William Beeman on Libya

A PressTV interview with Professor William Beeman, Chairman of Anthropology department of University of Minnesota

“The US led the regularization of relations with Colonel Gaddafi, after he had given up his nuclear program, which in my opinion was non-existent anyway. But the US issued a declaration saying this is a new era of friendship, legitimizing him. So this is very embarrassing for the US to now have the population rise up against him and call for his ouster.”

An American professor says that the UN should send peacekeeping forces to Libya to monitor the situation, which would make US military intervention in Libya unnecessary.

To shed more light on the matter, Press TV conducted an interview with Chairman of the Anthropology Department of University of Minnesota, Professor William Beeman.

Press TV: Muammar Gaddafi seems to be cornered. Tripoli is more and more being surrounded by protesters. Where is there for Gaddafi to go? What can he do?

William Beeman: Well, it’s very unclear where Colonel Gaddafi could now find refuge. He’s really become a pariah, even in the Middle Eastern world. I think people think that his stance has been quite irrational. What has also been very odd is to hear his son Seif, talking about the fact that they have everything under control and that this is just an aberration, and that nothing is happening.

I think that the world has seen that the population in Libya is absolutely revolting against the government. Frankly I think that this may end with him dying. He may be arrested or killed, so it is a very difficult situation for him and I really do believe that he has lost his sense of respect from the matter.

Usually the leaders of the Arab world find refuge in Saudi Arabia, but I’m not even sure if the Saudis will be willing to take him as a guest, given the fact that he has so many people calling for his ouster and his regime.

Press TV: US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has said that exile is an option for Gaddafi. What does she mean by this?

William Beeman: Maybe Hillary Clinton knows something that I don’t know. The United States might have been trying to find someplace where he could actually go into exile. I’m not sure where that would be though. This is a very difficult situation. We’ve had some terrible leaders in the world who have eventually found exile, as I suggested Saudi Arabia is often the place of choice. You think of Idi Amin and other people who are really awful people who had awful regimes [but] were able to find refuge there.

If the United States was trying to broker a place for him to go into exile, that’s probably a very deep secret. We probably aren’t going to be able to find out about that through normal channels, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the US were to do something like that in order to try to stop the violence that’s going on in Libya. The US has some responsibility to bear for this. The US led the regularization of relations with Colonel Gaddafi, after he had given up his nuclear program, which in my opinion was non-existent anyway. But the US issued a declaration saying this is a new era of friendship, legitimizing him. So this is very embarrassing for the US to now have the population rise up against him and call for his ouster.

Press TV: Recently, the US military has decided to deploy its naval and air forces near Libya, saying that it is considering a number of contingency plans to be able to provide options, if the decision is to intervene. Do you think there will be a military intervention as opposed to what Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN recently said that it is pretty premature to decide on the military option?

William Beeman: I think this is a terrible mistake, and the US has thus far refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of countries. This reinforces the idea that the US is serving as a world policeman. We tried this in Somalia and were completely repudiated by the population; I don’t think the Libyan people want the US forces at all on the ground. They have a history of colonial domination from Italy that dates back some years ago to the time of WWII, and the US trying to move and impose order is not likely to be successful. I think it is a really bad mistake.

The US and other nations might act in consorts to solve the problem, but in the Arab world today we have rioting going on everywhere. There aren’t any respected officials who could actually help in this regards. So it might mean a coalition of perhaps European powers who could ease Gaddafi out of power and help established some kind of legitimate regime at this time.

Press TV: Now how much is there thought of a civil war or regime survival in Libya?

William Beeman: The regular military in Libya has essentially abandoned Colonel Gaddafi. He has a small group of mercenaries, paid soldiers who come from outside the country, who are defending him and defending the capital. The population is relatively uniformed. I think if there were to be a civil war, the only thing that I can think of would be people who were supporting Colonel Gaddafi and maybe supporting a secular regime and people who were inclined to a religious regime.

Press TV: How do you see the political structures for the orderly transition of power if Gaddafi leaves? If Gaddafi leaves, who will take power? We have tribes, Islamic groups, the army, and the liberals who are willing to lead the country?

William Beeman: That’s correct, and right now Libya doesn’t even have a constitution, so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, if Libya is to transit to a more normal day of affairs in its government. Gaddafi is essentially ruled by a decree, frankly as a kind of tribal leader. He is in fact the head of the Gaddafi Tribe in Libya. And the country is being run like a tribal confederation. It is possible that someone from another tribal group could step in and take over the military. Eventually the people of Libya need a stable government with stable government documents of some kind that gives them rights as citizens. This is something that’s going to take a long time. Right now there doesn’t appear to be any alternative leaders to Colonel Gaddafi.

We can’t identify a single soul who is at the head of the opposition movement to the government. It seems to be a spontaneous and very widespread, massive revolt.

Press TV: Where does Libya stand when it comes to international diplomacy? How isolated is Libya?

William Beeman: Libya was very isolated up until the US and European powers tried to bring it out of its isolation when it renounced its nuclear program, which I say was non-existent anyway, not a big deal for them to renounce it. They were quite used to operating in isolation selling their oil through back channels on the world market. The isolation stopped once they began to be recognized by the world as a member of the international community. This though is a young or recent lack of isolation that they’ve had and so it is possible that Libya could slip back into isolation.

Certainly If the Libyans end up having a kind of internal revolution that is unorderly, they may suffer the fate of Somalia, which is isolated from the world not because it is full of bad people or bad leaders, but because there is total chaos in the country; there is nothing that resembles civil society and so Libya must be able to restore order in the country and try to get on the road to establishing a civil society.

Press TV: What do you think is next for Libya?

Beeman: It seems to me the next step is for Gaddafi and his family his sons to give up the country and leave and until that done we will see continued rioting and misery. Right now we are seeing food shortage throughout country and industry is at a complete standstill and so it is turning into an economic nightmare as well as a political and civil one.

Press TV: The UN has called for concrete action. What concrete actions can the UN do?

Beeman: Well I would prefer this to the US doing anything on its own unilaterally. The UN has the power to send in a peacekeeping force and I think that is absolutely warranted in this case and it would be very reasonable action. It would also remove the onus from the US of having to send in military forces unilaterally and I think the idea of a UN peacekeeping force being used in exactly these sorts of conditions where there’s been civil conflict that hasn’t been able to be contained. This would be an important step to try to bring order to the country right now.

Press TV: The US and its western allies condemn the Libyan regime anti-government protests, but a look back on relations between Gaddafi and western nations, analysts say, the condemnation may just be lip service?

Beeman: I quite agree with you, the Libyans have a very important natural resource and that is sweet crude oil, low sulfur oil, which is very easy to refine and used for diesel fuel. And the oil that they have for refining is close to Europe, so it’s a wonderful resource and geographical location. It doesn’t count for a large proportion of the supply of the world’s oil, about 2%, but nevertheless it is still very important and the industrial powers don’t want to risk cutting off that supply.

So they’ve condemned the crackdown, but they also wasn’t to be ready to jump if in some way the Gaddafi’s are able to retain power; they don’t want to be on their bad side – it’s a matter of fence-sitting on the part of the great powers; they’re not willing to actually take action to back up their condemnation.

Press TV: You mentioned earlier that many of these dictators fleeing and taking refuge in Saudi Arabia – wouldn’t this destroy the image of Saudi Arabia and perhaps risk uprisings there?

Beeman: Well you notice that the king of Saudi Arabia has just last week announced that he is dedicating USD 36 billion essentially as a giveaway to his people in order to try to stem any kind of revolt that might take place in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the only significant country in the Middle East that hasn’t really had a popular uprising yet and I think the King of Saudi Arabia is very worried that the calls for the ouster of rulers in the Middle East may spread to there. So if he takes Colonel Gaddafi in at this sensitive point he risks inflaming his own population and I think that’s got to be in the back of his mind.

Press TV: Let’s talk about the tribes in Libya. What role does these tribes play and how significant is the role in managing the status quo?

Beeman: Tribes are very important in Libya and you have to understand that Libya like many other nations in the Middle East is not a natural nation, it was created by colonial powers. Libya was ruled as a colony for decades in the middle of the 20th century. If you take a look at the southern borders of Libya you see that they are just straight lines where someone just drew a line on the map and declared that to be Libya and this encompassed a whole lot of tribes who had an independent existence of their own.

There was a King – King Idris for some time (1950s) who ruled as a nominal ruler, but didn’t have much control over tribal groups in the far reaching areas.

So like many of these artificial nations, Libya is a very fragmented place and the only way it has been kept together was through brute force or paramilitary rule. Colonel Gaddafi being the head of one of those very large tribes and also a military man was able to consolidate power. I should point out that Saudi Arabia has exactly the same structure.

It’s called Saudi Arabia because the Saud tribe eventually conquered all of their rivals for power and was able to establish a dynasty. So again these are large tribal groups with important leaders who have pacts with other tribes either explicit or tacit that cement alliances. Libya has never been a normal nation state.

Therefore, trying to put together something out of this very irregular governmental structure is going to be difficult.

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