Islamization: Libyan Rebels' Price for Qatari Support

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/18/2012 10:18:00 AM
It may have been a self-serving argument, but hardline leaders in the Middle East who successfully beggared the West on the premiss that even more fundamentalist forces would take over in their stead were not really being disingenuous. Witness Egypt. While wet-behind-the-ears white kids with a penchant for digital exceptionalism (today's cyber-equivalent of American exceptionalism possessing similar pitfalls) were working themselves into a frenzy about the "Arab Spring," less excitable commentators looked on warily. And so it has come to pass that far more extreme figures have emerged on Egypt's political scene, while the destabilizing effects of all this tomfoolery has been yet another round of IMF beggary. Yippee, what a success story, this cyber freedom 'n' growth shtick. [NOTE: This post was not written on an iPad, Blackberry or any sort of fanboy device.]

As with all sob stories, however, it gets even worse. The Libyan revolution has been of particular interest to me given our university's imbroglio with the clan Gathafi (more on this later; see an eariler post for now). So the previous leader may not have been a Western lackey claiming to protect his country from even more extreme influences, but it doesn't really matter. Unable to gain enough material aid from the West, Libyan revolutionaries were in no small part funded by the Qataris of Harrods, al-Jazeera and World Cup 2022 fame. No matter; despite the overtly liberal tones of their own investments, it seems the Qataris are keen to extract a fairly hefty dose of strict Islamization from the new Libyan leadership as quid pro quo for funding de-Moammarization.

Let us begin with what Qatar has provided:
Qatar did much more than finance weapons purchases and provide battlefield training. With no access to money and facing legal difficulties in selling oil, the rebels' political body — known as the National Transitional Council (NTC) — could not pay Libyan salaries and fund the wide-ranging subsidies on everything from bread to gas, which grease the economy. Qatar stepped in by offering to market 1 million barrels of oil for the NTC, which brought in about $100 million. Later, the small but immensely rich country delivered four consignments of refined petroleum products, such as diesel and gasoline. When international oil firms refused to offload oil shipments in Benghazi's port until the NTC paid for them, Qatar intervened and pledged to do so if the Libyan council could not.
And what Qatar appears to want in return is a rollback of secularization:
But with Gaddafi dead and his regime a distant memory, many Libyans are now complaining that Qatari aid has come at a price. They say Qatar provided a narrow clique of Islamists with arms and money, giving them great leverage over the political process. "I think what they have done is basically support the Muslim Brotherhood," says former NTC Deputy Prime Minister Ali Tarhouni, referring to the Islamist organization that has won elections in Egypt and Tunisia. "They have brought armaments and they have given them to people that we don't know." Some Qatari officials have indeed exerted influence in Libyan politics. During deliberations to choose a new Cabinet in September, a senior Qatari official was seen huddled with the outgoing Defense Minister, allegedly trying to guide appointments to sensitive security positions.

NTC members complain that actions like these are undermining the fragile transition to democracy the NTC has promised. "Qatar is weakening Libya," says an NTC member who requested anonymity because he was speaking about a sensitive topic. "In funding the Islamists, they are upsetting the balance of politics and making it difficult for us to move forward. They need to stop their meddling." Senior military officials sidelined by Qatar's cronies are just as blunt. "If aid comes through the front door, we like Qatar," says General Khalifa Hiftar. "But if it comes through the window to certain people [and] bypassing official channels, we don't want Qatar."
You do hope things get better in these countries in the long run even if they may undergo painful changes in the meantime. Still, you cannot rule out that more and more will increasingly remember the "bad old days" under Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gathafi as the "good old days." Meanwhile, those Qataris appear to be quite a crafty bunch even if many may disapprove: avoiding protest at home by adapting neoliberal affectations while actually applying pressure elsewhere to adopt the hardline.