Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Gaddafi-Era Figures Must Go in Libya

Old regime needs to be rooted out in order for new Libya to emerge, activist says.
By Mohamed Maklouf
  •  Demonstrators burn a copy of Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo to celebrate the rebels’ entry into Tripoli. (Photo: Maggie Osama/Flickr)
    Demonstrators burn a copy of Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book outside the Libyan embassy in Cairo to celebrate the rebels’ entry into Tripoli. (Photo: Maggie Osama/Flickr)

There is a genuine feeling among Libyans, especially young people, that they do not want figures from the old regime to remain in power.

This is something that I too feel extremely strongly about. It’s a bit like the way the Nazis had to be removed from office after the liberation of Europe in 1945.

Even those members of the current National Transitional Council, NTC, who defected from Muammar Gaddafi’s regime should now step down. Hundreds of thousands of Libyans will share my view that we must say to them, “Thank you very much – now leave us alone to build our new country.”

If they don’t go, we will have another revolution, this time against them. That is already happening in some parts of the country. In Misrata, Benghazi and Tripoli itself there have already been demonstrations to demand new faces to lead Libya.

No one who worked with Gaddafi and his sons is going to be welcome. We don’t want to see a revolution that was started by genuine, ordinary people hijacked by others.

The NTC has been recognised by much of the international community, but only as an interim government. Its head, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, said himself last week that none of its members will seek positions in the new government. More than that – he said that if anyone was suspected of past crimes, they should be tried, whether or not they had defected from the regime to join the rebels.

There is a new current of hope and freedom among Libyans. People in Tripoli feel they are 99 per cent free, since although there are still pockets of Gaddafi supporters here and there, they will all be found soon.

Everybody has been talking about celebrating this year’s Eid al-Fitr without Gaddafi. After enduring seven months of war and 41 years of dictatorship, they say the price has been worth paying.

At Ein Zara in Tripoli, a secret underground prison has been discovered containing 4,000 prisoners, who have all been released. Mass grave sites have also been found. These are just some of the atrocities carried out by the Gaddafi regime which the world now knows about. Just imagine what other abuses have been committed over the last 41 years.

I have been living in the UK for 36 of those years, and I have been shouting and screaming about Gaddafi’s crimes all this time. No one would listen, no one was interested. All that mattered to the international community was Libya’s oil.

I remember speaking out about the prison massacre in Buslim in Tripoli, in which 1,200 political prisoners were killed in just one day in June 1996. But no one paid attention – neither the press nor western or Arab governments.

The new government must decide what to do with former soldiers of the regime, but whoever perpetrated massacres and other crimes must be tried in court. And these courts must be in Libya. We don’t want Gaddafi or his associates to be tried abroad, as that could take years. There’s no need for it –there is fresh, raw evidence within Libya, and I have full confidence in the court system.

Young people in Libya are not stupid; they know justice must be done. There may be a few incidents of violence or revenge, but we are a nation of just six million people. It is a bit like a village where we know all our neighbours, and it is clear who the big shots were who worked for Gaddafi and stole money from the Libyan people.

I don’t think we will face the problems that Iraq had after the de-Baathification process. For one thing, Libya is not like Iraq. We don’t have sectarianism, divisions between Shia, Sunni or different ethnic groups. We mostly belong to the Maliki strand of Sunni Islam. The Amazigh (Berber) minority accounts for four or five per cent of the total population. And very importantly, we don’t have extreme Islamism; we are largely nationalist in outlook.

As for the argument that people from the former regime will be needed for their skills, Libyan exiles are already coming back from all over the world. They are highly educated people – doctors, engineers and professors.

I too am going home to rebuild my country. My speciality is media, so I have been working with others on the idea of founding an independent television station. We also need filmmakers to document the revolution, and to set up workshops to train people.

Those who died in our revolution gave up their lives for freedom of speech, democracy and a new constitution, and we must fulfil their wishes.

Mohamed Maklouf is a UK-based media consultant and filmmaker.