20 Oct 2012

Gaddafi: one year on

I’ve kept the short email messages a Libyan fighter sent me from Sirte a few minutes after he heard that Muammar Gaddafi had been caught, along with his son, Mutassim, and his longtime defence minister, Abu Bakr Younes. I reproduce them with spelling and punctuation intact:

“dear, how do you do and how is every one , i would like to inform you that sirte is liberated and i am searching for moatsem and aboboker youns and will catch them.”

“its liberated and now i am writting to you from inside sirte and libya is free”

“its confirmed that momer is cought and found to be deid , cought by misrtah rebelis”

“now i can confirm that he is been cought with head injury and we never now if he is going to life or not and now he is in his way to misratah.”

I was in Tripoli. Within a few hours we knew that all three men had been killed.

Slung across jeep

In Misrata the next day I met Omran Shabaan, the fighter who first spotted Gaddafi in the culvert where he was hiding – he said that he hadn’t killed him, but that by the time Gaddafi arrived in Misrata, slung across the front of a jeep, he was dead.  I looked at the jeep – it was covered in blood.

Video emerged showing that the former leader had been set upon by fighters.

One year on, we know a little more about what happened that day. A Human Rights Watch  investigation suggests that the fighters subjected their captives to “brutal beatings” and then executed at least 66 captured members of Gaddafi’s convoy, including Mutassim.

Despite successful elections, in which Libyans chose more liberals than Islamists,  and a rapid restarting of oil exports, Libya’s new leaders have failed to stop further violence.

Most notoriously, the US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was killed when Islamist militiamen attacked the US consulate in Benghazi in September.

Failure to impose law and order

Such is the failure of the Libyan authorities to impose law and order in the year since Gaddafi’s death, key suspects are still happily drinking strawberry frappes with reporters.

Libya has so much going for it. A small population, many of whom are well-educated. Natural resources. International support.

But the legacy of 42 years of dictatorship means that those who are supposed to take control seem incapable of making decisions and building a new state.

Since Gaddafi was killed, militia have proliferated. Young men who did not fight in the revolution are now carrying weapons.

Few have agreed to be incorporated into the police or national army, and – as the International Crisis Group has detailed attempts to provide an official umbrella for militia have failed to curb their excesses.

Stronghold in hands of Gadaffi loyalists

The Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid, which has a longstanding feud with Misrata,  remains in the hands of those who support the fallen dictator.

Numerous peace missions, led by local notables, have failed to bring agreement.

In July, Omran Shabaan, the young man who found Gaddafi, was captured by fighters from Bani Walid while on a mission about exchanging prisoners.

After  two months of torture, he was released and flown to France for treatment. He died on 24 September.

International human rights groups condemned the killing of Gaddafi as a war crime, and saw it as a bad augury.

One year on, those who fought for liberation have to overcome their own propensity for violence and find other ways to settle disputes, or Libya will never emerge from the shadow of dictatorship and conflict.

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