The death of Abd al-Fattah Yunus, one of the most senior military commanders of the Libyan rebel forces and the most prominent member of Gaddafi’s government to defect from the Jamahiriya, reflects many aspects of the situation in Libya. Mostly, though, it means that the National Transitional Council – and the rebellion at large – is fucked. That’s a technical term.
Internationally, this could not have come at a worse time for the West. Two days ago, William Hague declared that the UK recognised the NTC as the official representative of Libya, praising their “competence”, a step that the British government has been hesitant to take, and one which meant they viewed the situation as possibly nearing an end. Given the chaos which will most likely erupt now, that seems far-fetched, to say the least.
Britain and France have both said that Gaddafi can stay in Libya if he steps down, something that the ICC was hesitant to accept, since it seems to deny their entire purpose, and something which the Libyans in revolt might not accept, even if Abd al-Jalil has. Any results of the negotiations which have undoubtedly taken place between Gaddafi and the West will now be in severe, as the government will quite rightly believe that they are now in a position to gain from the rebels’ disorganisation, and will either press for more concessions or flat out leave negotiations.
But, perhaps worst, the assassination of Yunus will, to many, confirm what they have suspected about the flimsiness of the NTC’s democratic credentials. Many, both in the West and in the Middle East, have been muttering about the fact that the Council is – unsurprisingly in the circumstances – composed largely of ex-Gaddafi allies, who seem to have kept their autocratic style, if not their allegiance. This is completely to be expected given Gaddafi’s penchant for concentrating all governmental power in his own person and allowing other official institutions to atrophy, but it does not help to defend the Libyan Republic against accusations of persecution (or even execution) campaigns against those who supported Gaddafi. That a man suspected of collaborating with the Gaddafi government should now be assassinated the day after his arrest prompted some of his fighters – largely those from his own tribe, the Obeidis – to leave the front to demand his release, threatening to seize him back, is bad enough. That it should happen when he was supposedly on his way to be questioned, and that this incident should be blamed on regime loyalists when Benghazi is under such tight security – to say nothing of Yunus’ own security detail – transforms it into a divisive situation which might well rip asunder the rebel government and their ‘army’, which is still disorganised after five months of fighting. The press conference announcing Yunus’ death ended in Obeidi gunfire, and Abd al-Jalil still refuses to clarify the circumstances of the incident, while a large number of Libyans are already accusing the NTC, including some intelligence officers who claim that rival rebel factions wanted him out of the way before negotiations began in earnest.
A solution is now more crucial than ever before, as the prospect of a civil war within a civil war becomes more likely. However, before the West can effectively deal with Libya any more, we must rid ourselves of the absurd notion that Gaddafi is in such a bad situation as, for example, Assad, or that his departure is inevitable (the assumption under which NATO agreed to this foray in the first place). To put in perspective: Ben Ali and Mubarak disappeared in less than a month, and that with all the forces of the US government working to find a suitable compromise to prevent collapse (especially in Mubarak’s case). Gaddafi has now withstood the economic and military offensive from a number of powerful Western nations, plus Russia and China, vast numbers of high-level defectors (among them most of his ambassadors), the disintegration of practically all international recognition, and sustained NATO bombings nearly every day for four months. He is clearly not going anywhere.