The freedom fighters who have been met with the most brutal, inhumane and criminal antics of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi come from all sections of Libyan society. Gaddafi has tried to win over some Libyans by promising them immense riches, on one occasion even physically showering them with bundles of cash. However, the people now control the major part of Libya – with new groups, tribes and leaders disavowing their links with Gaddafi and announcing their stand alongside the revolution virtually every hour.
While Gaddafi’s partial grip on the capital Tripoli remains in place, people now realise that they have passed the point of no return: either topple him or be killed. They also realise that Gaddafi’s recent speeches and tactics show a desperate dictator who has almost entirely lost control. This opportunity will never come round again in their lifetime.
Over the last week, a steady stream of former leaders of the Gaddafi regime have deserted him and declared allegiance to the Libyan people and to the revolution. Many have spoken of their utter disgust at his order to shoot and kill demonstrators. A number of generals appeared on camera stating their disbelief at the orders to launch fighter jets against unarmed civilians demonstrating on the streets.
Despite the heavy sacrifice they are offering every day, Libyans utterly reject any foreign intervention, even for their defence and protection. From the outset, Gaddafi warned his overthrow would make Libya the same horrific, chaotic arena that Iraq and Afghanistan are today. But the people are adamant that this revolution is theirs alone.
There is little doubt this determination and resilience comes from the transformation in spirit and atmosphere across the Arab region after the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. This new spirit is locally produced and nurtured, refusing to be western-driven or influenced. Its aim is not only to return Libya to a state where transparency, democracy, pluralism, freedom and fairness prevail, but to restore its standing in the world. Its relations with the west must be based on mutual recognition, shared and common interests and parity, not the old ways of a relationship built on corrupt dealings, fear and abuse.
Hundreds of thousands of Libyans have studied and lived in the UK, Europe and the US in the decades since oil was discovered, and those highly educated individuals yearn for a productive, co-operative and collaborative relationship with the west. Make no mistake, post-Gaddafi Libya will require a healthy link with western governments and companies to benefit from their technology, skills and expertise, while the west needs our immense natural and mineral riches.
Until then the liberation of Libya, street by street and town by town, goes on unabated. Already, a number of towns and cities have declared independence from Gaddafi’s regime and have begun in earnest the job of running their daily affairs. Community committees and councils of the elders have already been established in Benghazi, Musrata and Zawiyah, to help restore life and normality in anticipation of the fall of Tripoli and the complete removal of Gaddafi and his inner circle.
The fear expressed by some international commentators that Libya will fall into the hands of extremists is totally unfounded. The very nature of Libyan society will not allow it. There is little doubt that Islam as a faith, culture and identity runs strongly through our heritage and tradition, but violence and extremism are foreign. Indeed, Gaddafi had to bring hordes of mercenaries from other African countries to carry out orders that Libyan police and army refused. Rather, it is the Turkish model of government that most Libyans aspire to; where Islamic ethics and values enrich endeavours to achieve democracy, justice, freedom and development.
The west should welcome this region’s transformation to an open, democratic environment, and should not impede the people’s aspirations. Our hope, too, is that once Libya comes to hold its first free and fair elections, the outcome will be fully respected across the world, come what may.
Gaddafi’s last gambit is to play the tribal card. In his last couple of speeches, he promised various tribes riches and lands, using the old divide and rule tactic. Various commentators have made the mistake of believing that Libya is a tribal society. It is not, and one needn’t look any further than the revolution to see nobody is standing out or standing apart from the Libyan youth who have led the people in their march towards a free Libya.
By Mahmoud Al-Nakou, a Libyan author living in exile in London.