Libya: Is it Oil or Democracy? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

News reports that the rebels have struck a deal with Qatar for the sale and export of Libya’s crude oil in rebel-controlled hands have given a glimpse into the twists and turns of the ongoing impasse in that country. Even before any decisive victory is won, attention is being focused on the livewire of the Libyan economy, which reinforces suspicion that the International Coalition’s ulterior motive is to create favourable conditions for the West to exploit Libya’s crude oil stock with impunity; and to scare other countries wishing to build up some military strength to challenge allies or interests of the West.

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Libya supplies a good measure of crude oil to the international market and has much sway in the swing of world market price of the commodity, as we can tell from the impact of that country’s political crisis on the price of oil until Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah allayed fears through increased production by his country. Gaddafi’s decisive role in breaking the back of the West many years ago to get favourable price(s) for crude oil producers is known. The West hasn’t forgiven him since then.

The choice of Qatar for this deal is not surprising. As the only active Arab League member to have aided the International Coalition materially in its efforts to oust Gaddafi from office, Qatar has already positioned itself as a conduit pipe for channeling Libyan oil out and bringing in the glare of Western democracy. What a perfect pawn to be used in this nerve-racking game!

With oil now added to the discourse on current happenings in Libya, there is no doubt in my mind that a hidden agenda is the motivation for the West’s subtext of regime change and for the democracy that it envisages to help the rebels put in place. Will Libyan oil and Western democracy mix? Let’s hope so.


Gaddafi’s fate is sealed. Two main events have already made him an anathema to peace-loving people: first, his long, self-serving, and dictatorial rule; and second, his excessive use of military force in an attempt to quell the rebellion against him. By so doing, he created serious humanitarian problems that peace-loving people all over the world abhorred. In the teeth of opposition, he added more fuel to the fire, which is now spreading fast to consume him and all that he stands for.

The ongoing military action against his government is regrettable as far as its devastation of the country’s infrastructure is concerned. But beyond that overt military action is the real issue: The blueprint for the Coalition’s military option is nothing but the establishment of “Western democracy” in Libya. This anticipation is the main motivation for supporting the rebels to oust Gaddafi from office. But is that how a durable democracy should be established?

Despite being cited as one of the causes for the rebellion, there is nothing strange about Gaddafi’s long rule—taking away the part of dictatorship—because it is not a rarity. Others elsewhere have ruled far longer than him and attracted diverse reactions from home and abroad. Gaddafi would have had a different fate by now had he listened to reason to introduce reforms to serve the interests of Libyans instead of doggedly pursuing his so-called “Green Book” ideology and setting up his “Jamahiriya” as the fait accompli. This situation notwithstanding, the excessive damage being done to Libya by the International Coalition raises eyebrows. That is where the main concern crops up.

A spokesman for the Libyan government has accused the International Coalition of going beyond the mandate given it by the United Nations. According to him, the Coalition’s actions against Libya are “illegal and immoral.” Undeniably, the issue of “illegality” is moot because it seems to be accounted for by UN Resolution 1973. The main worry is rightly captured in the aspect of “immorality,” which we must not miss. What is the moral justification for the International Coalition to directly join the rebel forces in overthrowing a government of a sovereign country?
This question raises troubling others that we must consider as part of our efforts to comprehend the crisis. This involvement of external forces in a country’s internal political problems is a bad precedent for us in Africa.


We must be informed upfront about the peculiarities of the uprising that has rocked the Arab World. We need to recall that the immediate causes of the uprisings in the first three countries (Tunisia, Egypt, and Algeria) that provided ammunition for what others have done or are doing elsewhere were the high cost of food, lack of job opportunities for the youth, and long reign of their rulers without opportunities for reforms and constitutional democracy or regime change.

All along, the battle cry of the protesters had been against worsening living conditions and the dictatorship of their rulers. We need not over-state the obvious. Both Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak fled the scene, leaving behind the problems that their rule had created. The Algerian security curtailed the uprising but didn’t attract much venom from the West.

In the case of Libya, only one factor seems to be fuelling the rebellion—Gaddafi’s long stay on the throne (and fear of a Gaddafi dynasty) and his miscalculated, contemptuous, and atrocious treatment of the protesters, leading to the humanitarian crisis that brought about this International Coalition.

Nowhere have we heard from the Libyan rebels that they were rebelling against Gaddafi because they lacked jobs, food, or other amenities. Unlike the other countries, the economic factor wasn’t part of the agitation. The impression one gathers from this angle is that the main cause for the rebellion in Libya is not economic but merely political—the desire to end Gaddafi’s 41-year rule and the creation of opportunities for Western style constitutional democracy.
The International Coalition bought into this sentiment on “democracy” and is on this mission to help the rebels actualize their dreams. Maddened by this urge for exporting democracy to Libya, they have thrown away the thinking caps. All that matters now is military action and destruction of Libya to get at Gaddafi.


The bombardment of Libya, which is mistakenly portrayed as a neutralization of Gaddafi’s military capabilities, is unwavering even long after spokesmen of the Coalition had informed the world that the Coalition’s actions had succeeded in crippling the Libyan air defence network and sent the Libyan army into disarray. If that were the case, then, shouldn’t the Coalition have considered its mission as over and allowed for other measures to be taken to solve the problem without any further loss of life, limb, and property?

The persistent devastation suggests that the Coalition won’t cease its operations or make room for other options until it accomplishes its hidden task of supporting the rebels to oust Gaddafi from office. Regime change is the main objective! While some signs of division appear to be creeping into the ranks of the European Union over the extent of the Coalition’s actions, there is no immediate indication that the devastation will cease soon. The allure of a western style democracy in Libya is too overpowering.

We can tell from the extent of demolition going on in many parts of Libya that the International Coalition has caused enormous havoc already to the Libyan infrastructure (not only in military hardware but also other important amenities that will take billions of dollars to rebuild). France has admitted that its fighter jets had destroyed five Libyan fighter jets and two helicopters. Many other installations have been reduced to rubble while the intensive bombing continues on a daily basis.

Furthermore, it is difficult to accept the Coalition’s denial that it has killed anyody in its bombardment of Libya. Lives have been destroyed and the Coalition must not cover up this crime. We see images of vehicles burning or completely shattered on roads. Were these vehicles driving themselves? Who is accounting for the lives of the occupants after the bombardment? Or the pro-Gaddafi forces killed?


What we see is a determined effort by the 28 countries constituting the so-called International Coalition to pave the way for the rebels to achieve their objectives. Having led the way first by bombing and incapacitating the pro-Gaddafi forces, the Coalition has definitely made the going easy for the rebels, hence their ability to recapture the towns they had lost to the pro-Gaddafi forces. Now, they are nearing Sirte, Gaddafi’s home-town and stronghold in the West, from where they hope to intensify their efforts to reach Tripoli. Already, both cities are targets of the bombardment, which is preparatory to sacking by the rebel forces.

Without the air support given the rebels by the Coalition, they couldn’t have advanced thus far. The picture must be clear by now that the International Coalition is a fighting force that is the backbone of the rebels. With the leadership role now ceded by the US to NATO—and considering the overzealousness of the Coalition to expand its operations—we can tell that a peaceful end to this crisis cannot be found.

That is where the conundrum will become more complicated. Should the rebels be helped to reach Tripoli, the carnage that will take place can be better observed than described. If they succeed, they will emerge as the new forces controlling Libya; but that kind of success will have an untold negative impact on Libya if the kind of rule to be established turns out to be a far cry from what Libya needs.

Let’s take Iraq as a clear example of how an “imported democracy” creates more problems than solving any. Undeniably, the United States’ military action in Iraq was principally aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power and neutralizing that country’s military capabilities. After all, having armed Iraq far more than the country needed in its eight-year war with Iran (1980 to 1988), it was clear that Iraq had become a major military force in that part of the world. Its capabilities threatened the dominance of Saudi Arabia, the US’s number one ally, and something must be done to reverse the balance of power.

What did we see after Saddam Hussein’s removal and murder? Support for the Shiites and other ethnic groups that claimed to have suffered under Saddam Hussein pushed the Sunni ethnic group (Saddam Hussein’s extraction) to the flanks as targets to be discriminated against. The fragile system of governance in Iraq can’t be praised as an accomplishment. It is no democracy, as the Iraqis themselves will admit.

The Libyan situation seems to be a replica of the Iraqi one even though it has its own peculiar ramifications. From the events that have unfolded so far, it is clear that the International Coalition has two major aims as well: the immobilization of Libya’s military capabilities and a regime change to install the rebels in power. Unless other approaches are adopted to create conditions that will nurture and support any government that replaces the current one, the situation in Libya will continue to be bleak.