Socialist Worker

The West is no friend of Libya's revolt

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2244

Western military intervention in Libya is being sold to us as “humanitarian intervention” to defend the revolution.

The uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal regime that began on 17 February remains an inspiration.

Gaddafi responded with attacks on civilians, the aerial bombardment of demonstrations, mass round-ups and executions.

This left many people in despair, and feeling that Western intervention was the only solution to save their lives.

But the West’s interests are not those of the Libyan revolution.

Western governments are not innocent or impartial. They are using this opportunity to reassert their influence in the region.

The ruling class has been rocked by the mass popular revolutions which brought down their allies—Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt.

If the West’s support for popular revolutions against violent dictators is genuine, then why are they not supporting all the revolutions?

Where is the challenge to the repression of protests in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen?


This week Israel launched yet more air attacks on Gaza—but the West has never threatened Israel with a no-fly zone.

The hypocrisy of imperialism is clear. These regimes are allies of the West, so it allows them to act with impunity. Ben Ali and Mubarak enjoyed Western support until it was clear that they were finished.

The Arab League’s support for the West’s actions has been used as a cover.

Yet the Arab League is made up of the very same dictators that the revolutions are trying to bring down.

They have proved to be solid allies of Western imperialism in the past and have shown no mercy to the popular movements in their own countries.

This alliance is already showing signs of fragmenting as the reality of the bombing becomes clear.

After the first day of the attack, Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, complained, “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.”

Western intervention is not about protecting innocent civilians or furthering the cause of the revolution.

It is aimed at guaranteeing the deals made with Gaddafi by the West in the past. Western powers have, from the beginning, made it difficult for the revolution to succeed on its own terms.

Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC), the body that grew out of the revolution, made a series of simple demands in the first crucial days of the uprising. It asked for the recognition of the TNC, access to the billions in sequestrated regime funds in order to buy weapons and other crucial supplies, and an immediate halt to the “mercenary flights” that provided Gaddafi’s regime with its foot soldiers.

Western governments refused to accept even one of these demands. They even objected to weapons sales as they said these could fall into the hands of “Islamist terrorists.”


Instead, Western powers put a number of conditions on the revolution.

They demanded that any future Libyan government would honour all contracts signed by Gaddafi, including oil concessions.

They demanded that the strict repression of “Islamist” movements continue, and that any future government maintain Libya’s role as a guardian against African migration into southern Europe.

The West, in effect, blackmailed the revolution.

“Humanitarian intervention” has a bloody history. The case for humanitarian intervention made during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s became a cover for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Troops still occupy both countries. The war in Afghanistan is in its tenth year.

The ruling class has been thrown into turmoil by the huge movements sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

Now it is using its intervention as a way of regaining its foothold and rebuilding its credibility.

There is no guarantee that the West will leave Libya fast, and the danger of partition is real.

The Libyan revolution is not lost—but it has been forced to make compromises.

The demands for freedom, for an end to poverty and oppression still burn strongly.

The movements from below provide hope for any real long-term future for the people of the region.

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