Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Libya after Gaddafi: ‘The continuity is striking’

The National Transitional Council’s ‘new Libya’ is all too familiar, writes Tommy Miles

December 19, 2011
5 min read

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Gaddafi’s minister of justice and now chairman of the National Transitional Council

At the end of October, 51 voting representatives took part in the election by the National Transitional Council (NTC) of the academic and businessman Abdul al-Raheem al-Qeeb as Libya’s new interim prime minister. But many have never been publicly identified and no complete record of their votes is public. Around a dozen members make up the NTC’s executive committee, with most given ministerial-like portfolios. The NTC chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, plays the role of figurehead and shares executive powers with the committee chair. Until his recent – likely temporary – retreat from power, this was the former interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. The post-war NTC road-map is vague, with April 2012 elections and a constitutional convention promised beforehand.

The great continuity (only minus the Gaddafis) between the NTC now and pre-revolutionary Libya is striking. Libya has witnessed a political revolution, not a social or an economic one, and many of the leading actors remain the same.

The first revolutionary leaders came from the dissidents, the diaspora, and the Islamists. Among the earliest were future NTC vice chair Abdul Hafiz Ghoga and ‘minister for youth’ Fatih Turbel. These two dissident lawyers organised the families of the 1,200 Islamist – or accused Islamist – prisoners killed at Tripoli’s Abu Salim jail in 1996. The march that sparked the revolution was organised by these families to protest at the arrest of Turbel after he led an earlier anniversary vigil.

That 15 February protest was watched closely by an ad hoc network of educated, ‘wired’ Libyans abroad, energised by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. As demonstrations spread, news was collected by phone calls and texts to diaspora Libyans, spread to the western press, and back to Libya. The actions of Libyans living abroad were crucial to the rising’s survival.

By March there were two collections of neighbourhood committees trying to run and defend liberated Benghazi. Combined, they became the NTC. One was headed by Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, the other by Mustafa Abdul Jalil. Abdul Jalil was surely more prominent as he was Gaddafi’s minister of justice, dispatched to his native region to calm the protests that he instead joined.

As a judge under the old regime, Jalil’s stubborn refusal to follow diktat or prosecute political opponents made him a hero. So it was a surprise, not only that he survived, but that Muammar Gaddafi’s heir, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, made him justice minister in 2007.

After 2001, the Gaddafis set out to welcome western capital while avoiding western militarism. This eventually included controlled demonstrations of political openness. Saif was not foolish enough to give men like Abdul Jalil real power. Libya remained a state tightly ruled by the Gaddafi clan. But the 2007 burst of reform appointments is part of the pre-history of the NTC. They included Mahmoud Jibril, who was made head of the Libyan National Economic Development Board by Saif, and future NTC justice minister Mohammed Allagui, who was ‘human rights spokesman’ for Saif’s Gaddafi Foundation. Even critics of the NTC liberals have their skeletons. Sheikh Ali al-Salabi, who once called Jibril an ‘extremist secularist’, was Saif’s negotiator with former Islamist prisoners during their 2010 ‘rehabilitation’.

Most of those who rose in Saif’s reforms were like Jibril: fluent in international diplomacy and business, they had spent decades in the west, or had run businesses in the more liberal Gulf states. Their model is western-facing oil rentier-based capitalist development. They were the natural leaders of a new Libya.

When Jibril stepped down, many expected oil and finance minister Ali Tarhouni to lead the NTC into elections. Tarhouni, a former Seattle MBA professor, brought an ability to translate the NTC’s realities to westerners and a willingness to discuss its conflicts and failures. His denunciation of foreign, allegedly Qatari, arms shipments to militias might have been his undoing, and he was sidelined for the ‘unknown’ Abdel Rahim Al Keeb.

While he is set to be a marginal individual, Al Keeb’s background gives us a foretaste of the emerging Libya. A US‑trained engineer, he runs a Qatar-based oil industry engineering company, with large Libyan contracts since 2005. Al Keeb was no dissident. He is a rich man with extensive western, Gulf, and Libyan business contacts and no particular animus outside Gaddafi’s inner circle. As scion of a powerful old family from west of Tripoli, he has a status that predates both the revolution and Gaddafi. Al Keeb also bankrolled Tripoli-based rebels, whose military councils are the NTC’s greatest headache.

The coming Libya will be familiar to the old elites. The dissidents and intellectuals never really had a chance.

Tommy Miles writes at blog.tomathon.com

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero


18