First Wednesday: Libya – what does the future hold?


The end of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya is in sight – this was the consensus at the Frontline Club’s March First Wednesday, which focused on the situation in Libya.

As Norman Benotman, a senior analyst at Quilliam, said: The question is a matter of when – we need to think about months.

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara added:

Gaddafi is certainly on his way out. The army, tribes, diplomats are breaking away from him.  His trinity of legitimacy is leaving him. What is left is the militias, but they are not the future of Libya.

LSE Professor David Held argued that “if the West acts decisively it could be a stimulus to ending the regime.”

But Marwan Bishara warned against such interventions, which could escalate the situation.

The discussion of the West’s relationship with the Middle East continued with David Held describing the United State’s relationship as vacillating between “providing red carpets” and “carpet-bombing” when things go wrong.

Any intervention from the West, it was suggested, should engage Arabs, support the movement and build up the structure of autonomy and not cater to the interests of autocratic states, as had been done in the past.

But Norman Benotman argued against too much focus being placed on the West and its role:

It undermines the Arabs to talk about their own destiny within the context of the opinion of the UK, the US and even the West. This approach is completely wrong.

Marwan Bishari declared that “the Arabs have proven that George Bush and Tony Blair were wrong. You can create a situation where freedom and justice is possible, without tanks.”

The discussion also focussed on the power of social media, which Sir Richard Dalton, associate fellow of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House and a senior former diplomat and ambassador to Libya, said did not create the changes that were taking place:

There was already knowledge out there – it’s the fall of the barrier of fear, that has happened as a result of the success of the revolutions in Tunisia.

All four panelists had known Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, and there was discussion about the extent to which he had previously shown genuine commitment to pursuing human rights and change in Libya.

David Held claimed that in the moment of crisis which consumed Libya” he chose his father and clan, and became ‘Gaddafi mark two’  although Marwan Bishara disputed the suggestion that he had ever been otherwise.

On the future of Libya Sir Richard Dalton warned that disorder and civil breakdown could deepen and that the African states which Gaddafi worked with and respects will be key in his stepping down from power.

Norman Benotman cautioned that if Gaddafi succeeds in stopping the mostly peaceful movement a civil war will erupt. 

Marwan Bishara said that the newly liberated Egypt could go on to play a dominant role in the Arab world – much like Brazil’s positive and leading role in Latin America.

His final remarks ended the night’s discussion: I’m very optimistic about what’s going on but there are no guarantees. The hard work is ahead of us, not behind us.