COMMENTARY: Royalists, foreign intervention no match for Gaddafi

Mirza Mustafic

In the past few weeks, the world has witnessed a shocking turn of events in the Middle East. What started off as popular mass uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia has turned into a political and humanitarian catastrophe in Libya. The military intervention by Western countries in Libya, including the U.S., is showing that countries must be free to determine their own domestic political arrangements because foreign intervention is always perceived as foreign meddling.

The conditions for a revolution were not the same in Libya as in Egypt and Tunisia, which border Libya to the east and west, respectively. Muammar Gaddafi seized power in 1969 in a military coup d’etat against a corrupt, pro-West monarchy. Since that time, he has used the country’s oil wealth to build up the infrastructure and institute a wide range of social programs that give Libyan citizens essentially free housing, free access to education and health care, and even a say in the administration of local government through community-based “People’s Congresses.” He has championed the cause of Arab and African unity and has allowed thousands of people, mostly from poorer African countries, to settle in Libya to work and enjoy the same benefits as ordinary Libyans. In spite of Western propaganda, he has remained extremely popular with the ordinary people because his people enjoy higher standards of living than any other Arab country.

In mid-February, supporters of the former king, influenced by recent events in neighboring countries, attempted to overthrow Gaddafi by force. The royalists knew that they could not do this through mass protests because Gaddafi still retained support from much of the populace, especially in the west of the country. The royalists, organized around the Interim Council in Benghazi, a city in the relatively pro-monarchist east, began a civil war by shooting soldiers and seizing key buildings. The people and army remained loyal to Gaddafi, in spite of significant defections from the elites and some army units, and within a week began a counter-offensive against the royalists that almost ended with the fall of Benghazi and their flight across the border into Egypt. It was at this juncture that NATO began an armed intervention against Libyan sovereignty because of their decades-long hostility to Gaddafi’s independent politics.

The Western media has attempted to portray the rebels as defenseless, while Gaddafi is supposed to be a cruel tyrant with support coming only from paid mercenaries. But Gaddafi is showing the world that royalist rebels and NATO Tomahawk missiles cannot change the fact that he is still widely supported. His forces are able to take rebel-held territory with ease while the rebels are only surviving through NATO military aid. The West has made a grave mistake by rashly coming out in support of royalists who in reality do not enjoy general approval and who have turned the once-peaceful country into a bloodbath. Some believe that Gaddafi must be toppled by any means, but progress will not be achieved through naked imperialist aggression on an independent country and people. The international community believes that both sides should agree to a ceasefire and hold free and fair elections immediately to allow the Libyans themselves to determine their future political course. Thus far, only Gaddafi’s side has wholeheartedly accepted these proposals.

Mirza Mustafic

Class of 2010 Graduate

This commentary doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the Herald or the university.