Friday, September 2, 2011

Libya: France Gets Oil Contracts, Arab Dictatorships Get To Back Slap

Yesterday saw the "Friends of Libya" carve-up conference in Paris where everyone sought to get in on the reconstruction and oil contract action. Besides the announcement that $15 billion in frozen Gaddafi funds would be released to the National Transition Council, there was also the spectacle of speeches by all and sundry congratulating themselves on a job well done. This sort of grandstanding is, of course, de rigeur, at such international conferences but it takes on a particular irony here. For instance, the Kuwaiti foreign minister, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, that is, a member of the al-Sabah family monarchy that rules Kuwait with an iron fist, announced without a hint of irony:
"Libya will see a new era featuring security, stability, and respect for rights, freedoms and equality," the Kuwaiti official told participants at the meeting. "I would like to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to the sons of Libya who sacrificed themselves in defense of the liberty and dignity of their homeland," he added.
No doubt Kuwait will now introduce democracy, equality for women and the large immigrant workforce that have no civil rights. And since world leaders had shown up to pile the lies on the conference floor like horseshit outside a barn, French President Nikolas Sarkozy couldn't bear to miss the opportunity to throw his own excrement on the heap:
"We have aligned with the Arab people in their aspiration for freedom."
Aligned with the Arab people? Really? Sarkozy and the French government were loyal to the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali right up until the end. And, like the Americans, they denied that the Egyptians wanted to overthrow their own dictator - or, in the case of the US vice president, denied that Mubarak was even a dictator.

Then there is the great Arabian memory hole known as Bahrain and Yemen. It is as though the democracy movements in those countries don't exist - even as the Bahraini monarchy continues persecuting the Shia majority, arresting activists, and  killing children. In fact, there were major demonstrations and street battles with the Bahrain police force going on at the same time as the conference, which was attended by representatives of the Bahraini monarchy. The king even paid tribute "to the Libyan people":
"Our stance stems from Bahrain's commitment to Libya's independence, territorial integrity, regional security in addition to ensuring the security of its people so that it could assume its role as an active member of the international community and its Arab and regional environment," he said.
At least he didn't have the audacity to use words like freedom and liberty, unlike the Kuwaiti foreign minister. However, not a single world leader, including the leaders of the Libyan provisional government, the NTC, drew a connection between Libya and Bahrain. Perhaps that has something to do with the agreements and meetings that have already taken place between the NTC and the Gulf monarchies.

And Yemen only makes it on the radar of the US media these days when the US military celebrates another unmanned drone attack on "al Qaeda" rebels in the desert. In case you had any doubts about the reason for this blood-soaked hypocrisy, you just have to follow the money.
Hours before the Paris bash, French daily Liberation published on its website a letter written only 17 days after UN Resolution 1973. In the letter, the TNC ratifies an agreement ceding no less than 35% of Libya's total crude oil production to France in exchange of Sarko's "humanitarian" support.
The letter is addressed to the office of the emir of Qatar (the go-between for the TNC and France from the beginning) - with a copy to then-Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa. The letterhead is supplied by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya.
On one level this isn't too surprising. The NTC has used bribery pretty much from the start to win military backing for the rebellion, stating that countries which supported them would win contracts. Those that didn't - not so much. Sorry, China, Russia and Africa.

Of course one hopes that the true aspirations of the Libyan people to overthrow an extremely repressive dictator are realized. But there is a difference between hope and delusion and attempts to paint political differences between the NTC and, for instance, the rebel commanders in Tripoli have proven to be empty. Evidence for this couldn't be clearer from the fluff piece in today's New York Times about the military commander of Tripoli, Abdulhekim Belhaj. Belhaj is a longstanding Islamist who led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and spent time in Gaddafi's jail - after being sent back to Libya under the USA's extraordinary rendition program. Here he suffered torture for years before finally signing a recantation. Belhaj is quoted as claiming that he never had any association with al Qaeda.
“We focused on Libya and Libya only,” he said. “Our goal was to help our people. We didn’t participate in or support any action outside of Libya. We never had any link with Al Qaeda, and that could never be. We had a different agenda; global fighting was not our goal.”

Except that his statements don't appear to square with the history of LIFG and his own role within it:
After the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, the LIFG kept two training camps in Afghanistan; one of them, 30 kilometers north of Kabul - run by Abu Yahya - was strictly for al-Qaeda-linked jihadis. After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ...
Crucially, still in 2007, then al-Qaeda's number two, Zawahiri, officially announced the merger between the LIFG and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). So, for all practical purposes, since then, LIFG/AQIM have been one and the same - and Belhaj was/is its emir. In 2007, LIFG was calling for a jihad against Gaddafi but also against the US and assorted Western "infidels".
What's interesting about this isn't so much that Belhaj was an Islamist - a lot of government opponents in the Middle East and North Africa, fighting against secular nationalist regimes, were Islamist guerillas. What is interesting is the attempt to cover up his history, assert his fidelity to western-approved goals - "Now this man... is a grateful ally of the United States and NATO." - and to downplay his importance in the storming of Tripoli - "“He was nothing, nothing. He arrived at the last moment..." - even though he was elected by the rebel fighters themselves as the commander of Tripoli. Not likely if he just wandered into town the day before last.

Besides demonstrating the levels of dishonesty in the NTC, in the service of the propaganda needs of their NATO backers, it also suggests that even rank and file leaders like Belhaj accept the general program of the NTC. That doesn't necessarily mean there won't be resistance to the neo-liberal program of the NTC that is emerging - or to the fact that no elections for the presidency are planned for 20 months, with elections to a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution in eight months. But when pre-eminent rebel leaders like Belhaj are saying that their intention is to dissolve their rebel militas as soon as possible and submit to the command of the NTC, this begs the question of what mechanisms will exist to organize and mobilize any opposition.
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