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In Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa on March 17, 2011 at 10:29 PM


(Updated March 20, 2011)

By René Wadlow

On March 15, 2011, when the fighting was still between pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces, in a message to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prof. René Wadlow, Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens (AWC), urged the Secretary-General to take a lead in advocating a ceasefire in Libya that would halt the current fighting and the flight of refugees. Increased fighting provokes an intolerable burden upon the already-strained medical facilities as well as supplies to meet the basic needs of the population.

A ceasefire would be a first step toward negotiations that would lead to a new constitutional order and a broadly-based new Libyan Republic.

Since the ides of March, the situation has heated up and has been internationalized with a United Nations Security Council Resolution, a follow-up Summit in Paris on March 19 and the start of French, British and U. S. air and sea strikes in Libya.

Fighting among Libyans continues on the ground. How long the armed conflict will go on and with what short-term results is too early to say. The real issue is to move to an agreed-upon end to the fighting and to open the door to the necessary constitutional restructuring of the country and creation of a broadly-based new Libyan Republic.

Following the nonviolent people’s revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, protests against the political and economic functioning of Libya began. Rather than starting a dialogue, the Libyan authorities undertook a policy of repression, leading to the large-scale armed violence we see today, provoking a massive flow of foreign workers to leave the country and to the internal displacement of many Libyans.

A Libyan demonstrator demanding an end to the rule of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi.

Only a ceasefire will allow the start of dealing with the fundamental constitutional issues which have faced the country since its Independence.  At Independence in 1951, authority rested with King Sayyid Idris as Sanoussi (1890-1983), the leader of an important Islamic brotherhood who remained more concerned with religious reforms than with the structure of the government and the quality of the administration. His government had some decentralized, federalist aspects but was largely based on pre-existing tribal confederations. (1)

When the military officers led by Colonel Moammar Qaddafi took power in a coup in September 1969, there was for a short time some discussion as to the forms of government that they would develop. There was agreement on a greater centralization of power, as well as keeping to the religious policies of the former King and the Sanoussi Brotherhood — what has been called neo-salafyisme. However, in order not to put obstacles in the way of future Arab unity, no constitutionally-agreed upon State structures were officially created.

King Sayyid Idris as Sanoussi, aka Idriss the First, of Libya (reigned 1951-1969).

Colonel Qaddafi wanted to do away with parliamentary government and representational elections in favour of people’s committees, a people’s congress, and revolutionary committees, all held together by the ideological assumptions of his Third Universal Theory — a concept that embodies anti-imperialism, Arab unity, Islamic socialism and direct popular democracy. (2)

Disagreements on the nature of the State had led to important divisions among the ruling circle, especially in 1975.  However, all open discussions on the nature of the State, of the relation between State and society, of the place of the tribes and of religious brotherhoods were considered subversive — in fact treason.  In practice, but not in theory, decision-making was in the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, his family, friends and tribal allies. (3)

In the short term, negotiations after a ceasefire may lead to a continued role in the Libyan power structure of Colonel Qaddafi, his sons and allies.  However, the degree of violence is clear evidence that the  structure of the State does not function, that whatever its faults, a parliament allows some of the demands of the people to be heard and creates limits on the exercise of power.

Historically in Libya, there were sixteen marabtin tribes renowned for their religious wisdom who served as mediators and arbiters within the political structures of tribal, pre-colonial Libya. The tradition of reconciliatory mediation may still exist, and traditional avenues of mediation should be explored.

A ceasefire must be a first step, and the United Nations the most appropriate institution for maintaining a ceasefire while constitutional discussions start.

René Wadlow is Senior Vice President and Chief Representative to  the United Nations Office in Geneva of the Association of World  Citizens.

1)      For a useful analysis of Libyan governmental structures see: J. Davis Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I.B. Tauris, 1987)

2)      See M.M. Ayoub Islam and the Third Universal Theory: the religious thought of Muamar al Qadhafi (London: Kegan Paul, 1987)

3)      See Rene Lemarchand (Ed). The Green and the Black: Qadhafi’s Politics in Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

  1. Svetlana M.Aristova and I, Peter Korolev, support you.

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