Amid chants of ‘lift your head high’, the West looks to the future

The London Evening Standard - 22 August 2011
Six months ago this week I was surrounded by Colonel Gaddafi’s soldiers as they stamped out a fledgling rebellion in Tripoli.

It was the start of the Arab Spring, but the kind of pro-democracy demonstrators on the streets of other North African cities were few and far between here.

Instead, like me as I filed reports to the Standard, they hid, fearing a tyrannical dictator who pledged to exterminate them “like rats”. Now it is Gaddafi and his supporters who are cowering.

The streets of the Libyan capital are still full of armed men and the battle is not yet won. But for the rebels, victory can only be a matter of time.

Following arguably the most historic night in the history of this troubled land, thousands of them descended on the city almost unopposed. Gaddafi is nowhere to be seen – and though his tanks are still visible, 42 years of despotic rule must surely be near the end.

“Lift your head high” is the chant across the city – a slogan which, for millions across the Muslim world, encapsulates the spirit of our times. It is a moment to rejoice in yet another triumph for the Arab Spring, and the power of ordinary people to take their future into their own hands.

But amid the chaos of a city which has effectively been under siege since British and French warplanes began bombing in March, there is only one certainty: the next few months, indeed years, are going to be as turbulent as ever.

Gaddafi’s successors are only too aware that they are inheriting a deeply divided society. Fighting now raging around his heavily fortified compound in the centre of Tripoli will not be the last. There are too many different tribes, competing ideologies and self-styled “strong men” to imagine everyone will settle down in peace and harmony under the red, black and green of a united insurrection.

Remember that it was ultimately the fighter jets of the RAF and its allies which destroyed Gaddafi’s army, along with millions of pounds of weapons put into rebel hands by a West desperate to see the end of the detested Brother Leader.

Nato nations, especially the US, will be working out who to back as Libya’s future rulers. The renewed scramble for vast oil and natural gas reserves will be the principal motivation, as will a desire to prevent radical forces like al Qaeda gaining influence.

The legacy of Gaddafi’s regime is an all-but-destroyed infrastructure, vast social and economic inequalities, weapons everywhere, and a loose coalition of rebels untested in anything except for fighting.

In many ways it is a terrifying prospect, but no more so than six months ago. Libyans have brought about an incredible change for good – there is no reason why they cannot keep doing it.

View Article