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Yearning for Younis
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 08 - 2011

Libya is utterly predictable. Gaddafi takes a surprisingly sanguine view of Abdel-Fattah Younis' demise. Time runs out for NATO and its proxy the NTC and both now catch the jitter bug, anticipates Gamal Nkrumah
It is easy to understand why Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is fighting "inch by inch, zenga [alleyway], zenga ". He has everything to lose, and in his view no good reason to lose it. Gaddafi senses, correctly, that NATO's aggression against Libya and the current infighting among his local foes caused a backlash against his detractors. They appear both prurient and out of kilter. A modicum of consensus must be seen to exist among those who abhor Gaddafi.
One downed and more to go? The brutal assassination of the Commander-in-Chief of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) General Abdel-Fattah Younis reinforces the pervading aura of sleaze engulfing Benghazi, the NTC headquarters. The passing of Younis failed to fend off social unrest in Benghazi. He may well have been the only worthy choice for the NTC.
But it could all go wrong for Gaddafi. Libyan opposition politics still features minimal debate about ideology or policy. The focus is on ousting Gaddafi and his henchmen. The ever-shifting alliances within the NTC based largely on tribal affiliations with a few other ill-defined loyalties and political considerations chipping into the equation. The moral bankruptcy of the NTC leadership came into play with the assassination of Younis and the infighting in Benghazi that ensued. More gruesome political murders and scandals may continue to tumble out of the NTC closets.
But there is more to it. Gaddafi seems curiously unable to perceive, let alone respond to the grievances of his disgruntled people and the aspirations of those who oppose his determination to rule Libya until his death. Whatever the reason of Gaddafi's seemingly emotional detachment from the cause of democracy he does not seem to feel Libya's pain. He even looks unable to capitalise on the tragic loss of his own son Seif Al-Arab in a NATO bomb raid that also claimed the lives of several of his grandchildren.
Nothing can undo the tragedy and the terror that took place in Misrata, the stronghold of the NTC in western Libya, Tripolitania. Misrata is under NTC command, Zleiten next door isn't. The presence of a powerful contingency of pro-Gaddafi loyalists in Zleiten is exacerbating the situation and signs of hardship are everywhere.
Nobody is more likely to keep his eyes trained on victory than Gaddafi's surviving son Seif Al-Islam -- his protégé and heir apparent. Gaddafi junior addressed Libyan families who fled the fighting in Benghazi this week and reiterated his father's solemn promise to liberate Libya, " zenga, zenga".
Time then to raise a bowl of frothy camel's milk in celebration of his latest political escapades. The NTC have virtually completed the subjugation of Libya's rugged Western Mountains region inhabited by Amazigh tribes largely disloyal to Gaddafi.
The NTC are poised to inch closer to Tripoli by way of Zleiten and Misrata. They are crying out in vain for the world's concentrated attention. Those who still respect the NTC leadership, a dwindling band in Libya in the aftermath of Younis's death, no longer have any expectations of the NTC. Gaddafi, though, is consumed with his own image.
Nothing in Abdel-Fattah's life became him like leaving it as a martyr. His family is pressing for an international investigation but the NTC are conducting their own inquiry. Younis' son Moatassam Abdel-Fattah vowed to avenge his father.
Even so, the NTC is clearly not living up to its name. Six months after its formation, it appears to be in mayhem and split between militant Islamists and secularists. Gaddafi knows that those in authority are rightly held to certain standards that conveniently do not apply to him. He is determined to make the most political capital out of Abdel-Fattah's demise. The gains will be worth it.
A better strategy would be to demonstrate the benefits that would accrue to the Libyan people if and when the NTC eventually takes full control of the country.
Questions remain about the real motives behind the assassination of Abdel-Fattah Younis. Was he double-dealing? After all, he was a lifelong comrade-in-arms of Gaddafi and was the Libyan leader's interior minister before defecting to the ranks of the NTC in February. There are suspicions among some members of the NTC that Younis' assassination was a revenge killing designed to avenge his alleged withholding of vital information from the leaders of the NTC in Benghazi. Younis in the past masterminded a purge of the Islamists when he was in the service of Gaddafi.
"This is a very serious accusation and I don't think that's the case," Omar Turbi, advisor to the NTC told Al-Jazeera when asked whether Younis was indeed a double agent whose political sympathies remained strictly-speaking with Gaddafi. And, many Islamists within the NTC have never forgiven him his role in the massacre of militant Islamists and suspected members of Al-Qaeda.
What is clear is that anti-Gaddafi forces have been infiltrated by loyalists of the Libyan leader. The assailants who assassinated Younis and two of his aides were Al-Qaeda activists declared the Gaddafi regime that is determined to make the most political capital out of the unfortunate incident.
However, NTC stalwarts reject this hypothesis with one senior NTC official noting that "they didn't have their throats slit in Islamist fashion." The assassination of Younis last Thursday sparked a brouhaha in Benghazi, the headquarters of the NTC and prompted fierce factional fighting within the ranks of the Libyan opposition forces.
Two assailants are still at large and the NTC pronouncements sounded suspiciously contradictory arousing concerns as to who exactly was behind the assassination of Younis. Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the NTC chief, promptly announced that a painstakingly thorough investigation is underway to determine who and why Younis was shot dead. He disclosed, however, that immediately before his assassination, Younis was summoned to Benghazi for questioning but later retracted a statement that the NTC issued an arrest warrant for Younis prior to his assassination.
Whatever the outcome of the Younis investigation, the NTC leadership has to agree on a broad set of common policies and patch over their differences.
The carnage that ensued in the aftermath of Abdel-Fattah's assassination alarmed the Western and Arab allies of the NTC. Britain had recently sacked Gaddafi's diplomatic representatives in London and officially acknowledged the NTC's diplomats in London as the sole representatives of Libya in Britain. Political murder is not new to Libya. Ali Essawi, deputy head of the NTC, claimed that Gaddafi infiltrators killed Younis.
There is much speculation in both Tripoli and Benghazi about why Younis was bumped-off. Libyans and especially family members of Younis suspect foul play.
Curiously enough, the NTC issued an arrest warrant for Younis hours before his assassination. The NTC claims that pro-Gaddafi elements secretly loyal to the Libyan leader have masterminded a violent backlash that has rocked Benghazi and sowed the seeds of confusion and mayhem among the ranks of the NTC.
Whittling up fifth columnists in Benghazi is a tested Gaddafi tactic. Heavy weaponry is used in the fighting between the different factions of the anti-Gaddafi forces. Peace in Benghazi is at a premium. NATO and the NTC understand that anti- Gaddafi forces must close ranks. But achieve it they must, and the sooner thus sinks in the better the chances of avoiding the city being overrun by pro- Gaddafi loyalists.
The powerful Obaidi tribe that Younis belonged to -- one of Libya's largest -- is up in arms. It has become clear that leading tribal figures of the Obaidi have maintained secret contacts with the Gaddafi regime. Even though some of its members have openly reiterated their support for the NTC, it is suspected that a number of their leaders are sympathetic to the cause of the Libyan leader.
France donated $250 million to the NTC that in turn claimed it used the funds to purchase food and medical supplies. The NTC must devise a mechanism for bringing contentious decisions to an end so they do not seem to be Western lackeys.
Bombs dropped by an Italian warplane in 1911 are a reminder that the Libyan people cannot forget that NATO is an imperialist military force. "The Italian air raid was the first in history, carried out soon after Italy had invaded what later became Libya during one of the many carve-ups of the Ottoman Empire. The first military reconnaissance flight ever took a route near Benghazi... hit a hospital, injuring civilians," noted Patrick Cockburn, author of Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival and the Struggle for Iraq. Libyans, by and large concur with Cockburn's assessment.
"Air strikes are becoming the main Western means of controlling the Middle East and South Asia without putting soldiers on the ground where they might suffer politically damaging casualties," observes Cockburn. "From the moment, 100 years ago, when Lieutenant Gavotti threw his grenades over the side of his cockpit, Western governments have been attracted by the idea that they can win wars by air power alone." However, Cockburn goes on to point out that superiority in the air does not guarantee victory in the battlefield.
"Victory will be cheap without committing ground troops. Only late in the day does it become clear, as we are now seeing in Libya, that air power by itself hardly ever wins wars," Conckburn concludes.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki was highly critical of the role of the United Nations and NATO in Libya. "There is weakened confidence of the Africans in this body. In Libya, the UN delegated its responsibility to NATO -- a military formation of some countries, not a global body accountable to the UN or to us. We have the UN acting in a manner which is promoting particular agendas," Mbeki explained. The NTC should take stock. They are playing a dangerous wait and see game. One they can ill afford.

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