Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Dilemma: To leave or not to leave | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Following on from Turkey, Colonel Gaddafi now seems to be the latest to recognize the National Transitional Council in Libya, in light of a Tripoli spokesman announcing that negotiations are under way with rebels in more than one European capital. Here the word negotiations implies recognition that the other party is indeed a factor on the ground.

But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and the details here are about how to conduct the transfer of power, and [resolve] the Gaddafi situation. Does he stay or does he leave? He is not believed to be considering taking a step backwards, but it is likely that he is aware that the days of his regime are almost over, and all that remains is to find a way out.

The head of the Libyan National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has announced that he previously offered Gaddafi the option of staying in Libya if he chose to relinquish power, and withdraw his forces to their barracks. He then returned yesterday to say that there is no room for Gaddafi to remain, and that the only option is for him to step down and be brought to justice.

The first offer demonstrated the flexibility of the rebels stationed in the east of the country, in an attempt to emerge from the current impasse in light of the uncertainty surrounding their ability to reach a military solution to the crisis. However, it was clear that this offer was impractical.

The evidence of this [the offer’s impracticality] was the negative reaction it elicited, not only from Gaddafi’s side who did not even bother to respond to it, but also from the rebels themselves who, at the very least, want Gaddafi to leave the country and go into exile, if not be brought to trial for the crimes he has committed.

To leave [power] and stay in the country is the best option, as in the case of former President Mubarak in Egypt, but it is a solution to be employed at the beginning or in the first few weeks of the crisis, not months after increasing bloodshed, feuds, and a rapidly rising death toll. Gaddafi and his entourage must be well aware of this, as staying in Libya after handing over power will mean facing future demands for accountability when the dust settles, particularly from the relatives of those who were murdered, and inhabitants of cities that were destroyed.

Even the rebels themselves would face a dilemma if Gaddafi accepted this offer. The problem is not him alone – and this goes for every Arab country currently facing a revolutions – the leader is just the tip of the iceberg, for there is an entire regime that benefits from this leader’s presence, and they will fight to ensure that he does not leave. It takes a lot of effort to remove a leader and cripple those who fight in his name, in order to build a new system of governance that is acceptable to the people.

Gaddafi has brought his country to this critical situation, and he is the proponent of the infamous Zenga Zenga speech in which he dubbed the protestors “rats”. Yet he was not aware that the “revolutionary farce” that he practiced, and which he wanted to continue through his sons rule until the end of time, allowed people to realize that during his reign the Libyan citizen was far less economically and politically prosperous than his peers in countries that do not possess Libya’s oil wealth, which was squandered on foreign adventures and the purchase of meaningless titles.

Returning to the initial question of whether to leave or not to leave, this is not a question of Gaddafi’s authority, for he practically possesses no authority today particularly after a number of countries have recognized the National Transitional Council, most recently Turkey and now Gaddafi himself. Likewise, more than half of the country is outside of his control and thus in his current position he is more like the mayor of Tripoli than the leader of Libya. The question here is where will he go? If an agreement on the transfer of power can be secured, will he stay in Libya or live in exile? Furthermore, is there anybody that will be prepared to reach an agreement with Gaddafi and guarantee that he will not be subject to prosecution, particularly after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him?

A possible exit could be ensured by an international agreement, with the consent of the National Transitional Council and the rebels, in which there is an explicit offer providing guarantees of non-prosecution, reconciliation and amnesty, as was the case in South Africa following the collapse of the Apartheid regime. Gaddafi would leave power and be placed in a safe location under house arrest, whilst those who stood by him until the end would be prevented from public and political activities, and if there were crimes against humanity, then this would fall under the domain of the judiciary.

Some may say that this solution will not achieve justice, and this is true. There must be accountability for the crimes committed so that there is never a repeat of a regime such as this, which fought against its own people. Accountability would serve as a lesson to others not to behave in this manner. Yet some cases require taking public interest into account first and foremost, especially if this spares the country the risk of prolonging this division for a long period of time, and shortens the transition period towards the creation of a new Libya.

Gaddafi is certainly aware that he has lost his authority and that it is only a matter of time [until his regime collapses], and therefore there may be an opportunity to shorten his time in power by pressuring him, showing him there could be a way out for him personally if he agrees to step down.