Disregard of the Importance of our Constitutional Movement
is Showing Terrifying Consequences
Recent events regarding Libya’s relations with the international community, which culminated by Secretary Rice’s visit to Gaddafi’s tent, show that the acceptance and regularization processes of the illegitimate regime have now progressed far, may be far too far for us. With this terrifying possibility in mind, it is our duty to look into the case and see how failure to adopt the Constitutional Movement, when opportunities to change course of events were still available, led to this frightening end. The Constitutional Movement and its leaders had the insight of seeing at an early point the Libyan case in an entirely different light from the rest of the opposition groups. The Movement rejected the regime outright on the basis of Constitutional principles. For example it never entertained the wholly mistaken position of differing with the regime merely in the detail of implementing revolutionary promises and vision. The Constitutional Movement also saw that the issue of human rights crimes, as important as it is, and the chronic mal management of the country’s economy and affairs, as inevitable consequences of a rotten and ill-intentioned regime that in principle must be rejected in its entirety. It did not consider these aspects and other similar shortcomings of the regime as grounds for a regime change by another arrangement that in principle is as much unconstitutional and illegitimate. The unsatisfactory commitments to Pan Arabism and absence of closer ties to the Arab world were seen as a luxury for the sitting-room politics that is outdated and irrelevant to our national cause. Such extra curriculum activities should be left to states with some measure of legal governing structures.
The point was that, to oppose Gaddafi on basis of anything other than the Constitutional principle was and will always remain strategically weak and fundamentally non-constitutional. Weak, because Gaddafi could always be made to appear a reformed (new and improved) leader and void the argument that it is in the interest of all that he is replaced. Worse still, non-constitutionally based arguments may be used (implicitly) by parties with different calculations against the case itself. Furthermore, for historical and population size reasons, the social well-being of the Libyan nation does not rate very high in the priorities of opinion-leading states. In other words no one would take seriously grievances cited by a Libyan opposition group that Gaddafi is mistreating his people and take difficult political and/or economic measures against the regime and jeopardize own interests.
The current turn of events is clear evidence for the final breakdown of the weak arguments adopted by the prominent opposition groups.
With regret, the essence of the authority of the Constitutional Movement as embodied in the Libyan Constitutional Union opposition party and how in the early 1980s it could have changed the course of Libya’s history was fully realized only by Gaddafi and interested foreign intelligence institutions. Both saw it as threat to the regime, but for different reasons. Some Libyan activists and older Libyan professional politicians understood the importance of the Constitutional Movement to a lesser extent.
They saw the movement as threat (not to the regime but to own interests and ruling ambitions). The majority of our compatriots saw the movement as a royalist party with the objective of re-instating a hereditary thrown. This was and still is a wholly mistaken (in fact intellectually poor) interpretation which sadly was exploited by those who saw the Libyan Constitutional Union as a threat.
Yes a real threat, probably the only one, despite the appalling manner by which some colleagues and Libyan writers (no less) have recently went over board to diminish the political weight and legacy of the Libyan Constitutional Union. The Constitutional Movement was regarded as threat that had to be apprehended by many parties for different reasons including major opposition groupings and foreign intelligence organizations with special interests in Libya.
As understood from early publications, archived information and recent articles, the principle of the Constitutional Movement is simple, difficult to argue against and most important of all, could be articulated to become binding to the democratic world and to United Nations. Gaddafi’s regime is illegal because it took power from a true constitutional democracy by a coup d’ etat. The 1951 Constitution uniquely had both National Committees and United Nations seals in equal measures and therefore both the country’s institutions (especially the army) and the UN have responsibility to defend it well ahead of defending the governing body and the country’s independence. One simple corollary is that any citizen or group of citizens who rise with the intent to annul the Constitution and dissolve the constitutional institutions in the country commits treason. The fact that coup d’ tat operation in 1969 was carried out by officers in the national army made the act a double treachery and must be dealt with accordingly. The Constitutional Movement views the illegal regime as simply illegitimate, a criminal organization in the eyes of the country’s Constitution, and can never become anything else regardless of the passage of time and no matter who visits Gaddafi’s tent. The fact that our case has been distorted by foreign intelligence agencies with the help of our own very important persons to look weak and outdated to such a degree that eminent world leaders have no difficulty (or shame) to pay Gaddafi a visit and pose for photos with him. This is a consequence of the refusal by so many of the opposition personalities and groupings to heed the call of our Constitutional Movement in the critical phases when opportunities to change the course of events existed, and now. It resulted in marginalizing the Constitutional component in opposing Gaddafi. Refusal of eminent Libyans to heed the call of our Constitutional Movement was not the only obstacle. Many went further by allowing themselves to actually campaign against the movement. Worse still, some influential personalities collaborated with the powerful foreign intelligence agencies to cripple the Constitutional Movement and frustrate its constitutional call. These acts verged on the profane politically.
In the absence of a powerful Constitutional argument adopted by all against the regime , the democratic world and the Arab countries could, and now did, take the pragmatic view that Gaddafi’s regime is a matter of fact and one must accept having to deal with the situation as it is. This quite understandable view is practiced to the full now despite the fundamentally dictatorial nature of the ruling system and appalling human rights record. Human rights abuses and dictatorship practices are common and never really stopped the offending regimes from going about their business unless of course it is in the interest of influential states, able to manipulate international opinion, to paint offenders as pariahs and force other countries to punish them in some fashion. If the powerful constitutional argument against Gaddafi’s regime was fully embraced by all as it was articulated by the Constitutional Movement, regardless of their political ideologies, it would have led to a different outcome to terrifying one we see now. It would have made it difficult for the leading democratic countries to explain to their own people their acceptance of Gaddafi and his regime. It would also have made the covert planning to neutralize the opposition energy and make Gaddafi look acceptable much more difficult.
The convenient selective ignoring by the leaders of international opinion of human rights abuses and the complete undemocratic practices in Libya was made possible by the weak strategies taken by our leading opposition groups. Strategies were based on the premise that Gaddafi is bad, we promise to do better and we have the full support of the Americans with the undisguised implication that it is only a matter of time before we rule and we really do not need anyone else’s approval. Refuse to join us at your peril.
Since things constitutional proved to be popular among the Libyans in later years, the policy was conveniently modified to throw in the inclusion of a brand new constitution, no doubt to silence those who began to raise the issue of 1951 old thing. This promise (and others) was evocative of a political movement championed by a group of self-centered ambitious individuals, with eyes firmly on the top jobs for keeps and little else. It is difficult to see how anyone designs a constitution on behalf of a nation and attach any measure of legality to it. The strategy was (is) not only flawed and discredited, it was made up and freely modified as events required. The continuously changing strategy was made up many factors in mind except for a half decent political future for the Libyans in which they might have a say in who rules them and how. In reality the outcome was not going to be different from Gaddafi’s regime with the extra bonus of surprises. We know now from recent testimonies by former insiders that this description is restrained in terms of how corrupted the strategy of the leading opposition party was. The grouping dominated the stage for years riding high, not because of a principled strategy, or convincing arguments, or a powerful indictment against Gaddafi, but on American promises. The leaders did not even have the common sense to be modest or careful with promises. But the main point is that the strategy was not just flawed and without moral and political authority, it was tactically unsound. The approach was liable to exploitation by third parties to achieve exactly the opposite objective. All it needed to happen to make it irrelevant was for big G to make a gesture or two and utter a couple of politically correct statements. End of story as we see at present. Parties that flaunted influence and promised so much are now in tatters, discredited and looking “finished with”. Scenes expressing the final verdict, if not quite dead they are reminders of twitching corpses.
The consequences of the fundamental weaknesses of the non-constitutional strategies adopted by most of our opposition and their rejection of the call by the Constitutional Movement when opportunities were available are now all too clear for us to see. We witness the results translating into the horrifying new reality in Libya and how the regime is now hugged by the free world not only as a partner in trade, but also as an ally in the fight against terrorism. This, history will judge, would have been not the case had our important persons and leading opposition leaders let go of their self interests and adopted the Constitutional Movement. No one was required to abandon own political ideologies in order to adopt the call by the movement; our Constitution is above our individual preferences and political beliefs.
One of the worst and most disappointing aspects of how so many of our influential Libyans reacted to the Constitutional Movement was that, by all accounts, they rejected the call instinctively. This alone speaks volumes about the veracity of commitment to the bigger cause. It also tells the story of our political maturity as people. It says that there is a fault line in our political culture that is fatal.
It is the absence of passion for endeavor for the bigger cause because of the abhorrent me, me village mentality.
The belated interest expressed by quite a number in constitutional matters came in a true Libyan political style. It appeared as a fashion-led adoption, insincere, loaded with agendas. But one of the most unforgivable and telling aspects of the interest was that it is somehow projected as a new discovery. It is difficult to find references to the 27-year old Constitutional Movement. Why? This is not a matter of approval of personalities; it is a matter of seriousness to the bigger cause. However, most dangerously of all in political terms and long term consequences to the bigger cause, was that the manner of expressing interest in the Constitution was in reality seeking to undermine the institutional authority of the very Constitution. It is difficult to see how anyone can miss the fundamental point that the authority of The Constitution is in its integrity. If one slips into accepting that The Constitution may be discussed in its detail, one has knowing or otherwise begun the process of ruining it as an institutional asset for the nation (we do not have many of these left). This is not exactly rocket science, but it has as usual passed through the scrutiny of our thinkers who disappointingly hold discussion forums about matters constitutional. Could someone please explain to these thinkers that they are doing a piece of dirty work on behalf of someone who may not have had time to tell them everything? As for the enthusiastic king-makers, the less said the better.
Ahmed S. Mesbah