Sunday, 23 October 2011

After the death of Gaddafi

The entire world has now seen the last moments of the Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, dragged from a sewer, beaten and pelted, and finally shot dead. Though there are many who think he should have lived to face trial, few will mourn his passing. But the big question for Libyans now that the man is dead is what the future holds for their country.

There are two signs that, after a brutal and bloody civil war, the promise of the initial uprising and the Arab Spring which gave it context has already fallen flat.

First, there was British defence secretary Philip Hammond's proclamation that "British executives should be packing their suitcases and heading to Libya for contracts." Adam Ford explained back in February that Western intervention was inspired not by humanitarian concerns but by spiking oil prices and the threat to economic interests. And if you needed proof that the new boss will be somewhat similar to the old one, there was National Transitional Council head Mohammed Busidra's comment that he will "remain favorable toward the West and its governments and oil companies."

Thus, just as we saw in Iraq, getting rid of one dictator doesn't necessarily mean freedom. Rather, the important point for the west is that their strategic economic interests are upheld. If that is best done through a social democracy, then so be it. But equally, if it is best done through a brutal and draconian dictatorship, that is also acceptable. Remember, Gaddafi was no less a dictator when shaking Tony Blair's hand than when being bombed by NATO.

The second worrying trend is the promise by the country's new rulers that Sharia law would be the "basic source" of all legislation. Existing laws that contradict Islam will be revoked. A 14-page "constitutional declaration" drafted by Busidra in August states that "Libya is a democratic and independent state. The people are the source of authority, Tripoli is the capital, Islam is the religion, and Islamic sharia is the principal source of legislation." The author has also explicitly stated that alcohol and homosexuality should be strictly illegal in Libya, along with “the praise of any religion other than Islam.”

It should go without saying that these two occurrences, largely predictable, don't justify the kind of lunatics who claim that Gaddafi's "heroism will inspire millions of Libyans, Arabs, workers and youth throughout the world to take up the struggle to smash imperialism." Just as the fact that Gaddafi's regime has been toppled doesn't validate the smug liberal triumphalists who believe that uncritical support for NATO military intervention was the right choice all along.

What it does demonstrate, however, is that states will always act in their own interests no matter their stated aims. And that a change of leadership does not necessarily guarantee an improvement in the present conditions, let alone the kind of total revolutionary change that would see society organised for the needs of the masses.