After Gadhafi: Democracy or Jihadists?

Wednesday, 23 Mar 2011 05:18 PM

By Walid Phares

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We all agree that Col. Gadhafi is a dictator; that he supported terrorism against the United States and France; was responsible for the tragedy of Pan Am 103; that he funded, armed, and trained radicals in many African countries such as in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Haute Volta, and in a few Middle Eastern countries including Lebanon.

We all are aware that his regime oppressed his people and tortured and jailed his opponents for four decades. I observed Gadhafi ruling Libya unchecked during and after the Cold War and before and after 9/11 when he was received by liberal democracies as a respectable leader.

My first question is: Why has the West been silent so long and why is it so late in taking action against this dictator? Of course it had to do with oil. Western elites were morally and politically encouraging him by buying his oil and empowering him with endless cash as Libyan dissidents were dying in jails.

Now, as missiles are crushing Gadhafi’s air defense systems and tanks, Western governments should be invited for serious self-criticism for having enabled this regime to last that long. Squeezing or even defeating Gadhafi should prompt a comprehensive review of past decades of Western policies toward this regime and its abuses of human rights.

The military operation should not end with the departure of Gadhafi from power. It must open the door for an examination of U.S. and European policies that have aligned themselves with petrodollar interests for over half a century.

Such self-criticism was supposed to start with the removal of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but unfortunately, it hasn’t taken place yet, precisely because of the mega-influence inside the West and the United States by powerful lobbies representing the interests of OPEC, the Arab League and the OIC.

Besides, questions should be raised about the Arab League and OIC endorsement of an action against Gadhafi’s regime. Where were they for decades, when the Libyan dictator used to seize the microphone on their platforms and blast the very democracies they implored to act against him?

These organizations catered to the interest of regimes against whom they now are calling for sanctions. Mr. Amr Moussa, the current secretary general of the Arab League, rises against Gadhafi after having supported him for years — while the latter was oppressing his own people.

In my book, The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, I call all these regimes and organizations a “brotherhood against democracy.”

They have supported each other against democratic movements and minorities everywhere in the region. From Sudan to Lebanon, from Iraq to Libya, the regional organizations were at the service of these regimes, not of the people. As these revolts are ongoing, these inter-regimes’ organizations must be criticized and eventually reformed.

Last year, the Arab League and OIC were endorsing Libya’s role in the U.N. Council on Human Rights. Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya’s representatives at the Geneva U.N. body were shutting up the voices of Libyan dissidents just a few months ago.

Now that the uprisings have crumbled the regimes in Cairo and Tunisia, and Tripoli’s ruler is cornered, the negative impact these inter-regime organizations have on dissidents and human rights on international levels must be exposed and their future representation comprehensively reformed.

Research confirms that many jihadists have been recruited from Libya, and particularly from its eastern provinces. Besides, Western policies toward Gadhafi’s regime were incoherent. They should have supported true democratic forces and uprisings in the region from Iran to the Arab world.

In short, I would have advised for a different set of U.S. global strategies in the Middle East. We should have backed the Iranian Green Revolution in 2009, the Cedars Revolution as it struggles against Hezbollah, and Darfur in its liberation drive against the jihadist regime in Khartoum.

In Egypt, we should have clearly sided with the secular youth and Copts, as they asked for a new constitution. In Iraq, we should have been clear in supporting reformist and secular forces.

As far as Libya is concerned, removing Gadhafi is not the question. That should have been done years ago on the grounds of abuse of human rights. The question is who will come next?

Clearly, the agenda of the Benghazi leadership is not clear. We know there is a layer of former bureaucrats, diplomats, intellectuals, and military dissidents with whom partnership is possible and should be encouraged. But there is another layer below the surface which is made of Islamists, Salafists, and in some cases jihadists.

From a simple observation of the latter’s narrative on al-Jazeera, one major component of the opposition is an Islamist force aiming at taking over in Tripoli. Hence, Washington must partner with the secular-democrats and warn that it won’t endorse replacing Gadhafi’s Jamahiriyya with a jihadi emirate.

Why aren’t the most liberal Libyan dissidents received in Washington and made visible? The U.S. and NATO military have been tasked to open the highways to Tripoli for the opposition, but we need to ensure that on that highway we won’t see the democracy groups eliminated by the next authoritarians.

Dr. Walid Phares is the author of "The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East." He teaches global strategies at the National Defense University and advises members of the U.S. Congress on the Middle East. Visit www.walidphares.com.





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