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‘Life for most Libyans is worse than it was under Gaddafi’

Published time: May 11, 2013 18:14

A Libyan protester waves his national flag as hundreds demonstrate outside the Tibesti Hotel in support of the Libyan General National Congress in Benghazi on May 10, 2013 (AFP Photo / Abdullah Doma)

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The UK and US are removing some diplomatic staff from Libya amid political unrest throughout the country. Professor Mark Almond told RT that the spike in violence is mostly due to Libya's state of disorder - which has worsened since Gaddafi's overthrow.

The US State Department said that it has “approved the ordered departure of non-emergency personnel from Libya.” It said that the US embassy in Tripoli would continue to remain “open and functioning.”

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said that Britain’s embassy is temporarily withdrawing a small number of staff - most of which “work in support of government ministries which have been affected by recent developments.”

Those “recent developments” refer to an increase in violence which was sparked after two ex-rebels besieged two ministries last month over a law that would ban officials who served under former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, gunmen have surrounded the Libyan foreign embassy and Benghazi has been the target of bomb attacks which left a police station damaged.

Mark Almond, an international relations professor at Turkey’s Bilkent University, says the violence is largely to do with the country’s chaotic state, as well as a power struggle regarding who should control the country’s oil and gas industry.

RT: The UK issued a warning to British nationals back in January, advising them to stay away from Benghazi. It’s now withdrawing its staff. Why are tensions on the rise now, as opposed to what was happening in January? What’s changed?

Mark Almond: I think there has just been a constant level of trouble. Partly what we’re seeing are deep divisions between Libyan revolutionaries who Britain and other NATO countries supported. There’s a power struggle over who should control the Libyan state and particularly the country’s oil and gas resources.

Effectively, there’s a battle between the roles of the young men who do the fighting and the older people - some of whom emigrated from Libya in the years of Gaddafi’s rule and some who changed sides from Gaddafi quite recently. And there’s a real struggle over who should be running the central government, the regional government, and whose finger should be in the oil and gas pie.

RT: There was a recent car bomb attack on the French embassy, one American ambassador was killed. Militias are blocking access to embassies. What’s the international community doing to curb these incidents?

MA: Well this is basically a dilemma they can’t really resolve. After all, by bombing Libya, they helped to create a situation where armed groups came to power and certainly have local domination. And there are of course groups that may be welcoming NATO bombers but are in fact quite serious anti-Western Muslim fundamentalist groups. So they don’t regard necessarily the continued presence of western embassies, the British, French, or American ones, as something that they’d like to see in a liberated - as they would see it - Libya.

There’s also the problem that perhaps various promises were made to people who NATO needed at the time, who feel they’ve been cheated a bit. This is one of the suspicions about the fate of American Ambassador Chris Stevens - that he had been dealing with the armed groups, that he was probably also helping to facilitate support for Syrian rebels and somehow or another he got mixed up with the wrong crew.

RT: It appears a lot of the violence has been focused on police stations and foreigners. Why is that?

MA: Well of course insofar as any kind of law and order can be restored, you’d have to have some form of police. So those people who don’t like being put under control are very angry about that. And foreigners, too, are seen as being the people who are pushing particular Libyans into positions of power and influence, including in the oil and gas industry. Remember we’re talking about a country whose economy is overwhelmingly dependent upon export products so there’s an enormous amount of corruption and competition regarding who should get hold of those assets inside Libya and, I’m afraid, outside Libya.

RT: Just two years ago, the UK lobbied for military intervention in Libya. Was that a good decision?

MA: I think it was a terrible decision. I’m afraid if Colonel Gaddafi had suppressed the opposition in March 2011, possibly hundreds of people would have died. Perhaps as many as 30,000 have died since, and the country is in a deep state of disorder and uncertainty. Life for most Libyans is worse than it was under Colonel Gaddafi. And of course Gaddafi’s regime was supposed by the Western countries to be the bad regime. Anything must be better, we were told. But now we see that it’s not so clear.

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