to be on the verge of taking over the entire Middle East, it was hard not to find an article about Libya on the front page of any newspaper. All of a sudden, however, the news quickly disappeared. And it wasn’t a slow, gradual, transition. One day, there just wasn’t any news about Libya – and not only was there nothing in the front pages. There was nothing at all, anywhere. I read an article recently, the title of which was All Quiet on the Libyan Front. The article itself turned out to be rather terrible, but the title did capture what I was feeling concerning Libya. And then all of a sudden, about a week ago, Libya was on all the front pages once more. Call me paranoid, but such strange activity makes me suspect that something is up.

And so it is with caution and fear that I continue to read about the situation in Libya as it unfolds. The future of the country seems entirely unpredictable, as there are too many different political agendas involved for any clear and logical arrows to be drawn. I fear for the population, and hope that the country does not follow in Somalia’s footsteps. This might be one of those situations in which ‘only history will tell’ what was the best course of action to take. That is most unfortunate, because by then it will be too late to undo any damage. I hope that the people saying, “I told you so” will not be those that anticipated an imperialistic take over of Libya’s oil, or those that predicted the situation to descend into chaos.

August 25, 2011 / Julian Modiano

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