- Anjali Kamatindependent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent. She recently returned from reporting in Libya.
As Libya’s former rebels begin to govern the country after the ouster of longtime leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, we look at those who remain. Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat has just spent 10 days crossing Libya, speaking with fighters, former political prisoners, journalists, and advisers to the new government. “Even though Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown and his sons’ whereabouts remain unknown, in a sense, for most people we spoke to in Libya, it seemed like he had already passed into the dustbin of history,” says Kamat. “There’s a real sense of rebirth, a feeling that their lives are starting anew.” Still, challenges remain. Kamat says the National Transitional Council must determine “how to rein in these weapons and what to do with the proliferation of the rebel units, the armed brigades that have formed all over the country that helped defend cities and towns across the country.” Another unresolved issue is national reconciliation, and the re-emergence of the country’s Muslim community. One point is clear, says Kamat: “Nobody wants foreign troops on the ground. No one wants bases. And no one wants private military contractors, either.” [includes rush transcript]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Libya’s former rebels, who now comprise the country’s interim government, are trying to regulate the militias, brigades and armed volunteers who set up checkpoints to secure the capital of Tripoli after the ousting of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
OSAMA ABU RAS: In this transitional period, they are very welcome to become members of the police forces, until we reach the new government. In that moment, there will be—they will have a choice to either to join the army or to join the police forces or to resign.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: NATO said yesterday the current location of ousted leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi remains unknown. NATO Colonel Roland Lavoie added that targeting Gaddafi wasn’t the organization’s main purpose.
COL. ROLAND LAVOIE: Several key leaders of the regime has fled the country, very senior commanders and decision makers. So, very clearly there was an exodus, to some extent. Having said that, thinking about Gaddafi specifically, to be frank, we don’t know if he has left the country. He has not made public appearances in the country now for a while. And this certainly raises questions about his whereabouts, but we don’t have any sure information about where he is at this time.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today, a senior U.S. State Department official met Libya’s new interim leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Tripoli. The visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was the first by an official from the Obama administration since the capital fell last month.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Amnesty International is accusing both forces loyal to Gaddafi and the Libyan rebels of committing war crimes. Amnesty warns Libya risks descending into a bloody cycle of attacks and reprisals unless order can be established. Claudio Cordone is Amnesty’s senior director for research and regional programs.
CLAUDIO CORDONE: This report covers roughly the last six months of basically the battle for Libya, and we looked at abuses from the side of the Gaddafi forces, many war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity, but also there have been abuses on the part of the fighters who oppose Colonel Gaddafi and that have included, especially in initial days, people that have been lynched, whether Gaddafi soldiers, and also in the following weeks people suspected of having been part of the Gaddafi security forces, so-called mercenaries—many black Africans are being automatically assumed to be mercenaries—and others. And we are concerned now about the situation in the prison and in the detention centers.
AMY GOODMAN: In response to Amnesty International’s report, Libya’s new rulers promised to investigate allegations of serious abuses. Well, to find out more about the situation in Libya, we’re going to Cairo to speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat, who’s just returned from 10 days in Libya.
Anjali, it’s great to see you. Talk about this trip that you have just taken across Libya.
ANJALI KAMAT: Hi, Amy. Hi, Nermeen. And hi to all the viewers of Democracy Now!
I spent 10 days in Libya, traveling from east to west, spent time in the three major cities of Libya—Benghazi, Misurata and the capital city of Tripoli, which fell from Gaddafi’s control just a few weeks ago. The mood across Libya, particularly in Tripoli, is absolutely—like there’s just a feeling of euphoria everywhere. People are incredibly relieved to finally be rid of the man who ruled their lives, minute details of their lives, for 42 years. Even though Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown and his sons’ whereabouts remain unknown, in a sense, for most people we spoke to in Libya, it seemed like he had already passed into the dustbin of history, and this was a phrase that people used over and over again. People are incredibly excited about starting afresh. There’s a real sense of rebirth, a feeling that their lives are starting anew. We spoke to several former political prisoners who talked about how, for the first time, they could taste real freedom now in Libya.
You know, having said all of this, despite the incredible euphoria on the streets of all over the main cities in Libya, and particularly in Tripoli, where—a city that had been pretty much under serious lockdown for the past six months, there are several challenges ahead. One of the major challenges—and this is something you alluded to in the headline—is the proliferation of weapons. The amount of weapons in the hands of civilians across Libya is just mind-boggling. And the biggest challenge facing the new leadership of Libya, the National Transitional Council, is how to rein in these weapons and what to do with the proliferation of the rebel units, the armed brigades that have formed all over the country that helped defend cities and towns across the country. So one option would be to integrate them into a new Libyan army. Another option would be to bring them into the police force. But this is a question that remains to be answered, and many are concerned about this proliferation of weapons.
Another issue that will be a challenge in the coming days—and this goes back to the Amnesty report you just cited—is the question of national reconciliation. And this is a question facing all Libyans, really. How will Libyans, ordinary Libyans, who might have supported Gaddafi in the past, even if they themselves weren’t guilty of committing any crimes, how will they be integrated into the new society? And this issue is particularly hard for people who are black Libyans, for darker-skin Libyans, who tend, for different—for a variety of reasons, have been scapegoated as being supporters of Gaddafi. Part of the—one reason for this is the use of mercenaries from Sub-Saharan Africa, as a lot of black Libyans have been mistaken for mercenaries and arrested and, in some cases, lynched and very badly treated. This is something the Council has repeatedly tried to warn against. Another population that’s faced the brunt of this aren’t Libyans, but are migrant workers from Sub-Saharan Africa, living and working in Libya. And some black Libyans we spoke to who had, you know, grown up, spent their entire lives in Libya, were very upset by this and concerned about what measures will be taken to stem these sort of racist attitudes.
The other main challenge in the days ahead is the—how the NTC will secure its political legitimacy. For the past six months, the NTC has won the wide support of most factions who participated in this uprising. But in the coming days, I think the main challenge is going to be how the NTC will strike a balance between former Gaddafi officials, what they’re going to do with, you know, purging former Gaddafi officials versus not going too far in purging them and risk falling into an Iraq 2003 scenario, where you create the situation for pockets of resistance among Gaddafi loyalists. This is something that’s a very tricky situation right now. A lot of people on the ground are very critical that the NTC has figures from the former regime, even those who switched sides at the very last minute, many of whom have blood on their hands. They want to see these people tried, and tried in a court of law inside Libya, and their crimes to be made public. They don’t want to see them in control of the new Libya. On the other hand, there was this leaked U.N. draft document that was leaked a few weeks ago that, you know, basically outlines how not falling into an Iraq-like situation is very much on the minds of the NTC in Libya. And they don’t want to go along the lines of the de-Baathification program that was undertaken in Iraq in 2003. But even as the NTC tries to juggle this, there is—all of their efforts are met with strong responses from ordinary Libyans, and no one is going to take their decisions very lightly. People are very much ready to hold the new leadership accountable every step of the way.
Just to give one example, Mahmoud Jibril, one of the leaders of the NTC, appointed a figure known as Barani Ashkal, who was one of Gaddafi’s henchmen, to be in charge of Tripoli’s security, right after Tripoli fell to the rebels. And soon after, this was met with an enormous amount of resistance, and there were major protests in the city of Misurata by fighters and civilians who felt that Barani Ashkal was someone who had committed many crimes and shouldn’t be given a position of power. So there’s a real process of contestation that’s going on between the NTC, as it tries to strike a balance between different forces and what ordinary Libyans are willing to take.
One more point I want to make, which might be interesting to listeners and viewers in the U.S., is that very few Libyans I met seemed concerned about NATO hijacking their revolution. The major concern for most people is that they’re worried that former Gaddafi figures, who are still affiliated with the NTC or working around the NTC, might try and halt the process of the revolution and of the transition to a real democracy. We spoke to a lot of prisoners who had been jailed under Gaddafi, who are now released, and they were very clear that they’re going to remain fiercely independent, not allied with the NTC, so that they can monitor the NTC when they commit human rights violations, and so they can hold the NTC accountable. And if the NTC strikes any deals with NATO that will be unpopular, they can hold them accountable to that and protest that. Nobody wants foreign troops on the ground. No one wants bases. And no one wants private military contractors, either. Particularly a lot of fighters we spoke to were very much against the idea of private military contractors or foreign troops coming in. But overall, there is an incredible sense of relief. And even though the fight continues in places like Bani Walid and Sirte and Sabha in the central part of the country, and in the major cities, people feel like they can finally speak freely, and they’re going to use this newfound freedom to the full extent and not stop at just criticizing Gaddafi. They are committed to also criticizing the new leadership.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Anjali Kamat is joining us from Cairo. She is just back from 10 days going across Libya. Anjali Kamat, Democracy Now! correspondent. We’ll also be joined by Columbia University Professor Mahmood Mamdani. He’s just back from Africa. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Anjali Kamat is in Cairo, our Democracy Now! correspondent. She is just back from 10 days in Libya. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yes, thank you. Anjali, I just want to read part of a report from yesterday’s Washington Post. This is a quote. “As Libya’s leader, Moammar Gaddafi regarded Islamists as the greatest threat to his authority, and he ordered thousands of them detained, tortured and, in some cases, killed. The lucky ones fled the country in droves. But with Gaddafi now in hiding, Islamists are vying to have a say in a new Libya, one they say should be based on Islamic law.” Can you comment on that?
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, I think two things. On the one hand, it’s true, Islamists were heavily repressed under Muammar Gaddafi. And in the most infamous incident, in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in 1996, at least 1,200 prisoners, most of them thought to be Islamists, were massacred in a period of a few hours. Having said that, today, a lot of Islamists, people who identify as—variously identify as Islamist, are coming out and are free to speak. And what’s interesting is both Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the NTC, made it very clear in his first public speech in Tripoli a couple nights ago that he wants Libya to be a civil state based on Islamic law, but that this would be a civil democratic state. And many progressive, secular human rights activists that I spoke to in Libya were not at all concerned about the power of Islamists, and they feel very strongly that Islamists should be included in the new political system, and they want Libya to be a democracy. The more you exclude people and push people underground, the more problems you create.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined here in New York by Mahmood Mamdani, who’s just back from Uganda after several months. He has written extensively on the global implications of NATO’s intervention in Libya. Professor Mamdani teaches both at Makerere University in Uganda and at Columbia University here in New York, author of a number of books, including Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror and Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror.
Can you talk about—can you respond to what Nermeen just read and Anjali’s description of what she saw in Libya and the implications of what’s happening in Libya for the continent of Africa?
MAHMOOD MAMDANI: I’ve never been to Libya, OK? So, what struck me about Anjali’s description is the backdrop is missing. The backdrop is the manner of change in Libya, the heavy involvement of external forces in expediting, rapid fashion, change in Libya, and that manner of involvement being basically bombardment. In East Africa, which is where I’ve been for the last eight months, this has been the cause of huge concern, huge concern because Libya is not atypical. Egypt and Tunisia might be slightly atypical when it comes to the African continent. Libya is far more characteristic of countries which are divided, which have leaders who have been in power for several decades, which have strong military forces and sort of formally democratic regimes, but otherwise really autocratic regimes, and where the opposition is salivating the prospect of any kind of external involvement which will bring about a regime change inside these countries. So there is a real sense of danger around the corner. What is going to happen to the African continent? That’s one thing.
Second thing is, the contention over Africa has become intense over the last decade. There has almost been a complete reversal of positions that existed during the Cold War, because, if you remember, in the Cold War we used to think of the Soviet Union as typifying a military approach and the U.S.A. standing up for some kind of development. Now it’s the opposite. Now it’s the Western Alliance—the U.S., NATO, etc.—which typify a military approach, and China is building roads all over Africa, and India is investing in industries all over Africa. So, the prospect of increased militarization of the continent is another great fear. The sort of autocratic leaders in Africa have responded to this by trying to enter into a strategic military engagement with the West, so that they don’t fall afoul of them, as Gaddafi did, in a way, and at the same time maintaining some kind of engagement, a strong engagement, on the ground with China, India, Malaysia, places like that. But it’s this wider picture, this picture of stalling internal reform combined with a rapidly shifting backdrop internationally and sort of previously dominant powers who are unable to think of any other strategy except greater military involvement to hold onto their influence.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to catch Anjali just before she leaves the studio in Cairo. What Professor Mahmood Mamdani is saying, this deep concern about the significance of the NATO intervention in the rest of Africa, as you traveled, was that expressed by progressive forces in Libya and also back in Egypt, where you now live?
ANJALI KAMAT: I mean, I agree with Professor Mamdani that it’s very dangerous, it sets a very dangerous precedent for the rest of the continent, and frankly, the rest of the world, if internal reform doesn’t go anywhere and then you bring in, you invite in, foreign intervention. Absolutely, it’s a terrible precedent. On the other hand, I was quite surprised by how few people in Libya seemed overly concerned by this. They took a very pragmatic approach, and they explained to me that it’s precisely because efforts at internal reform were continuously and brutally stymied by the Gaddafi regime that they were left with no other choice than to invite the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution for a no-fly zone, and moving on forward from that, which, again, as Professor Mamdani mentioned, resulted in a major bombing campaign.
Interestingly, traveling across the country, there aren’t that many—that much evidence of bombed-out sites within Libya, bombs by NATO. I saw a few areas where no civilians were living, no people were living. These are just infrastructure outside on the outskirts of Misurata. And within Gaddafi’s compound, certainly, there were some areas that were bombed out. And there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of civilians who were killed in these attacks until now. We don’t have an accurate death toll from any side, which—you know, which, again, is something that we should—we should hopefully get more of and learn more about in the coming period.
In terms of the future, again, people are, I think, very—some people are wary that NATO will try and win greater concessions or it will try and exert—somehow wield greater influence in Libya. That said, many of the NATO countries already wield—were already very much involved in Libya, deeply embedded in the Libyan economy under the Gaddafi regime. And NATO countries continue to wield influence in Egypt and Tunisia, as well. And where this is very different from Iraq, I think is important to stress. And people said this to me over and over again in Libya, when I asked if they were worried that Libya is going to become Iraq or Afghanistan. They said this was a popular uprising, it was a mass revolt; it was not a foreign invasion to overthrow a leader. Furthermore, you don’t have NATO countries sort of functioning as the executive authority of Libya. You have Libyans in charge. You don’t have a coalition provisional authority or a figure like Paul Bremer dealing with the day-to-day activities, day-to-day governance of Libya. And this sort of future scenario is something that people in Libya would be very much against. In terms of expanding the sphere of influence, sure, that’s something that people are concerned about and will try and limit to the extent that’s possible. But this is also a reality in—you know, across North Africa, certainly in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco.
AMY GOODMAN: Anjali, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and we look forward to playing your reports next week, as you crossed Libya to bring the voices of Libyans to a global audience. Thanks so much. Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat, just back from Libya, speaking to us from Cairo, Egypt.