LIBYA: Political science expert on Kadafi, rebels and fate of nation

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Mansour O. El-Kikhia
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Mansour El-Kikhia, chairman of the department of political science and geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, often opines about Libyan public affairs, including an appearance earlier this year on ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.’

El-Kikhia, who fled Libya in 1980, received his undergraduate degree in political science from the American University of Beirut and a master of arts and PhD in international relations from
UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of ‘Libya’s Qaddafi:The Politics of Contradiction.’


He spoke with The Times on Monday about events unfolding in Libya.

Q: What should we be looking for in Libya now?

A: There really isn’t a single person to watch. The important thing is to watch the rebels as a whole. The second thing is to watch the rebels in Misurata. If they can overcome the remnants of Kadafi’s forces, then Kadafi is finished for real because that will give the rebels in Tripoli a big boost.

Q: The rebels in Misurata claim to be shipping arms and supplies to Tripoli. Can they be believed?

A: Yes, they are shipping arms to Tripoli. But they have to go a roundabout way through the sea. Don’t forget the people who are fighting in Misurata could be used to fight in Tripoli.

Two areas Kadafi really armed well. One is Misurata. The other of course is Brega in the east, the oil complex. He laid 85,000 mines. It’s an unbelievable number of mines. That was to slow the progress of those coming from Misurata. But in doing that, he made himself vulnerable in Tripoli. All the rebels had to do from the west was move in from the mountains.

Q: Everyone is asking where is Kadafi and what should be done to secure him?

A: I don’t think he’s in Tripoli. He’s either in Surt or to the south in Sabha. There’s also a slight possibility that he might be outside Libya in Chad or Algeria. It’s just a hunch. When you have heard him for a number of days now, the telephone is so bad, it’s crackly. The telephone is not like that in Tripoli. Which leads me to believe he was not talking from there.

Q: Three of Kadafi’s sons were reportedly captured earlier today, and two seem to have managed to escape. What do you make of that news? A: They both were captured and they both escaped. The rebels, the insurgents, have found themselves in a weakened position by moving into the capital so fast. They could not keep the sons of Kadafi. Putting them under house arrest is the worst thing to do because every Kadafi house has an escape route. It was a stupid thing to do. They’re novices. They haven’t really gotten it yet. Put them in shackles, somewhere they cannot escape from. That won’t happen again.

Q: Do you think the Kadafis will be killed?

A: That is a possibility. But Mohammed [Kadafi] is benign; he is the son of Kadafi and controlled the communications, the Internet and the telephone system. He is not known for graft or abuse of power. Seif [Islam Kadafi] was a bit more — his father’s successor, the intellectual. But listening to him for the past few days, he just seems to have lost it.

Q: So you think the rebels don’t want to kill them?

A: What the rebels want is to liberate Libya with a minimal loss of life. The head of the transitional council came out and said he would resign if any of that occurred, and I take him at his word.

Q: Are you concerned about weapons stockpiles in Libya falling into the wrong hands?

A: Kadafi still has a tremendous arsenal, Scud missiles he is just beginning to use now. As Kadafi withdraws, the rebels are using them. But the weapons rebels have will ultimately fall under the armed forces. You cannot be an armed militia outside of the military, and many people have actually given up their arms in the east. In the west, it’s still too early to do that.

Kadafi has some chemical weapons, and some were found in the east that were put under lock and key. He has some in Surt. Those have to be put under the NRC. We have not seen them in use, but we are sure they are there. Azizia (Kadafi’s Tripoli compound) is full of weapons too.

Q: Are you worried the conflict may spread beyond Libya’s borders?

A: The possibility is always there. But the Chadians are very aware of that and are very vigilant about not letting the conflict spread. My fear is that Chad will serve as a springboard for Kadafi to attack Libya from the south.

Q: What about the warrant issued against Kadafi by the International Criminal Court? Will that prevent him from traveling?

A: He can travel anywhere he wants to in Africa. No African country will give him up. (Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed) Bashir has a warrant on his head too. No one’s going to give him up. He can go to Zimbabwe, he can go to Burkina Faso. They owe him money, but he’s more trouble than he’s worth: Any country that harbors him will be in trouble with the international community.

Q: What do you think of the role the U.S. played in the conflict?

A: As far as the United States was concerned, this was the best type of war the U.S. could be involved in: no boots on the ground, air and logistical support and the U.S. gets repaid for it through NATO. Libyans said we don’t expect the U.S. to do this for free. Libyans achieved their own revolution and removed a dictator.

Q: Will the events in Libya have an impact on the U.S. in the long run, for instance, on oil prices?

A: Libyan oil will take maybe a couple of months to be pumped in quantities that will change the markets. There’s also a quality issue: It’s almost sulfur free, so it requires less processing, which is why it’s called “champagne oil.” It’s worth about two and a half barrels of Saudi oil. But Libya needs to develop an infrastructure — hospitals, machines, roads -- to stand on its own two feet. Libya is not bankrupt and once it gets its oil fields up again, it will need Americans, British, French and Japanese help to build the infrastructure. It’s filling the vacuum of Kadafi. Here you have a regime that did not allow English to be taught in the schools. It’s just simple things which we here in Western society take for granted. It’s just a matter of trying to feel normal again. It’s a newly born country.

Q: Will Libya get help from its neighbors, other countries where people rose up against dictators during the ‘Arab Spring’?

A: There’s a certain degree of leeriness from Egypt. Egypt has been sitting on the ropes too long and not committing to this. So many countries have recognized the transitional council and shut down embassies and Egypt did not do it until the last day. Libyans will look to Egypt with a little bit of anger. Libya has been an ardent supporter of Egypt. Many Libyans are really quite angry at Egypt.

The Tunisians also sat on the fence a bit, but they have helped the Libyans, gave a haven to fighters against Kadafi, which the Egyptians have not. But they did not make a stand. Ultimately, they did not think the rebels would make it. The Egyptians didn’t, either.

Libya will not be looking east or west — they will be looking north. Libya’s relationship with Africa has come to a halt. Mercenaries from Africa coming in to kill for Kadafi has soured that even more. Relations will be cold with the rest of Africa, very cold with Algeria because the government has supported Kadafi. You will see Libyans develop much more of a relationship with France, Italy, Greece and Germany.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Video: Mansour El-Kikhia, chairman of the department of political science and geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, often opines about Libyan public affairs, including an appearance earlier this year on ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.’ Credit: ‘The Daily Show’

UC Santa Barbara. Credit: Mansour El-Kikhia