- Created: Sunday, 27 February 2011 20:39
- Written by Trevor Rayne
To those in Benghazi and in the British press like The Guardian, who today applaud the UN vote to impose a no-fly zone 'and all necessary measures' to protect civilians in Libya, let them recall Amiriya, Baghdad, on 13 February 1991. In the name of the no-fly zone the US fired missiles on a bomb shelter, incinerating over 400 people, many of them children. The US said they thought that the shelter was a military command site. It had been used as a bomb shelter for some years previously during the Iraq-Iran war. NATO planes enforced a no-fly zone on the former Yugoslavia. Many civilians were killed by cluster bombs - 'anti-personnel devices' as they were called - dropped on Serbia and Kosovo. In Afghanistan wedding parties, funeral processions, even children gathering wood on a hillside for their families, are all targets for US and NATO war planes. Imperialist hands off Libya!
The European and US public have been prepared by the mass media to accept a foreign military intervention in Libya, should the imperialists consider it necessary or opportune. Libya possesses Africa’s largest known oil reserves. Any military intervention will have these as its objective, although it would be conducted under the pretexts of rescuing US or European workers and stopping the appalling bloodshed in Libya. Sanctions have already been imposed and the imposition of a no-fly zone is under consideration; these are preparations for a full blown military intervention as in the former Yugoslavia (1993-95) and Iraq (1991-2003).
On 26 February 2011 the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on the Libyan government for ‘gross and systematic violation of human rights’. The text was drafted by Britain and France. Sanctions include a travel ban on Gaddafi, his family and close associates, a freeze on assets and an arms embargo. The UN calls on the International Criminal Court to investigate suppression of anti-government protesters. In Benghazi attempts are underway to form a rival government.
US naval forces shelled Tripoli in 1804. In 1911 Italy declared war on Turkey and seized the Libyan coastline. In 1931 Libya was annexed to Italy. From the end of World War II to 1949 the country was divided between Britain and France. The UN acknowledged Libya’s independence in 1951, but the imperialists have never given up their claim to have the right to interfere as they see fit in the country.
Ever since former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Colonel Gaddafi in January 2004 and Royal Dutch Shell signed a £550 million exploration deal with the Libyan government on the very same day, the Libyan state has been treated as an imperialist ally. Libya’s police have been trained by British police, its special forces trained by British special forces, the state has been supplied with British-made tear gas, small arms ammunition, riot control vehicles and water cannons, infra-red and thermal imaging equipment and ammunition for wall-and-door breaching projectile launchers. Now with Benghazi and other towns and cities falling to government opponents and with factions of the military, government and diplomatic corps turning against Gaddafi, the US, British and other European governments have cynically taken the opportunity to condemn the Libyan state and will seek advantage for themselves and the multinational corporations already in the country.
Gaddafi, like many other Arab rulers, studied military strategy at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Britain and he founded the Union of Free Officers in London in 1966. Five other current Arab heads of state trained with the British military at Sandhurst: Sheikh Al Khalifa of Bahrain, King Abdullah of Jordan, Sheikh Al Sabah of Kuwait, Sultan Said Al Said of Oman and Sheikh Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar (The Independent, 19 February 2011). Their regimes are armed by British companies and their armed forces are trained by British state forces. This is in a region containing approximately two thirds of the world oil reserves and in which the British military have intervened on some 30 separate occasions since the end of the Second World War to preserve US and British hegemony.
A military coup in Libya on 1 September 1969 replaced King Idris and installed a Revolutionary Council, led by Gaddafi. It declared itself Muslim, Nasserist (Arab nationalist) and socialist. US and British military bases were taken over and the activities of almost 60 multinational corporations operating in Libya were restricted. Oil and oil derivative production was placed under state control. During King Idris’ rule, Libyan oil revenues per barrel were the lowest in the world. The new government used oil income to build irrigation systems and expand farming. Land was distributed to rural households and a social security system and free medical service were established, new housing was built, education improved so that the illiteracy rate fell from 73% to 20%. Industrial workers were given a 25% share of company profits and industrial investment was eleven times greater than under King Idris. Agricultural investment rose thirty-fold. Libya went from being the poorest country in North Africa to being the country with the highest per capita income in Africa.
Libya opposed Egypt’s 1978 peace agreement with Israel and sided with Palestinian organisations that rejected negotiations with Israel. Libya fell out with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over their attempts to keep Opec oil prices down. The Libyan government also had poor relations with Morocco because Libya backed the Polisario Front. Libya supported other anti-imperialist struggles including that against apartheid in South Africa. Under the Reagan administration the US state targeted Libya: in August 1981 the US Navy shot down two Libyan planes off Libya’s coast; in January 1986 the US imposed an economic embargo on Libya because of its presumed responsibility for terrorist acts. On 14 April 1986 US planes flew from bases in Britain to bomb Tripoli and Benghazi, killing scores of people, including Gaddafi’s 15 month-old adopted daughter. The target was Gaddafi himself. Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic and sometimes vain behaviour has been used by imperialism to attack the Libyan state itself. Britain severed diplomatic links with Libya in 1984 after WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead in London from inside the Libyan embassy.
In November 1991 US and British courts blamed the Libyan government for bombing two passenger airplanes: the 1988 Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, and a French UTA flight over the Sahara that killed 170 people. In 1992 Libya agreed to cooperate in investigating the attacks. By the late 1980s Libya had privately agreed to collaborate with the US and western Europe against Islamic fundamentalism (the Libyan government feared that the strife in neighbouring Algeria would spread to Libya and there was an attempt on Gaddafi’s life). Eventually, the Libyan state even went so far as to participate in the US ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme. Support for Palestinian ‘rejectionists’ was ended, two Lockerbie suspects were handed over to face prosecution and Libya agreed to end its nuclear programme. Palestinian migrants were expelled in the 1990s. UN sanctions were lifted in 1999 and US sanctions removed in 2006.
The Libyan government abolished a series of import quotas in 1987-88, allowing food imports to compete with local produce. Neo-liberal agricultural and industrial policies provoked opposition within the government and among the people. Writing in The Independent (22 February 2011) Robert Fisk asks, ‘And who knows what the Green Book Archives – and please, O insurgents of Libya, do NOT in thy righteous anger burn these priceless documents – will tell us about Lord Blair's supine visit to this hideous old man [Gaddafi].’ Gaddafi’s son Saif told the Daily Mirror in June 2010, ‘Tony Blair has an excellent relationship with my father. For us, he is a personal family friend. I first met him around four years ago at Number 10. Since then I have met him several times in Libya when he stays with my father. He has come to Libya many, many times.’ Blair has visited Libya on behalf of JP Morgan Chase investment bank and played a pivotal role in turning the country over to multinational capitalism. In the past ten years Libya has privatised over 100 state companies and there are plans to privatise state owned banks. The 2004 Royal Dutch Shell deal was followed by Libya’s application to join the World Trade Organisation. BP signed an oil exploration deal worth $900 million in 2008. Other investors in Libya’s oil include Italy’s ENI, Germany’s Wintershall, France’s Total, Spain’s Repsol and Marathon Oil, Halliburton, Hess Corporation, Occidental and Conoco Phillips from the US. 150 British companies operate in Libya, including Marks and Spencer. Sir Mark Allen, the former MI5 officer who negotiated with Gaddafi, went to work for BP.
In 2006 the Libyan government established the Libyan Investment Authority (LBI). The LBI now owns 3.01% of Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, The Economist and educational publishers. The Libyan bourgeoisie now has investments in the Italian oil, aerospace, defence, automobile, textile and banking industries plus in Juventus football club. Italy receives 20% of its oil imports from Libya. In 2009 the Italian and Libyan governments signed an agreement whereby Italy would pay Libya $200 million a year for 25 years and Italy and Libya would act jointly to stop migrants from Africa reaching Italy. Would-be migrants caught by Italian and Libyan vessels are sent to prison-like detention camps in Libya. Inequalities have increased in Libya: 33% of the people live below the poverty line and there is 30% unemployment, undermining support for the government. The relative underdevelopment of the east of the country has worsened. This is where the current revolt began followed by ‘a day of rage’ in Benghazi on 17 February 2011.
US and British imperialism will talk about democracy and an end to the atrocious killing and repression and use them as excuses for whatever they do, but these are not their real concerns; what really motivates them is the oil wealth of the Middle East and North Africa. Nobody in the region will be deceived by the ‘concern’ expressed by Prime Minister David Cameron and his ministers (‘concern’: a monument to British ruling class aplomb) for Libya’s people. We say no to imperialist intervention in Libya. Imperialist hands off Libya!