What's more, that revolt was obviously part of the wave of revolts sweeping the Arab world and that had already toppled Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. In Bahrain it looked like the pro-democracy movement was on the verge of victory. In Yemen it was well on its way. There were even stirrings in Syria and large protests in Iraq.
But things have changed a lot in the last four months.
The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia continue to deepen, with strike waves and the explosive growth of independent unions in Egypt. In Syria, the revolt against Assad continues unabated and, impossibly, grows even in the face of terrible repression. In Yemen, President Salah clings to power - though for what reason is unclear since all but his family have abandoned him - driving the country to the brink of civil war. In Bahrain, with US blessing, the Saudi military helped to crush the pro-democracy movement in a wave of repression and purges that continues.
And in Libya we've passed the 100 day mark since NATO started it's "humanitarian bombing" mission to "protect civilians." What has become clear is that while the revolt was rooted in the real and legitimate discontent of the Libyan people, that movement was quickly corralled and contained by forces with another agenda. Opportunists from the Libyan regime, senior figures who had happily gone along with the torture and repression of dissidents, suddenly "joined" the movement, forming the Transitional National Council. The popular elements, including the local committees that sprang up in the heat of the revolt were pushed aside. The struggle against the Gaddafi regime was transformed from a social struggle against a repressive neo-liberal dictatorship, to a military struggle between two factions of the regime.
|Yesterday: Former UK PM Tony Blair with Gaddafi|
But the support of NATO, Europe and the USA comes at a heavy price. That price is clear - the first thing that was demanded of the TNC was that they agree to respect the oil contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime, including its terms. It is also likely that it will mean accepting a US base on Libyan soil - the US African Command (Africom) has been refused by every African country and so is stationed in Germany. This is a strategically important beach-head for the Americans, who feel increasingly squeezed by the Chinese, who are making substantial inroads into Africa - ironically, by spending money on infrastructure that was accumulated by selling Chinese goods to America and Europe (paid for with debt that is held by the Chinese). Prior to the revolt against Gaddafi, there were more than 30,000 Chinese workers and specialists in Libya attached to the sizeable Chinese oil investments. An article in The Globe & Mail last November gives a flavour of China's push into Africa:
On Monday, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping finished a two-day visit to Botswana in which he signed financing deals worth millions in infrastructure and energy development. Two days earlier, he’d made major deals in oil-rich Angola. On Wednesday in Ethiopia, Chinese private and state investors opened a $27-million leather-goods factory that will employ 500 Ethiopians; the same investment fund is also building cement plants and an airport hotel nearby. On Thursday, Sudan, which imports 80 per cent of its food, announced plans to quintuple its current wheat cultivation with backing from Chinese and Persian Gulf investors, increasing its acres under cultivation by 25 per cent a year for a decade.Russian interests are also under threat in the region as the US, UK and the EU jockey to make the maximum gains from the upheaval of the Arab Spring. It's no surprise that Russia has opposed intervention, not from any principled anti-imperialism - as the Chechnyans and Georgians could attest - but rather out of the fear of losing their toehold in the region, mediated through America's enemies (i.e. those countries whose policies aren't subordinate to America's interests) like Syria and Iran.
And this is not an atypical week. The Chinese claim to have more than $1.5-billion invested in Africa now, up from $210-million; they employ at least 300,000 Africans in their own countries (and, increasingly, import African workers to the cities of the Pearl River Delta) and have built 60,000 kilometres of roads and 3.5 million kilowatts worth of power stations there – far more than any other country. Last year, China replaced the United States as the largest trading partner of South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, and annual China-Africa trade topped $100-billion for the first time this year.
What is going on in Libya now must be seen in this light - as a hijacked revolution that now plays its part in a new Great Game between imperial powers jockeying for position in Africa and the Middle East, primarily China and Russia vs NATO & the USA. Not only is this game a dangerous one that could exacerbate tensions between the imperial powers, none of whom is likely to look kindly on the loss of infrastructure and capital investments, strategic relationships, etc. It is also a threat to the whole process of democratic revolution throughout the Arab world.
On the other hand, if NATO loses in Libya, it will be a massive blow to the ability of the alliance to project power beyond Europe's borders. The recent criticisms by outgoing US Defence Chief Gates makes clear that there are already tensions and frustrations within the alliance as a result of the unwinnable NATO war in Afghanistan. Defeat in Libya will be another nail in the coffin of one of the pre-eminent tools of the United States to spread its empire, alongside its junior European partner. It will also be a defeat for the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by the repressive Saudi regime, who have thrown in their lot with the emerging project to use the upheaval to reconfigure relations in the region - defeating thorns in the side like Syria's Assad (who is a Shi'ite and who supports Hezbollah, a Shi'ite movement) and the bombastic Gaddafi, who has offended the Gulf emirs more than once with his anti-colonial rhetoric.
Chances are there will be no "good" solution forthcoming in the short-term. Probably NATO will attempt to save face by declaring a limited victory via establishing the partition of Libya between Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west. Cyrenaica will, of course, be a NATO client regime "protected" by the permanent presence of NATO/US troops and military forces. A victory by Gaddafi is also unlikely to bring democracy to the Libyan people. The real hope lies with the further deepening of the Tunisian revolution on Libya's western border and the Egyptian revolution on the eastern border.
In the meantime, the best bad outcome is for a defeat for NATO, which is a much bigger threat to world peace and democracy than Gaddafi has ever been. NATO is waging war in Afghanistan, to guarantee a strategic advantage against China on its western border and to encircle Iran to the west of Afghanistan. NATO countries led the war against Iraq - predominantly the US and UK, of course. The UK was the first country to rush into the Middle East after the Egyptian revolution to hawk more weapons to frightened dictatorships. The US, of course, is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. The Libyans, at present, are not deployed anywhere outside of Libya and under Gaddafi were involved in or initiated three wars since 1977 - two of those were ostensibly anti-colonial: against a French neo-colonial regime in Chad and the other a protest against the Egyptian dictatorship's peace treaty with Israel. This is not at all to justify Libyan military interventions - let alone its corrupt and oppressive social and economic policies - but to make clear that Gaddafi's regime are not even in the same league as the US/NATO and, with a population of 6 million, can't even be described as a regional imperialist country.
France confirms arming Libyan rebels - Africa - Al Jazeera English