A decade has passed since Colonel Muammar Muhammed Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi was assassinated by Western-backed rebels on 20 October 2011. The world watched as millions of Libyans, riding high on the crest of the Arab Spring wave, challenged Colonel Gaddafi’s 42-year rule and triggered a bloody civil war from February 2011 that eventually overthrew the government. The anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council (NTC) succeeded because of vital military support from a NATO-led coalition, with the key players being the United Kingdom, France, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Gaddafi fled to his hometown of Sirte where he was captured and killed – the footage moments before and after his death was circulated on social media. His body was then displayed in a meat cooler for three days in the town of Misrata and viewed by thousands of locals who wanted to see for themselves that the controversial leader, who was loved and hated in equal measure, was dead. His death was hailed as the start of a new beginning for Libya.
Despite assurances from the key architects of the intervention, David Cameron (former British Prime Minister) and Nicolas Sarkozy (former French President), that Libya would not become the next Iraq, the intervention triggered a complete political and economic collapse which persists to this day. Gaddafi may have been a dictator who ruthlessly oppressed any sign of dissent, but he was also a benevolent one. His government provided free education and raised the literacy rates to over 80%, free healthcare, free or subsidised utility bills, cash bonuses of $50k to newlyweds to help them buy property, cash bonuses of $5k to new mothers, and provided welfare for the unemployed. Libya was also a safe country where law and order was obeyed. Today, Libyans have no social security and must deal with crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping and armed conflict daily. The Western forces who were so willing to support change have washed their hands of them.
Your friends in Britain and France will stand with you as you build your democracyDavid Cameron. Benghazi, Libya. 15 September 2011
In 2016, British lawmakers issued a damning report that held Cameron and Sarkozy responsible for leading an opportunistic regime-change that was based on inaccurate intelligence and led to political collapse, a rise in the Islamic State and triggered an international humanitarian crisis. Curiously, they did not refer them to the International Criminal Courts in The Hague. Instead of accepting responsibility, Cameron blamed Libyans for “not taking the opportunity to build a stable democracy” and insisted that the post-Gaddafi implementation was meant to be locally led.
One of the most comprehensive account of the events leading up to Gaddafi’s removal was published by British academic Christopher M. Davidson in the 2017 article Why was Muammar Qadhafi really removed? Davidson’s article paints a disturbing picture which was pieced together from various sources including Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails. In a nutshell, the West had waged a systematic campaign to remove Colonel Gaddafi ever since he came to power on 1 September 1969 and kicked out all international oil firms which had invested billions of dollars in the country. Over the decades, Gaddafi was accused of orchestrating many crimes including trying to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981 which was later dismissed as a complete fabrication; bombing a nightclub in Berlin in 1986 which was frequented by US military personnel; killing a British policewoman; and most famously, the downing of Pan Am Flight 103. We will only know the truth when the relevant files are declassified or leaked. What Hillary Clinton’s emails did reveal is that France cut a deal with the NTC for military support in exchange for oil and gas assets and that French humanitarian flights into Libya from April 2011 were carrying businessmen for meetings. The article casts France, the UK and Italy as vultures circling a dying animal.
Italy and Libya had an interesting relationship. Gaddafi had extorted $5bn in investment plus six Italian manufactured naval boats to prevent African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Libya was home to nearly 700,000 Sub-Saharan refugees who had fled countries across North and West Africa. The political collapse of Libya impacted them too and forced many to risk it all by crossing into Europe. The first Mediterranean Sea migrant shipwreck was reported in April 2011 and the number of incidents started to increase slowly until 2015 when Europe declared a migrant crisis. Talk about karma. The West removed Gaddafi in exchange for oil and gas, and since then western companies have struggled to make money in Libya given the on-going crisis and now Europe must contend with illegal migration. It is safe to say that Gaddafi got the last laugh.
Whether Libya can rebuild and restore its position as one of the leading economies in Africa, is yet to be seen. But what is certain is that after 10 years of civil war, it is down to the locals to sort out the mess without the help of the international community. Yet, there is hope. In October 2020, the two warring sides agreed on a cease-fire thanks to UN intervention and then, in February 2021, formed the Government of National Unity (GNU) as a replacement. Libya now stands at a crucial political crossroads and is preparing to hold democratic elections on December 24 this year. The GNU is overseeing this transition, focusing on unity and accurate voting. It also boasts of an unusually large cabinet – 30 ministers – which ensures each faction gets equal access to state funds, thereby preventing further clashes. We can only remain hopeful that the worst is over and a bright future awaits.