Hugh Roberts on Qadhafi and the Lybian intervention

Hugh Roberts, a great expert on North Africa (his book The Battleground, on Algeria, is a great read) is someone I've had fascinating talks about Libya over the last few months. He was very much against the intervention, disputes the urgency of the situation in Benghazi in late February, and makes the calculation that the intervention turned out much bloodier and costly for Libya than non-intervention — and has many hidden costs with regards to Libya's independence.

In a long article for the London Review of Books, he discusses all of this and revisits some personal favorites of mine: the lingering mystery over Lockerbie; Qadhafi's Africa policy, which had some positive aspects; and much more. Here's an excerpt, but do read the whole 12,500 word thing:

The situation that developed over the weekend following the initial unrest on 15 February suggested three possible scenarios: a rapid collapse of the regime as the popular uprising spread; the crushing of the revolt as the regime got its act together; or – in the absence of an early resolution – the onset of civil war. Had the revolt been crushed straightaway, the implications for the Arab Spring would have been serious, but not necessarily more damaging than events in Bahrain, Yemen or Syria; Arab public opinion, long used to the idea that Libya was a place apart, was insulated against the exemplary effect of events there. Had the revolt rapidly brought about the collapse of the regime, Libya might have tumbled into anarchy. An oil-rich Somalistan on the Mediterranean would have had destabilising repercussions for all its neighbours and prejudiced the prospects for democratic development in Tunisia in particular. A long civil war, while costly in terms of human life, might have given the rebellion time to cohere as a rival centre of state formation and thus prepared it for the task of establishing a functional Libyan state in the event of victory. And, even if defeated, such a rebellion would have undermined the premises of the Jamahiriyya and ensured its demise. None of these scenarios took place. A military intervention by the Western powers under the cloak of Nato and the authority of the United Nations happened instead. 

How should we evaluate this fourth scenario in terms of the democratic principles that have been invoked to justify the military intervention? There is no doubt that many Libyans consider Nato their saviour and that some of them genuinely aspire to a democratic future for their country. Even so I felt great alarm when intervention started to be suggested and remain opposed to it even now despite its apparent triumph, because I considered that the balance of democratic argument favoured an entirely different course of action.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.