Time to go, Muammar

Gaddafi should learn from the fate of several of his counterparts in the region and step down immediately.

By JACQUES NERIAH
June 13, 2011 23:49
4 minute read.
Jacques Neriah

Jacques Neriah 58. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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Almost three months have elapsed since the start of the insurgency against Muammar Gaddafi’s four decades of rule. As a result:

1. Libya is divided into two areas which roughly correspond to the division established by the Ottoman Empire – the Vilayet of Tripoli and the Vilayet of Cyrenaica in the east. The civil war has devastated the infrastructure of the state, as well as its oil industry.

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2. The rebellion has slashed oil production by almost 90%. The OPEC quota system has been weakened by the need to replace Libya’s lost contribution, and in its last meeting no agreement was reached on that issue, causing a rise in the price of oil.

3. NATO forces are fighting an air campaign in support of the rebels that has intensified since the beginning of June with more attacks on Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli. A dramatic threshold has been crossed with the involvement of helicopter gunships against Gaddafi loyalists.

4. For the second time since the end of the colonial era (the first time was against Saddam Hussein in Iraq), foreign powers are using their armies to intervene in Arab politics and replace an Arab ruler because of his ruthless crackdown on opposition, and in order to bring a dramatic “long and complex” transition to democracy as described by NATO Secretary- General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In this context, the question is, how far will the NATO alliance go against Gaddafi? Will they be satisfied with his voluntary exit, or will they persist until he is brought to justice, either by Libya’s next rulers or before the International Criminal Court in the Hague? Gaddafi should probably look around at the fate of other Arab rulers who used to be his colleagues: Saddam Hussein chose to fight instead of finding refuge in a friendly safe haven. As a result, he was caught by American troops, tried by an Iraqi court for crimes against his own people, and hanged.

Zine El-Abdine Ben Ali chose to fly to Saudi Arabia, where he will probably live under confinement until the end of his days.

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Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is now being tried before judges appointed by his own previous army colleagues, who chose at the height of the crisis to send him to the presidential retreat in Sharm e-Sheikh because he did not want to leave the country. Mubarak, who is probably suffering from a terminal illness, had asked to die within Egypt’s sovereign borders, and was probably promised immunity in order to convince him to step down and delegate his powers to the supreme council of the armed forces. He will probably die in jail.

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh left his country (temporarily) for Saudi Arabia to get medical care after being injured by a mortar that fell in his courtyard and caused severe burns on more than 40 percent of his body. Saleh will likely remain in Saudi Arabia.

Syria’s Bashar Assad is fighting for his regime and his life. Rumors about his wife and family having found refuge in the UK have been denied. The crisis is still brewing, with no end in sight.

MOREOVER, GADDAFI must carefully weigh Leon Panetta’s remarks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Director of the Central Intelligence agency and President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Robert Gates as secretary of defense said it was important to push Gaddafi from power: “If Gaddafi stays, I think it sends a terrible signal to these other countries” – referring to other Arab countries facing popular uprisings.

In view of the above, news has leaked that Gaddafi’s son Seif El-Islam has approached the rebels in the past few days to negotiate his father’s exit from power. Gaddafi seems to have signaled that he would prefer remaining in a remote Libyan village for life, but the rebels have flatly refused his proposal; they can’t afford the security forces that would be needed to prevent his assassination.

Instead, South Africa and Senegal have been singled out as countries that might offer him a safe haven, but the Libyan leader may also find refuge in about a dozen African states, such as Zimbabwe, where he has investments and protection from war-crimes prosecution.

Turkey and South Africa are reportedly working on a solution.

At this time, clashes between insurgents and Gaddafi loyalists are focused in Misrata, but the assessment is that rebel troops will reach Tripoli within a few weeks, so Gaddafi’s days in power are numbered.

Gaddafi must be aware of the developments around him. Even though eccentric and at times described as irrational, he must understand that now is the time to go.

The writer is a Mideast political analyst and a former diplomatic adviser to the late Yitzhak Rabin.

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