View from the Middle East: Libya—the horrific destruction of Misurata
Anyone following the conflict in Libya will be well aware of the battles raging in Eastern Libya between pro-Gaddafi forces and anti-government rebels in that part of the country. Less front-page has been the tremendous struggle for Misurata, in the Western Region of the country–rarely covered, since Misurata has been surrounded and under siege by the government tanks which have been shelling the city for more than 6 weeks now; journalists have until yesterday been unable even to approach, let alone enter, the city.
However, late Sunday night, April 17, an Al Jazeera film crew finally gained access to Misurata by sea, on board a Maltese fishing trawler. Al Jazeera¹s exclusive footage of Misurata, aired April 18 throughout the Middle East, uncovers a scene of horrific destruction–and also provides important clues as to the working-class origins of the Libyan struggle. Indeed, Misurata demonstrates more clearly than anything yet that the conflict in Libya represents, at its core, a class struggle not, as some would have it, a “civil war.” (Live coverage of the Libyan conflict can be viewed 24/7 on Al Jazeera, the most progressive news network in the Middle East.)
Bombed to destruction
Al Jazeera’s new images reveal a city virtually bombed to destruction, one that looks more like an apocalyptic film set for an end-of-the-world movie than a city once inhabited by real people. Working-class apartment blocks and shops have been entirely gutted by the more than 40 days of shelling by Gaddafi tanks and mortars; the wounded are being treated in make-shift clinics rather than properly equipped hospitals; and shots of the resistance fighters show simple people in jeans and T-shirts, armed with outdated, Soviet-era Kalashnikofs looted from abandoned army depots. Hardly a civil war.
This is not to say that elements of the bourgeoisie have not joined the rebels–some of them, as other writers on this site have pointed out, with very dubious backgrounds linked to the Gaddafi regime. Some of these elements may be sincere in supporting the uprising; others, such as numerous members of the Libyan Transitional Council (LTC), which purports to speak for the resistance, are doubtless attempting to co-opt the rebellion for their own political purposes. But as the battle for Misurata confirms, the LTC is following, not leading, the insurgency: in fact, Misurata has been the scene of the strongest resistance to Gaddafi in the country apart from Bengazi, and Misurata itself has no representation on the LTC. The people of Misurata have been fighting Gaddafi’s Special Forces entirely on their own.
Some writers have suggested that the Libyan conflict is a war between the Western and Eastern Regions. Yet, unlike Benghazi, Misurata lies, not in the West, but in the heart of the East, only 200 kilometers from Tripoli. Others have suggested that it is a war between warring factions of the elite or the bourgeoisie, yet the heaviest destruction in Misurata has been in working-class districts of the city. Still others have suggested that this is a tribal war. Yet in Misurata, as in Bengazi, Ajdabia or the dozen or so other towns across the country in which uprising occurred between February 17 and February 27, there is no evidence whatsoever of conflicts within the working class. The only tribe that appears to support Gaddafi is the Gaddafi tribe centered in Gaddafi’s hometown of Surt.
As a result, I would suggest that we not be misled (by the West’s temporary support of the Libyan rebels) into believing that the Libyan uprising represents ultra-conservative forces attempting to overthrow a socialist revolution. First, rhetoric aside, there never was a true, socialist revolution in Libya. Second, since when has the bourgeoisie ever initiated a popular uprising? As for Western imperialism, we should not be taking our cue from the West’s hypocritical attempt to ride the wave of popular movements in the region a new imperialist strategy that I describe in some detail in an earlier article (View from the Middle East: Bad week for the Empire; bad week for the struggle).
Will the real Mummuar Gaddafi please stand down?
So which is the real Gaddafi, the charismatic, anti-imperialist or the tyrant presently bombing Misurata? Those of us old enough to remember the 1970s and 1980s will remember a leftist-sounding firebrand, lending rhetorical and sometimes financial support to progressive movements throughout the world, and occasionally sponsoring terrorist activities against Western countries. But we need to remember that, apart from establishing Revolutionary Committees modeled on those in some communist countries, Gaddafi has never implemented more than a façade of socialism in Libya, and that he finally sold out completely to the West in 1999, when the UK forgave Gaddafi for sponsoring the Lockerbie bombing and re-established diplomatic relations, in return for an oil deal. In the same year, UN sanctions against Libya were (miraculously) lifted, and Gaddafi re-entered that most elite of all clubs: that of dictators supported by the West. To cement Gaddafi’s new relationship with the Empire, George W. Bush signed, in 2008, Executive Order 13477, which gave Gaddafi and the Libyan government “immunity from all terror-related lawsuits.” Just Google “Gaddafi and Obama,” or “Gaddafi and Blair,” and click on Images. There you can find photos of Mummar Gaddafi happily embracing Barrack Obama and Tony Blair. Welcome to the club.
But more clearly than any photos of Gaddafi fraternizing with his imperialist buddies, the indiscriminate bombing of Misurata establishes beyond question that Gaddafi is no champion of the working people of Libya, and probably never was. He is a Western-backed dictator, like all the rest, and the West’s momentary, tactical support of home-grown attempts to remove him does not change that fact. As for the rest of us, regardless of what the Empire does, we should stand with the people of Misurata.