Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Libyan Paradox

African Politics Portal

The Libyan Paradox

By Luis Martinez

Translation from French by John King

Columbia University Press New York in Association with the

Centre d’ Etudes et de Recherches Internationales, Paris 2007

The Libyan paradox is more of a long paper than an actual book. In many ways it does not share the cohesiveness and the structure of a book that is meant to inform and attract readers by luring them in the captivating world of a particular subject. It is divided into three chapters that all start with a thesis and end with a re-stated conclusion / summary. It intrinsically assumes that the reader needs to be reminded of the arguments presented in a particular chapter. That is why, for a reader whose knowledge of Africa is rather extensive, this style could appear more annoying than challenging. The author also makes use of a series of concepts that are repeated over and over again, distracting the reader from the main arguments. For instance, “Eldorado state”, “unofficial markets”, “Just society,” and “conversion”, are not necessarily recurrent themes, but words excessively used by the author.

Let that aside, the book is really worth reading. It is amazing how the author managed to comprehensively cover 40 years of Libyan history and…paradoxes in only 150 pages. Martinez is systemic, calculated and pays close attention to all actors involved in the recent history of the country: Libyan politicians, regular citizens, older and younger Libyans and expats. He also makes good use of direct sources such as fragments of al’Gaddafi’s or even George W Bush speeches regarding the current political realities in Libya. “The Libyan paradox” is an accessible books whose author supposes that his readers do not know anything about Libya so he methodically organizes his work in a way that makes anyone comfortable reading the book (with the exception of the few critiques listed at the beginning of this review.)

From the beginning, Martinez lets you know that you need to be have courage to live, work and cover Libya, and you have to be mentally prepared to read about this country since “[Libya] is a shadowy world of illegal weapons, ideological zealotry, terrorism, wealth and waste, hypocrisy, frustration, corruption and family intrigue, occasionally leavened by flashes of genuine patriotism, generosity and foresight.” (Page X) The book covers the Libyan history prior to the economic sanctions imposed by the West (1969-1992,) during the sanctions (1992 - 1999), and the throughout the post sanctions recent history (1999-2007).

For me, the most interesting chapter is the one covering the sanctions since this practice has gained a lot of media-coverage especially in the recent period when various developed countries tried to impose sanctions on non-democratic regimes (see the UK and the US on Zimbabwe story.) At least in the case of Libya, the author concludes, the regime has experienced very few inconveniences during the sanctions. On the contrary, it is the people of Libya who have carried the burden of these sanctions. “The sanctions actually had the convenient effect of concealing the real causes of the decline of the Libyan economy. In fact, sanctions even brought profits to certain senior officials within the regime.” (Page 15) There has been one accidental effect of the sanctions that has produced some sort of change in Libya, but as far as the official intentions of the West are concerned, these have miserably failed. The author explores the unofficial market that was born under the sanctions and concludes that young people, by traveling to Malta or Cyprus, were exposed to the benefits and the mentality of the West. This made them financially independent from a redistributive state that claims your body and your soul in exchange for a decent life. At the same time, this exposure has had some detrimental effects on the State since “the revolutionary regime no longer possesses the attributes of legitimacy. It is under challenge from disgruntled Libyans of the younger generation who no longer see the Jamahiriya as a political mechanism able to build a ‘just society.’ (Page 40)

However, from a different perspective, the sanctions have worsen the internal situation since Gaddafi reorganized the State around his own tribe excluding those who were not directly related to the Gaddafa tribe, often considering many of them as a real threat against the State. (For more details on the tribal divisions and policies go to the end of this review where several quotes from the book are listed for your convenience.)

The book is highly prescient: it seems written from tomorrow’s newspapers, despite having been written in 2006 (the French version.) Very important is Martinez’ argument on why Libya has shifted towards the West, especially towards America. It is not because the regime has any intension to change its practices or the way of governing the country. It is because the regime had the feeling that Libya could rightfully be considered a new Iraq and therefore the US could justify an attack on it, since “Libya was developing a nuclear and chemical weapons programme, […] Libya was a terrorist State, headed by an anti-Israeli dictator.”(46) In other words, Gaddafi changed his policy in order not to share the faith of Saddam Hussein, not because he really believed a good relationship with the US would be in his best long term interests. The “conversion moment” has been the 9/11 attacks when Libyan politicians offered their services to the world, and especially to the Bush Administration, in the war on terror. This was a legitimate claim especially because Gaddafi had been fighting the extreme fundamentalists in his country who tried to remove him out of power through several coups and has led to civil disobedience in several parts of the country. 9/11 was the perfect moment for Libyan administration to kill two birds with the same stone, the author argues.

The book offers good arguments why Libya has not and does not intent to change. These reasons should be thoroughly analyzed especially these days after Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya. Martinez concludes that all recent changes that occurred in Libya in the past decade will most likely NOT lead to the democratization of the regime. The regime has rather been reconfirmed, not weakened.

Read this book, analyze it and use it. Certainly one of the best books on Libya in recent years.

Other notable quotes from the book:

[…] the distribution of the State’s income enables politics to be marginalized and facilitates the purchase of social tranquility. 3

Gaddafi’s ‘just society’ has sunk into corruption and debauchery. As the Islamists saw the situation, the time has come to “purify” Libya, from the “sickness” personified, in their view, by its Guide. 41

As Mahmud al-Kikhia explains, under the sanctions, the Libyan regime reconstructed itself on the basis of the tribesmen closest to the Gaddafa tribe. 95

[This allowed the government to shift from the politics of oppression to the politics of regional affiliations, mainly based on family links.]

Revolutionary Libya was founded on a vision of the ‘tribe society’ derived from a ‘tribal political’ model. In the Green Book, Gaddafi averred that the tribe was a ‘natural social protection’ and, ‘on the basis of its traditions, it guarantees social security to its members.’ In contrast, he said, ‘the State is an artificial political, economic, and sometimes military system, which has no link to human values.’98

The tribes and the clans play an essential role in security, guaranteeing the stability and continuity of the regime. 99/100

The 1969 coup resulted in the introduction of a regime whose inclination was steadily to attenuate the power or any political institutions, movements or tribes capable of mounting a challenge to it. 105

Libyan policy-makers regard foreign operators as guests, whom they have allowed to take part in an interaction whose value goes beyond its strictly commercial or economic limits. The conclusion of a contract may be the culmination of a family relationship or one of friendship – as is the case with Italian investors – that is honoured by the clinching of a deal that is privileged inasmuch as it implies the exclusion of other participants. The oil sector is seen as the decision makers’ particular fief, which they share with “guests” whom they have chosen for diplomatic, military or political reasons, or out of considerations of friendship. 128

[In Libya, economic liberalization] does not mean political freedom. Libya’s liberalization is more in the style of China’s ‘communist capitalism’ than that of the Soviet Union’s perestroika. Libya’s political structures remain unaltered, so that it is hard to see how there could be major progress in the struggle against corruption. 131

Libya exports 90 per cent of its oil to Europe. Oil was a diplomatic weapon for Libya during the sanctions period, from 1992 to 1999. Libya’s priority was to maintain its oil production despite the sanctions. The few foreign companies that showed an interest in oil production were encouraged to participate. The strategic partnership between Libya and Italy tended to work in favour of the Italian companies, which had excellent relations with Libya. Germany and Switzerland also developed a partnership with Libya which helped their oil companies to become established. Similarly, the Spanish company Repsol took a high profile in Libya during the sanctions. The presence of the European oil companies under the sanctions was a considerable help to Libya in mitigating the intensity of its conflictual relationship with the United States. 141-142

The good relations Libya enjoyed with Germany and Italy helped to avoid an escalation of the sanctions. 143

Gaddafi quotes:

As I see it, Africa is absolutely not a poor continent. Perhaps cash is lacking but it has resources and raw materials. I regard Africa as a rich continent. However, the capitalist countries have put a veto on Africa. They don’t want our continent to develop. They want to keep Africa as it is, in order to take away its materials. 108

“If we took the decision that Africans should be free to travel and live in any country on the continent, we could get over the problem of frontiers. Africa is not like Europe. Europe is made of nations. Africa is made up of tribes.the tribes were torn apart by the colonial countries. The ‘State’ in Africa cannot survive since it is artificial.” From this perspective, the African nation would be better equipped as a ‘United States’ than would Europe. “In Africa, there is one race – the black race – united and composed of various tribes.” 109

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