New revelations show how close Libya came to peaceful transition

New revelations show how close Libya came to peaceful transition
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in his Bedouin tent, January 12, 1986. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 March 2021

New revelations show how close Libya came to peaceful transition

New revelations show how close Libya came to peaceful transition
  • Norwegian diplomacy led to Gaddafi agreeing to step down, but the deal feel through at the last minute
  • He refused to leave the country, and the UK and France had reservations

LONDON: The late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to step down and leave politics in 2011, in a deal that could have avoided a decade of crisis and bloodshed — but it fell through at the last minute, The Independent reported on Thursday. 

Former Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Store told the British newspaper that a draft text was agreed between Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam and senior opposition figure Aly Zeidan, who would later become prime minister of Libya’s National Transitional Council.

Norwegian diplomats hammered out a transition plan, the first line of which stated: “Colonel Gaddafi has decided to leave power and step aside and to end the first phase of the revolution.”

But the fate of the country’s erratic leader, who had been in power for 42 years, remained a sticking point. Specifically, he refused to leave the country after stepping down.

“People very close to Gaddafi, people in the legal apparatus, in his family, supported what was on the table,” said Staale Wiig, a Norwegian biographer of Store who first uncovered the existence of the negotiations years after the war.

“But the final mile was for Gaddafi to say ‘I agree to move into exile’ or where he would live.”

Store said the Libyan leadership was not the only roadblock to a peaceful transition. According to him, the US was keen on the deal but Britain and France had reservations.

“I felt that the mindset in London and Paris didn’t have openings for really reflecting on the diplomatic option. Were (France and Britain) willing to look at something beyond military solutions? The jury is still out,” Store said.

“Had there been in the international community a willingness to pursue this track with some authority and dedication, I believe there could have been an opening to achieve a less dramatic outcome and avoid the collapse of the Libyan state. Had there been a will to do it ... one could have imagined some kind of ceasefire in the military campaign to allow diplomats to move in,” he added.

“But the military operation had already lasted for eight weeks, the dynamic on the ground was changing, and frankly speaking the will to rally behind such a process was not there.”

Libya has been in a state of perpetual conflict since Gaddafi violently suppressed a popular uprising in 2011.

At the time, he pledged to crush the “rats on the streets,” and his threats eventually prompted a UN-backed intervention to prevent him from murdering his own citizens.

The intervention — led by the US, the UK and France — saw 7,000 bombs dropped on Gaddafi’s forces over seven months, and eventually led to his overthrow and death.

Since then, Libya has suffered from incursions from Daesh-affiliated militants, a civil war that has seen extensive involvement from outside powers, and the death of thousands of civilians and combatants.

Earlier this month, a peace deal was agreed between the country’s two warring sides — based in Benghazi and Tripoli — but observers have said Libya remains on the brink of a resumption of conflict.