Friends of Libya, a contact group comprising 60 countries, is meeting in Paris to discuss the future of the country post-Gaddafi. Yet it is not so long ago that the colonel himself was getting praise and support from the West.
Mohamed Hassan is one of Africa’s most experienced diplomats. A former ambassador for Ethiopia to Washington, Brussels and Beijing, he is just back from the Libyan capital. Hassan says NATO bombing has turned Tripoli into a ghost town.
“There is no police, there is no administration, there are no schools,” he told RT.
Law and order has been replaced by a motley crew of rebels. Some fear that various groups who have emerged might soon start fighting each other.
“Weapons stores have been raided, every man is armed with Kalashnikovs. If the tribes fight for their independence the country will enter a never-ending civil war with brutal urban guerilla warfare,” says Peter Piccinin, a North Africa expert.
Analysts argue that even rebel leaders do not know where their fighters are from.
“Rebel head Mahmoud Jalil was alarmed to find Islamist sleeper cells had joined his Tripoli offensive. A vast parallel structure of combatants has appeared. We have no idea who’s in charge of them,” Piccinin added.
NATO’s hopes of a reliable replacement for Muammar Gaddafi are fading. Libya’s rebels are deeply divided, and the chaos created by the NATO bombing is threatening to spread beyond the country’s borders.
In the turmoil, there are fears that religious extremists could be using Libya as a base to further their aims in North Africa.
“Tunisian women got abortion rights 20 years before women in Belgium. Under the last regime, divorced women got benefits. Revived Arab religious movements are trying to reverse that,” says Anna Morelli, the president of Women for Peace.
Before the war, leaders from Barack Obama to Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi shook – and even kissed – Gaddafi’s hand.
It was the rebels’ turn to get the red carpet treatment in Paris on Tuesday. But the West will change tack again, warn experts, if Libya does not the way they have planned, with some saying the enemy in the so-called “war on terror” is now on the winning side.
“When it finds it’s arming Al-Qaeda, NATO will turn on the rebels,” Anna Morelli added.
According to Mario Franssen from INTAL observer mission, who has just returned from war-torn Tripoli, the message from some locals there is that the conflict may have created a Frankenstein’s monster for Europe.
“They warned us that we don’t know what we are creating. It will be a free haven for extremist groups on the southern border of Europe,” he said.
Pirates from failed Somalia made its coast a no-go zone. Frighteningly, some diplomats now think Libya is heading in the same direction.
“The Mediterranean will not be a safe sea,” Mohamed Hassan agrees. “There will be pirates, and they [NATO countries] will be obliged to control the Mediterranean, to make it safe, and to make the sea safe costs a lot of money. I don’t think the French economy can support that.”
Western intervention in Libya has brought large numbers of new forces to the fore. Experts fear the West itself may come to regret their emergence.