Premature rejoicing

While Muammar Qaddafi remains at large, he remains a threat to Libya’s peace

The lightning visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron to Libya on Thursday had the air of a victory celebration. They were certainly given a heroes’ welcome by the Libyans, and there is no reason to doubt that the welcome was anything other than heartfelt genuine. The two countries have been the new Libya’s strongest supporters, certainly militarily, if not politically — and seem set to remain so. Both have promised support as Libya rebuilds.

But while the visit was a valuable morale-booster to the Libyans and possibly even more valuable to Sarkozy as he struggles to rebuild his popularity ahead of next year’s presidential elections in France, it is premature to celebrate victory over Qaddafi’s forces even if victory is assured. When the visit started, three towns remained in Qaddafi’s hands — his hometown, Sirte, Sebha in the south and Bani Walid, south of Tripoli. It is unsafe to travel by road between Benghazi and Tripoli and there are thought to be still armed Qaddafi elements in the capital capable of mounting terror attacks. Moreover, according to Mustafa Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Qaddafi is in south, is in possession of a lot of money and gold and is planning attacks. There was one such attack the other day at Ras Lanouf. The Qaddafi forces, dressed as revolutionaries and waving the old tricolor flag of the new Libya tricked their way into the town and killed a number of soldiers before they themselves were killed.

By chance, the news was announced while Cameron and Sarkozy were in Benghazi that NTC forces had entered Sirte. It is only a matter of time before it and the other two towns fall. Of that there can be little doubt. But even when they fall, the conflict will not be over. Jalil has warned that that will only happen when the fugitive ex-leader is caught, and his deputy, Abdul Hafeedh Ghoga, has said that only when the country is stable will the NTC move from Benghazi to Tripoli.

But will he be caught? Will he be found?

To many it probably seems that the future for Qaddafi is limited to three possibilities: Capture, exile or death (at his own or someone else’s hand). But there is another: Disappearance. He is not going to want to go into exile. If he goes to Venezuela or Zimbabwe or some similar place, he becomes just another ex-dictator, soon forgotten by the world. His megalomania could not tolerate that. He believes himself to be a world liberator, one of the greatest thinkers humanity has ever known. In any event, he made no disguise of the view that Libya was not big enough for him; in his speeches he would harangue the Libyans for being weak and incisive — unlike him, of course.

Disappearance would allow him to enter into the realms of legend. He could become a myth, undefeated in the eyes of those who want to believe it, putting out occasional statements from his hideaway, as Osama Bin Laden or somebody in his name did. It would fit perfectly with Qaddafi’s vaunting vanity. But disappearance prevents Libya from moving on. Jalil is right, while Qaddafi remains at large, he remains a threat. He needs to be found — or, at least, it needs to be known where he is, be it in Caracas or Harare or wherever. – Arabnews