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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Libya remains embroiled in chaos long after the 2011 revolution

Events that led to the fall of the Qaddafi regime were not always reported truthfully, writes Mustafa Fetouri.
Rebel fighters delivered a knockout punch to the Qaddafi regime. Patrick Baz / AFP
Rebel fighters delivered a knockout punch to the Qaddafi regime. Patrick Baz / AFP

By February 17, 2011, the Libyan government had lost control of the eastern part of the country to rebel factions.

Within a few days the rebels pushed ahead, with the aim of conquering all of Libya. With Nato help, they eventually destroyed the regime.

A few days later the UN became involved and the Security Council adopted a resolution on February 26. The resolution deplored “the gross and systematic violation of human rights” and imposed an arms embargo, which is still in place.

That resolution paved the way for the military intervention in Libya. Resolution 1973 called on all countries to take measures to protect civilians from government forces.

Two days later, on March 19, France took the lead in reinforcing that resolution, launching a series of air raids on Libyan government forces across the country and plunging the country into civil war.

It would be eight months before Qaddafi himself was killed.  

In fact, the war has never ended, but has subsequently evolved into a succession of smaller conflicts that have delivered much bloodier consequences.

Many reasons were offered to justify the war on Libya in 2011: among them the protection of civilians, the prevention of genocide and the bombing of civilian areas by Qaddafi forces. Five years on and many believe that the reasons behind the war were deceitful.

When Libyan government forces reached the outskirts of Benghazi on March 19, 2011, they passed through dozens of cities and towns that a few days earlier had been under rebel control.

Most of the residents of those towns and villages were driven out by the rebels. Government troops helped them to return home.

The most heinous lie was, probably, the news report that claimed that a neighbourhood less than 3km from the centre of Tripoli was bombed by government aeroplanes.

I happened to be in the Fashlum area at that time when I got a phone call from a pro-rebel friend, who asked me for photographic evidence of the raids.

It was true that the Libyan air force bombed some places but they were arms dumps and airfields far away from any populated areas. This kind of misreporting was also repeated in Tajura town, about 15km west of Tripoli, but this time the claim was supported by a prominent religious clerk.

Claims of planned genocide in Libya were also used as a pretext to put Qaddafi and his family before the International Criminal Court.

Genocide, as defined by the UN’s 1948 Convention, means an ethnic or religious group is targeted on the basis of faith or ethnicity.

In 2011, government troops, under orders from Gaddafi himself, went after armed rebels, most of whom were Islamists. Black Libyans were targeted by the rebels and, in the case of Tawergha people who have been displaced and prosecuted, there is evidence of crimes against humanity by rebel forces. Throughout, it was the belief of the West that had the intervention stalled then “no mercy” would have been shown to the Libyan people by forces loyal to Qaddafi.

The media campaign against the regime back in 2011 succeeded in creating a particular environment across much of the world, resulting in a chain of events that led to war. Unwittingly, these events have plunged Libya into the chaos it has lived through over the past five years.

Mustafa Fetouri is an independent Libyan academic and an award-winning journalist

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