Fighting in Libya has intensified recently. With Gaddafi’s forces taking Brega, an Al Jazeera cameraman killed, France recognizing the opposition leaders as the legitimate Libyan government, and the Arab League’s request to impose a no-fly zone, there are loose strings flailing off in every direction. As the situation develops, it is incredibly difficult to get a handle on what this all means for the country. Still, we’re going to go ahead and try anyway.
First we’ll start with the Arab League and the no-fly zone. The Arab League (also referred to as the League of Arab States) was created in 1945 to help consolidate and draw consensus on a number of Arab and Middle Eastern initiatives. They usually do not make unified decisions on political issues but rather discuss things at length, ending up pretty much exactly where they began. However, in an unprecedented move, they made concrete proposals on how to stop one of their old members, Muammar Gaddafi, from continuing his massacre. On Saturday, they came out publicly to urge the U.N. to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.
The idea is that a no-fly zone would take out Gaddafi’s main advantage over the rebels. It would keep Gaddafi from flying in mercenaries and weapons, it would also neutralize air strikes. While some in the international community support such an action, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates believes that such a move would mean a large amount of military action and involvement in the region. Recently he has conceded that it is, perhaps, possible to impose without much military action.
Now, one of the main questions I’ve heard is, “Does a no-fly zone imposed by the U.N. mean that the U.N. would shoot Gaddafi aircraft?” Well, that’s also difficult to say. For instance: some no-fly zones are enforced with serious and violent repercussions. Any aircraft that treads into them is either chaperoned out by fighter jets or is taken down. However, we can also look toward the no-fly zone the U.N. enacted in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1993-1995 where they simply took note and recorded the number of unauthorized flights within an imposed no-fly zone.
However, it’s important that we recognize in all of this confusion that for once, Arab leaders are finally throwing their weight around as a representative collective rather than talking a bunch then heading home. We should also take note that Gaddafi can hear all this talk and it is most likely ratcheting up the pressure to leave his now internationally rejected role as Libya’s leader.
Which brings us to the next topic: If Gaddafi is no longer considered a legitimate head of state, than who has taken his place? Well, in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, a National Council has already been established. Considered a transitional government that gives a face to the opposition, most recently, a convoy of leaders flew to Paris. Dr. Ali Al Esawi, one of the heads of the National Council, announced at the Palace Elysee that he had spoken with President Nicolas Sarkozy who promised to recognize the council as the legitimate government of Libya. Other countries in Europe, and the United States seem hesitant to take such dramatic steps at the moment.
Which of course brings us to the current fighting situation and the recent deaths of an Al Jazeera cameraman. Is the opposition losing ground? It does seem that most of the recent reports show the well-equipped pro-Gaddafi forces advancing on the opposition-controlled East. Towns near Brega reported opposition heading further East in trucks. We should also take a moment to realize that the majority of the opposition fighting force is loosely banded young men. Other than a few Libyan army defectors, most of these men have little to no training or experience. So it cannot come as a surprise when a well-trained and well-equipped military pushes into their stronghold
However, just to show you how fluid this situation is, in the middle of writing that paragraph, a news wire came in that rebels had re-taken Brega and pushed the pro-Gaddafi forces out. If this is report is accurate, it would be an embarrassing loss for pro-Gaddafi forces. This constant scramble for footing is one of the reasons why the international community is currently considering jamming Gaddafi’s communication signals, imposing the no-fly zone, and even possibly taking tactical strikes at certain Gaddafi strongholds. With the pendulum constantly swinging back and forth many (including a number of opposition forces) feel it’s the international community’s duty to swing results in favor of the people’s movement.
It is often difficult to comprehend such a shattered situation. Even in opposition strongholds where many feel relatively secure, there is always a threat. This was manifested tragically on March 12th when a cameraman covering Libya was shot during an attack on his way back to opposition-controlled Benghazi. Ali Hassan al Jaber, an al Jazeera cameraman, was shot through the heart during the ambush. Born in 1955, he had worked for CNBC Arabiya, and as Head of Filming Section in Qatar Television for over twenty years. He is the first journalist killed in Libya.
There are no easy explanations or simple wrap-ups in situations like these. Most information is spread out, unsubstantiated and liable to change by the minute. If this upcoming week brings U.N., U.S., or Arab intervention, it will certainly be a story worth following. While it is the opinion of many that this revolution needs to be won by Libyans alone, it can be upsetting and arguably irresponsible for the international community to sit around doing nothing during such blatant slaughter and human rights violations. Meanwhile, the rest of us can do little more than watch and wait as the fate of a nation hangs over the precipice.