Libya: Gaddafi still posing a threat despite NTC gains

Mixed developments yet positive news as Obama meets Abdul Jalil in New York. The war persists...

Barack Obama smiled broadly as he met the National Transitional Council's leader in New York, where Mustafa Abdul Jalil spoke passionately of Libya's need for continued UN support. 25,000 martyrs dead and twice that number wounded, he said. The reconstruction will cost and Libya requires all the help it can get. It was a photo-op for Obama, who had strangely decided to meet the NTC leader on US turf rather than fly to Tripoli to deliver his "Ich bin ein Berliner" style speech.

Obama's 'I can do this from a distance' response was in stark contrast to the raptuous welcome afforded by Libyans to David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy the other day. Extraordinary scenes, I thought - very moving, especially those broadcast from Benghazi.

The African Union's recognition of the NTC as the legitimate government of Libya is in equally stark contrast to the deafening silence from the ANC government in South Africa, or implicit hand of friendship afforded to the Gaddafis by Algeria and Niger, to where members of Gaddafi's entourage have escaped. All three African countries must be concerned now as to how far out of sinc they are with both international and regional opinion.

Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown, plus a couple of other loyalist cities, persist in putting up lethal resistance to pleas for surrender and peace. A policy of no retribution had been offered by the NTC, but whether that'll stand once NTC forces finally break through is uncertain: it could get very bloody, and stoke future trouble between the clans.

Meanwhile, black African migrants are being used as scapegoats, rounded up and incarcerated. We must fear for their fate. Some must have co-operated with the Gaddafi regime, for sure, even employed as mercenaries. But most will have been in the country working to save up for a planned passage to Europe. The treck north across the Sahara via Sabha to Tripoli was a well-worn route. That'll stop now for a few years, I suspect. No wonder so many sub-Saharan and Horn of Africa migrants had been escaping by boat to the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. An island, incidentally, which Gaddafi had "planned to swamp" with "African migrants as revenge for Rome’s part in the coalition against his regime" Italy’s foreign minister told Avvenire, an Italian Catholic newspaper.

Precarious times ahead, for sure. However, if the UK, France, US, UN and Qatar honour their pledges to the Libyan people, the country stands a good chance of recovery. But Gaddafi is still at large, and his arsenal is bound to be huge. Is he even in the country, as a delivers his third audio message since his ousting? No-one appears to know for certain.

Qatar's place in all of this has been fascinating, too. The home of Al Jazeera and winner (by what means?) of the FIFA World Cup 2022, has been deeply engaged in freeing Libya, right from the outset. Providing money, planes and relief vessels has afforded the little Gulf emirate with upgraded brand recognition and international accolades. The sight of Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani standing with Cameron and Sarkozy at a Paris meeting on Libya has raised the oil-rich yet tiny-populated country's political profile to global status. It is punching far above its weight. And yet it's incongruous that an autocratic monarch could be so deeply involved in helping other Arabs free themselves from the shackles of tyrants.

Yet when all is said and done, should the Libyans actually achieve democracy and stick by the rule of law in future, and if their country doesn't slide into Somalia-style inter-clan chaos, the peoples of Algeria, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia will realise that, however ruthless their rulers, genuine freedom is one short revolution away.

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