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Libya's Unfinished Revolution

Jesse McLaren

August 6, 2012

According to mainstream media, Libya’s revolution is safely resolved, having ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi and democratically elected a moderate leader, Mahmoud Jibril. Furthermore, commentators are hailing Libya as a step forward for the Arab spring as elections brought a secular leader, as opposed to the Islamist parties that won in Tunisia and Egypt. Such accounts are misleading.

The Arab spring exploded in opposition to Western-backed repressive regimes that were implementing neoliberal policies. The combination of mass protests and mass strikes quickly toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, threatening Western-control of the oil-rich region. So NATO intervened in Libya, both militarily and politically to support a National Transitional Council (NTC) dominated by former regime elements—like Mustafa Abdel Jalil (former justice minister) and Mahmoud Jibril (former head of “economic development”, ie privatization).

Within Canada the Harper government used the war to justify billions on fighter jets, and kick start a $1 billion program for unmanned drones. Within Libya, “humanitarian intervention” was used to minimize revolutionary change. As the NTC’s head of reconstruction said, the new regime would honour all contracts signed between Gaddafi and the West (including Canada’s Suncor): “The contracts in the oil fields are absolutely sacrosanct…There is no question of revoking any contract.”

Labeling Libya’s leaders “moderate” just because they are not Islamist ignores the contradictions of Islamist parties and the complicity of Libya’s new leaders with Gaddafi and the West. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was historically in opposition to the Western-backed Mubarak dictatorship. They are a contradictory formation with the leadership supporting neoliberalism and the military regime, but a youth base that along with the left has been part of pushing the revolution forward. The revolution succeeded in stopping the election of Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and ongoing strikes and protests have the potential of pulling apart the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Islamist parties are contradictory, the so-called moderate leadership in Libya consistently supports the neoliberal policies that provoked the revolution. Jibril has a history of working with Gaddafi, and an alliance with the imperial NATO countries that used to sell him weapons. NATO and Jibril are trying to smother the revolution and reduce it simply to elections.

But this is not guaranteed. NATO hijacked the leadership but do not control events on the ground. It was the people of Libya who ousted Gaddafi, and ongoing demands could push the revolution forward beyond the narrow confines of elections. Last fall oil workers at Waha oil (a joint venture with US oil giant ConocoPhillips) went on strike for two months and successfully removed a corrupt manager with ties to Gaddafi, despite attempts by Jibril’s regime to keep him in power. As oil worker Ahmed al-Mahmoudi said, “We are very cautious to rebuild our country in a new way and we don’t want to see the same names and figures that used to exist in the reign of Muammar Qaddafi, even for an interim period. Because it is disrespectful to the blood of the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives.” During recent elections, oil workers in the east went on strike to protest the lack of political representation in government.

If strikes and protests continue across the region they could expose the Western-backed neoliberal policies of new regimes, both Islamist and secular, and continue pushing the Arab Spring forward. We can show solidarity by opposing our own government’s military and corporate intervention.

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