Who "owns" Libya?

A very interesting blog post on Libya by the Economist's Bagehot:

Speaking from outside Britain, a senior official told me that—after the fall of the Qaddafi regime—NATO air patrols and a no-fly zone would certainly have to remain in place as a deterrent to fighting between different factions or tribes, and to fulfil NATO's mandate from the United Nations to protect civilians. How long might that last? Well, he said, the current plan is for elections within 240 days, so perhaps until then at least: "We need an open-ended, low-intensity no-fly zone."

Then, the same official said, there will be the much thornier question of "boots on the ground". At a minimum, if Libya finds itself welcoming teams of international aid workers, engineers or advisers on reconstruction, and if the post-Qaddafi situation looks "semi-permissive" (ie, dangerous but not lethal), such foreigners will need protecting. If, in a worst case scenario, fighters from Benghazi start taking revenge on tribes that were previously loyal to Colonel Qaddafi, then the question of peacekeepers arises. Western countries would like regional partners to "step up to the plate". That means troops from Arab or African countries, in plain English.

There is talk of troops from Qatar, from Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, or from the African Union, a regional grouping which already provides peacekeepers all over its home continent). But this may not work, said my source, and African Union peacekeepers "don't have a great reputation". The EU is looking at NATO to see what that alliance might do, and NATO is looking at the United Nations. But any mandate from the UN to authorise peacekeepers in Libya would take many weeks, and that leaves "a gap", the official said. That may leave everyone pondering the unhappy prospect of western peacekeepers on the ground, a development that would trigger alarmed cries of mission creep in London, Paris, Berlin, Washington DC and (perhaps most importantly) across the Arab world.

The problem is, for all that western leaders talk up the leading role played by the NTC and the Libyans, the international alliance built around United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 stretched its mandate to the furthest possible extent, so that the protection of civilians morphed into more or less overt support for the uprising against Mr Qaddafi. "Now we own it," said the official.

Do we own this uprising? Clearly not. And British officials, up to and including the prime minister, David Cameron, would never use such language and insist in private and in public that this is Libya's revolution. And yet... there is a certain amount of credit-claiming going on that does muddy the waters.

Do read the whole thing, which has very interesting discussion of the fallout for France (Sarkozy's triumph) and Germany (Merkel's embarassment).

I would say that Libya, with its considerable oil resources, should be left to rebuild itself as it wishes and without international aid. Prolonging the NFZ is one thing, but providing security for the reconstruction effort should be the Libyans' job. If they can't do it, then they will have to postpone reconstruction until they can. The ones who "own it" are the rebels now, not anyone outside of Libya.

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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.