Dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s control over Libya suffered big reversals over the weekend with the fall of Zawiyah, a city 30 miles from the capital, Tripoli, to opposition forces. Over 20 people are reported killed in fighting for control of the city, which started last Thursday and lasted four days. Zawiyah, an oil port and refinery, is now surrounded by Libyan army forces still loyal to Gaddafi but they have, so far, not attempted to retake the city.
The ten day uprising has left at least 1,000 dead and led to thousands fleeing the fighting. Tens of thousands of migrants are stranded near Libya’s Tunisian border.
Other towns across Libya have fallen to the opposition in recent days. Reports from Misrata town say opponents of Gaddafi repelled a regime counter-attack also over the weekend. Tripoli, partially still in the grip of the regime, is increasingly encircled. Tanks and checkpoints guard the main roads into the capital but the situation inside the city is becoming more chaotic and desperate, as crowds queue up outside shops to stock up on essential supplies and besiege banks to get their money.
In a push for a final armed assault on Gaddafi’s remaining support base, groups of heavily armed opposition forces are reportedly planning to march towards western Libya, to link up with opposition militias near Tripoli. The groups are mainly made up of young people and former members of the security forces who defected to the opposition during the fierce battles in Benghazi city which led to Gaddafi losing control of Libya’s second city. A member of the newly announced "interim government" in Benghazi, Ramadan Faitoura, said the armed groups are not part of an "official" drive on Tripoli, although they have the interim government’s support.
Gaddafi’s days in power appear to be shortening fast, although the regime’s demise can still be protracted and accompanied by more bloodshed. A potential major obstacle for an advancing opposition militia is the traditional Gaddafi family stronghold town of Sirte, which sits half way between Benghazi and Tripoli. Although some military and security personnel in Sirte defected to the opposition, it has not been in the same numbers as the east of the country. Gaddafi also has tribal support in Sirte. But this support base can fall away if the areas main tribe concludes that Gaddafi is a lost cause.
Indeed, every day, more tribes and former Gaddafi ministers, high ranking officials and diplomats denounce the regime and declare allegiance to the revolution. Army generals have stated their refusal to order shooting on protests and to launch fighter aircraft against unarmed civilians protesting in the streets.
Gaddafi’s recent speeches show a dictator who has lost control. He makes blood-curdling threats against demonstrators, mixed with anti-imperialist phrases mixed with attempts to foster divide and rule tactics – offering some tribes large amounts of money and land - which are failing. Despite his sometimes “revolutionary” rhetoric and the changes made since the 1969 coup, Gaddafi has ensured that control has remained in his own grip. Hence the luxurious lifestyle and wealth of his own children.
Sensing the way in which the struggle in Libya is likely to conclude, Western powers are now quickly publicly shedding their cozy links with the brutal Gaddafi regime. They are exploiting their past hostility to Gaddafi to present themselves as being on the side of the “people,” something they do not do in regard to the semi-feudal regimes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The imperialists are scrambling to influence a post-Gaddafi regime, to ensure continuing preferential and lucrative Western big business access to Libya’s oil fields and to safeguard imperialist interests in a vital geo-strategic region. The U.S., in particular, is terrified that the Libyan events could be emulated in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, where youth on the internet are calling 11 March the day of “revolution.”
Imperialism Changes Its Tune
Western leaders have very belatedly discovered they have serious concerns about the lack of democracy in Libya and are now calling for the dictator to step down. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, announced that the new UN Security Council sanctions against the Gaddafi regime were imposed “to speed the transition to a new system of governance”. Even Gaddafi’s good friend, Italian Prime Minister, Berlusconi, instructed his foreign minister to de facto suspend its 2008 "friendship treaty" with Libya, which includes a "non-aggression" clause.
Amid reports that Gaddafi moved £3 billion to Britain, last week, the Cameron government froze the assets of the Libyan dictator and his family. British officials also reportedly contacted senior Libyan figures to try to persuade them to defect from the regime so that it collapses, rather than see a last ditch bloody fight to the end.
Under the cloak of "humanitarian" aid, some Western politicians are calling for a "no-fly zone" over Libya and even Western military intervention into Libya and Saudi Arabia if mass revolts start there as well. The U.S. has publicly backed anti-Gaddafi groups in eastern Libya.
Amongst the Libyan masses, who are well aware of their history of opposition to colonialism, there is opposition to another imperialist intervention in the region. “Despite the heavy sacrifice they are offering every day, Libyans utterly reject any foreign intervention, even for their defence and protection,” writes Mahmoud Al-Nakou, a Libyan author (Guardian 28/02/11). “The people are adamant that this revolution is theirs alone.”
Reports from Zawiyah show wide support for the uprising and also repudiate Gaddafi’s propaganda claims that the rebels are made up of drug-crazed youth and al-Qaida-inspired foreign fighters: “…they were the town’s people…the doctors and engineers, teachers, local youths and old men…,” reports the Guardian (London 28/02/11).
Various "community committees" and "councils of the elders" have been set up in Benghazi, Musrata and Zawiyah to "restore order" and opposition forces controlling eastern cities have formed a "national council" in expectation of the fall of Tripoli.
The former justice minister, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, announced that he would head an interim government, suggesting that it has the backing of the U.S. He also said an agreement could be reached with the sons of Gaddafi, echoing some Western politicians.
Although Mustafa Abdel-Jalil’s comments are disputed by other opposition figures, they still intend to include him in an interim government. This should act as a warning to the Libyan masses – their revolution is in danger of being hijacked by remnants of the Gaddafi regime, pro-bourgeois opposition "leaders," reactionary tribal leaders and imperialist interests.
For the revolution to win its goals – for real democratic rights and a transformation in living standards – it needs democratically-elected committees that truly represent the interests of the mass of working people, youth and the poor, in the neighborhoods, workplaces and colleges, linked up at local, regional and national levels. Building committees within the forces of the state is also vital. Putting forward democratic demands as well as those needed to assure decent living standards, such a movement can appeal to the masses of Tripoli to rise up against Gaddafi’s last stronghold.
The masses armed, under democratic control, can defend themselves against Gaddafi’s forces, march on his last bases of support, and sweep away the dictator and his entire regime while preventing the country once again falling under foreign control.
Such a mass movement would immediately introduce full democratic rights and oversee elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly. A government representing the interests of workers and small farmers would take the oil fields into public ownership, and other major planks of the economy, under democratic workers’ control and management. This would ensure that the country’s huge natural riches serve the majority of society not only an elite around the corrupt Gaddafi family and giant multi-national companies.
To ensure this, mass organizations of the working class need to be formed, including independent unions and a mass party of the working class, with bold socialist policies. Such mass class organizations would oppose not just Gaddafi and the remnants of his regime but all pro-capitalist and reactionary forces in Libya and meddling imperialism.