Muammar Gaddafi’s 42‑year dictatorship reached its endgame as opposition forces reached Tripoli, the Libyan capital, this week.
Fierce battles were taking place in streets across the city as Socialist Worker went to press.
The end of Gaddafi’s regime is a cause for celebration. 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.
When David Cameron boasts about his pride in the role the British military have played in a revolution, it speaks volumes.
This was no longer a rebellion that would challenge Western wealth and power.
The popular revolution got to the brink of bringing Gaddafi down in February, but was pushed back by his armed forces.
The sheer brutality of the repression led many Libyans to call for the imposition of a no-fly zone, which seemed like a neutral way to save lives.
But the United Nations voted for full-scale military intervention. This opened the door for Western governments to re-insert themselves into 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 interests—trade contracts and international oil deals. They feel they have earned their right to dictate terms to any new government.
However, opposition forces currently united against the regime may well fragment over the extent of the West’s role in rebuilding Libya.
Nato has conducted more than 8,500 bombing raids since 19 March. Special forces worked on the ground, and drones have bombed and collected intelligence from the skies.
Finding money for war on Libya has never been a problem—despite the Tories’ “austerity drive”.
Cameron is keen to spin this war as a success for “humanitarian intervention”.
But the West’s motives were never humanitarian. If our rulers really care about democracy and freedom, why do they not back opposition movements in Bahrain, Yemen or Saudi Arabia?
The answer is that the dictators there are friendly to the West. 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 embracing him in 2004 and again in 2007.
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 fall of Gaddafi carries contradictions for them. The sight of yet another brutal dictator brought down after decades of rule may embolden those fighting back elsewhere—especially against Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
And if the spirit of revolt that has spread across the region is invigorated, the same leaders who today cheer the end of Gaddafi may again find their interests threatened by a movement that has anti-imperialism at its core.