Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship reached its endgame as fighting spread to the streets of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, today (Monday).
Opposition forces marched on the city from every direction, pulling down the green flags of the regime as they passed. Reports describe incoming rebels being welcomed with cheers.
The end of Gaddafi’s regime is a cause for celebration. He will be the third Arab dictator to fall this year.
But the nature of the struggle in Libya is now fundamentally different from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that originally inspired it. It became so once Western forces decided to appropriate it.
The popular revolution got to the brink of bringing Gaddafi down in February but was pushed back by armed forces.
The sheer brutality of the repression, and fear of a massacre of rebels in Benghazi, led many Libyans to call for international support.
Some called for a no fly zone, which seemed like a neutral way of saving lives.
But the United Nations went a lot further. It voted for full-scale military intervention “to protect civilians”. This opened the door to Western governments to reinsert themselves in the region after the loss of their dictator friends in Tunisia and Egypt.
The imperialist powers hijacked the Libyan revolt and bent it to their own needs. They forced the new rebel authority in Benghazi to reaffirm trade contracts and international oil deals.
Nato has conducted more than 8,500 bombing raids since 19 March. David Cameron ensured British forces were central to the attacks.
And, finding money for war on Libya has never been a problem—despite the government’s “austerity drive”.
Cameron and other Western leaders will be keen to spin this war as a success for “humanitarian intervention” and will brag about bringing democracy to Libya.
Cameron’s statement this week talked of Libyans building “a state based on freedom, not fear; democracy, not dictatorship—the will of the many, not the whims of a few.”
But the West’s motives were never humanitarian.
If our rulers cared about democracy and freedom, why do they not back opposition movements Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia?
The answer is that the dictators there are friendly to the West, and Western leaders have never had any qualms about working with dictators. Just as they had no trouble working with Gaddafi until after the Libyan revolt began.
They may have derided him as a “mad dog” in the past, but this didn’t stop Tony Blair famously embracing him as an ally in 2004.
Whoever takes the place of the hated Gaddafi one thing looks certain—the West will ensure it is a regime it can do business with.
The fall of the Libyan regime might help our rulers regain a foothold in the region and may make them more confident to intervene elsewhere.
But the end of Gaddafi carries contradictions for them.
The sight of yet another brutal dictator brought down after decades of rule may also embolden those fighting back elsewhere—especially against Assad in Syria.
And, if the spirit of revolt that has spread across the region is invigorated, the same world leaders who today cheer the end of Gaddafi may again find their interests threatened by a movement that has anti-imperialism at its core.