Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 1
Oral evidence: Libya: Examination of intervention and
collapse and the UK’s future policy options,
Tuesday 13 October 2015
Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 13 October 2015
Watch the meeting
Foreign Affairs Committee: Crispin Blunt (Chair); Mr John Baron; Ann Clwyd; Mike
Gapes; Stephen Gethins; Mr Mark Hendrick; Adam Holloway; Daniel Kawczynski; Yasmin
Qureshi; Andrew Rosindell; Nadhim Zahawi
Witnesses: Professor George Joffé, Visiting Professor, King’s College London, and Alison
Pargeter, Analyst, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome to this session of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is our first evidencetaking
session in our inquiry on Libya. We welcome Alison Pargeter and Professor George
Joffé. I understand there was some difficulty in finding one’s way into this building, for
which I apologise. Our invitation ought to have enabled you to leap to the front of the queue.
I am very sorry about that, but we are particularly grateful that you didn’t take to your heels
and leave us.
I have already explained to colleagues that we are hoping that, as witnesses, you will help to
inform the Committee and begin to shape our inquiry by giving us information on the issues
we ought to be pursuing in the course of the inquiry. In no sense do we see you as anything
other than helpful, co-operative witnesses, so feel free, if you think there are things that we
have not asked you but are important for us to be aware of, to make sure those are included in
your evidence. Equally, at the end of this session, if you feel that we have managed to so
conduct questioning that we have not got the best out of you and might be in danger of not
having a full understanding, please supplement your evidence with written evidence.
I would like to take us back to events in 2011 and the intervention decision and to ask you
what your analysis was of the evidence that the Gaddafi regime was actually planning and
preparing to massacre civilians in Benghazi in the way that was widely reported in the media
at the time.
Alison Pargeter: Obviously, it was a very chaotic time. It’s difficult to ascertain
exactly what was going on on the ground. Gaddafi had always been a rather unpredictable
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 2
figure, with a history of brutality, but I can’t see there was any real evidence at that time that
Gaddafi was preparing to launch a massacre against his own civilians.
Gaddafi had already retaken other towns in the east. There had been no large-scale
massacre there—for example, in Ajdabiya. Actually, the regime’s initial reaction after the
uprising started in Benghazi was to try to reach out and appease some of the rebels. Gaddafi
sent his son Saadi out to Benghazi and he promised them lots of development assistance—
was sort of pleading with them. Saif al-Islam was pleading with some of the Islamist
prisoners that he had released from prison over the last couple of years. He also released a
load more Islamist prisoners as a sort of gesture of appeasement. So I don’t think the
evidence is there that he was going to go and launch some widespread massacre. I don’t think
it would have been in his interests to do so. He would have alienated a lot of the tribes in the
east of Libya. He relied on those tribes socially. I think he would have gone back and
chased—gone after—the rebels, the people who were armed, and he would have shown them
no mercy whatsoever. It would have been bloody, but I don’t think that would have evolved
into some kind of massacre. If you look at the famous speech—“I’m going to hunt them
down street by street”—actually what he said at the beginning was, “I’m going to go for the
bearded ones.” In Gaddafi’s head, this was an Islamist rebellion, and he was going to go and
hunt down those who were responsible. So yes, it would have been bloody; yes, Gaddafi was
a brutal dictator, but I don’t see evidence of some large-scale massacre of civilians in
Benghazi. But George might see it differently.
Professor Joffé: I am tempted just to say that I agree with my colleague, because I
think what she says is completely right. It is certainly true that the rhetoric that was used was
quite blood-curdling, but again there were past examples of the way in which Gaddafi would
actually behave. If you go back to the American bombings in the 1980s of Benghazi and
Tripoli, rather than trying to remove threats to the regime in the east, in Cyrenaica, Gaddafi
spent six months trying to pacify the tribes that were located there. The evidence is that he
was well aware of the insecurity of parts of the country and of the unlikelihood that he could
control them through sheer violence. Therefore, he would have been very careful in the actual
It is certainly true, too, that his major fear was of an Islamist threat, but even with the
major Islamist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, when they were captured they were
not executed; they were actually put in prison. There was, it is true, a prison massacre, in
1996, but that was a quite separate incident that was provoked by the internal structure of the
prison inside Tripoli.
Therefore, in a sense, I think the fear of the massacre of civilians was vastly
overstated. It also should be borne in mind that the forces that Gaddafi had available to him
were relatively limited. The army had been depleted. It is believed only a third of its strength
was actually operative. It had to rely to some extent on mercenary forces. They were not
necessarily reliable. The evidence was that it would have been very difficult for him to carry
out the kind of massacres that people anticipated. So again, I don’t really think there was any
danger of the kind of massacre of civilians that was suggested at the time.
Q2 Chair: I have seen a suggestion that the western position was perhaps manipulated by the
reports of this threat being driven by people who had an agenda to trigger an intervention.
Have you seen or are you aware of any evidence to that effect?
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 3
Professor Joffé: It is certainly true that there were people in the east—and don’t
forget there is actually a set of precursor events to the uprising that took place inside
Benghazi—who were anxious to challenge the regime. Indeed, there had been over the
previous few years a series of challenges to the regime from the east, from Cyrenaica. Given
that, it is not surprising that when given the opportunity, demonstrations began, to which the
police reacted very badly, and that in itself provoked further demonstrations. It was the sense
of losing control that really scared the authorities in Tripoli and led to Gaddafi sending two of
his sons to try to quieten the situation there. So again, yes, there were people who wanted to
challenge the regime. There were people who wanted to see it change. There were certainly
people abroad who believed the moment had come for Libya to repeat the kind of
experiences that had occurred recently in Tunisia and, indeed, in Egypt. For those reasons, I
think one can safely say there were people determined to exploit the situation.
Alison Pargeter: I would add that I think that certainly the issue of mercenaries was
amplified. I was told by Libyans here, “The Africans are coming. They’re going to massacre
us. Gaddafi’s sending Africans into the streets. They’re killing our families.” I think that that
was very much amplified. But I also think the Arab media played a very important role here.
Al-Jazeera in particular, but also al-Arabiya, were reporting that Gaddafi was using air strikes
against people in Benghazi and, I think, were really hamming everything up, and it turned out
not to be true. I think that probably played an important role.
Q3 Chair: In terms of understanding the environment in which the intervention decision was
being driven by the United Kingdom and France, how much did policymakers in the UK
actually understand the battle picture being presented to them and that the threat in Benghazi
was not as great as that presented in latter-day rhetoric from both the President of the United
States and very recently from our Minister for the Middle East? In an article as recently as 21
August, the Minister said that the whole purpose was to avoid a bloodbath in Benghazi. It
seems to have passed into received wisdom that that was the objective. How much did our
policymakers and their advisers, from what you know, appreciate the actual situation they
were presented with?
Professor Joffé: There was a relatively limited understanding of events inside Libya.
Don’t forget that for many years before, Britain had not had formal diplomatic relations with
Libya. Those had only started up a few years before the events of 2011. Although there had
been an approach from the then Prime Minister to welcome the regime back, there was none
the less a great suspicion in large parts of the British establishment against too close relations
with Libya. For example, there was a row about the aftermath and sequelae of Lockerbie.
In a sense, people had not really bothered to monitor closely what was occurring in
Libya. Again, I think the decision in Britain was partly driven by decisions in France. In
France, the decisions of President Sarkozy and his Administration were driven by Libyan
exiles getting allies within the French intellectual establishment who were anxious to push for
a real change in Libya to persuade the President to support them. In a way, it was a rolling
stone that gathered speed and effectiveness and with which Britain then became involved.
Q4 Chair: So you would see Sarkozy as a more important initiator of this than our Prime
Minister, in the sense of driving the policy.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 4
Professor Joffé: I think that is probably the case. My impression, which can only be
an impression as I do not have access to detailed information from the inside, was that the
real push began in France and then was taken up over here.
Q5 Chair: Would that reflect the fact that if we invested in any succession strategy in Libya,
it was our relationship with Saif Gaddafi, reflected in his relationship with the London School
of Economics, which came out of the Blair deal in the desert, and that it was almost a natural
progression of policy, and that there was no alternative British strategy in Libya?
Professor Joffé: Certainly under the Labour Government, that appears to have been
the strategy. Again, I cannot comment in detail, because I do not have inside knowledge of
this, but it is certainly the case that the access that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi had in Britain was
the consequence of that opening up initially. Whether the opening up with the LSE evolved
into some penetration into the decisions of Government, that I do not know and think
probably unlikely, but it is certainly true that there had been a general welcome of the
opening up, the possibilities for trade and the renewal of contracts with Libya. Quite why it
was decided that those should be abandoned at the beginning of 2011 has never really been
clear to me. I have no idea to what extent that was based on firm evidence or to what extent it
was based on personal prejudice or preference in terms of the reactions that were then
Alison Pargeter: I agree with a lot of what George says. Again, I do not know, as I
was not in the corridors of power, but my feeling from the Foreign Office was, “This is
Britain’s moment with the Arab spring. This is our opportunity. We are going to go in and
ride the crest of the wave and be a force for good and a force for change.” I had a sense of
people rubbing their hands saying, “This is our moment to get in and get rid of Gaddafi. He
has been a pain. He was very much tied up with Blair and the Labour party. This is our
moment to change things on the ground.”
In terms of understanding within the corridors of power of what was happening inside
Libya, what always shocked me was why no one was asking why the uprising was taking
place in Benghazi and the same thing was not happening in Tripoli. I do not know whether
that was put down to people’s fear of rising up, but I think that the situation on the ground as
we see now is a lot more complex than that. Why were those kinds of questions not being
asked? This was a rebellion in Benghazi, specifically. Given the history and the regional
complexities of Libya, my impression was that that question was not being asked, and it
should have been. There was a sense that this was a widespread nationalist rebellion, as we
had seen in Tunisia and other places.
Q6 Mr Baron: Those of us who voted against the intervention always had a nagging doubt
that we did not really understand what was happening on the ground, but also that this was
just as much about regime change as it was about saving the citizens of Benghazi, laudable
though that aim was. Can you tell us more about your views on the regime change? The
events on the ground seem to bear that out, because the targeting of Gaddafi, even down to
his Winnebago and all the rest of it, seemed to go well beyond saving the citizens of
I suppose my question to you is: how much do you think this was driven by a desire for
regime change? Perhaps the more difficult question is: why regime change, when only a few
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 5
years previously we had had hugs in the desert, al-Qaeda was not operating in Libya under
Gaddafi and he was turning to the west?
Professor Joffé: I think to answer that you need to go back rather further, maybe to
1984 and to the sense then, after the massacre in St James’s Square when Yvonne Fletcher
was killed, that Libya had become unacceptable as an international partner. Don’t forget that
at that time, Libya had been involved in supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East and a
series of quite violent massacres that had taken place there. Libya was seen as being
completely beyond the pale. It was interesting to note that up until then, on every occasion on
which there had been a crisis, Libyans had always felt that they had access through the
Foreign Office to be able to calm things down. On this occasion, that proved to be completely
Q7 Mr Baron: May I interrupt for a moment? I accept everything that you are saying, and
we are fully aware of the history. They supported the IRA, by the way, and so on. Having
served in Northern Ireland, one remembers those things. But Libya had been embraced in the
desert. There had been hugs in the desert. Oilfields were being opened up to the west. There
were no al-Qaeda in Libya. They were slowly turning towards the west. It was not a nice
regime—don’t get me wrong—but there was still a movement in our direction, and yet,
suddenly, certainly France and Britain decided that regime change seemed to be the better
Professor Joffé: The point I am trying to make is that even though there was a desire
to see Libya turning towards the west and to engage it in doing so, at another level inside the
Administration and inside the political structures here there was still a very deep suspicion
and a very deep dislike of the Gaddafi regime. So, in a sense, even though those changes may
have been occurring, they were superficial.
When an opportunity came about where the regime appeared to be bankrupt and
therefore no long really sustainable, I think there was a desire to speed the process on and to
take advantage of what appeared to be happening in 2011, when there was a general move
against the whole idea of autocratic regimes in the Middle East and towards their replacement
by democratic regimes instead, as the Tunisian example and the Egyptian example seemed to
I have to say that I think that was a very naive view, because it demonstrated a
complete lack of understanding of the process of political transition, and particularly of the
process of political transition in the wake of the colour revolutions that had occurred in
eastern Europe and in Lebanon. But I think that was in fact one of the drivers. This is an
opportunity; let’s exploit it. Let’s get rid of somebody whom we have long disliked, even
though we embraced him temporarily. That was the real driver.
Alison Pargeter: Gaddafi may have been rehabilitated, but he was still an irritant. He
was still seen as unpredictable. There were also a lot of concerns at the time about what was
going to come next—what was going to come after Gaddafi. There was a lot of discussion
about who was going to take over and how that regime was going to continue.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 6
Q8 Mr Baron: One final question, if I may. From your answers, I sense that you concur with
the idea that this was just as much about regime change as it was about saving the citizens of
Benghazi, so we will take that on record. May I share with you one thought? What part did
the release of Megrahi play in all this? Those of us who were on the Foreign Affairs
Committee visit to Washington—I think it was in the beginning of 2011, or in 2010, I can’t
remember—were struck by the hostility, almost, of the Americans about the release of
Megrahi. There we were, entering a room with our counterparts, thinking we were going to
talk about Iraq and Afghanistan—we had just lost some soldiers there—but all they wanted to
talk about was the release of Megrahi, and there was, one felt, real anger there. To what
extent do you think that that was a part of the decision to actually almost do a U-turn in our
approach to Libya and decide to intervene and kick the door down?
Professor Joffé: I think it played a very significant part. Even in this country there
was a profound degree of disquiet over the fact of his release and his return to Libya, so in a
way what you saw in the United States was an exaggerated form of the distrust that existed
here too; and it was not just over that. There were other crises at the same time. There had
been the matter of the revelation of the prison massacre in Abu Salim prison in 1996; there
had been the evidence of the HIV-AIDS crisis in Benghazi thereafter. So in a way the ground
No one really believed that Gaddafi had fundamentally changed, even if they were
prepared to engage with him because he, being opportunistic, had recognised that he could
not resist—and he had recognised that in 1987—pressure from the west and would have to
compound with it on some occasion. So yes, I think what you saw in the United States
reflected a very deep feeling there, and one that was replicated, perhaps to a lesser degree,
over here as well. Then again in France, Sarkozy himself, just after he came to power, had
been involved in the release of the Palestinians and Bulgarians who had been accused of
responsibility for the AIDS crisis in Benghazi; and that, too, played a part. So all these things,
I think, came together.
If I could just add a point about the question of the African mercenaries who played a
very large part in creating a mythology of a threat to civilians, you need to bear in mind that
in September 2000 there had been a series of violent riots in western Libya, involving
Africans, because Colonel Gaddafi, when he changed policy away from the Arab world
towards Africa as the entity of which Libya was an integral part, had allowed free
immigration of Africans into Libya itself, and that had created enormous local tensions. So in
a way although he had appeared to change as far as we were concerned, in reality very little
Alison Pargeter: I have nothing to add on Megrahi. I just do not know.
Q9 Daniel Kawczynski: I have got a very strong interest in this, because I was very much
opposed to the rapprochement with Gaddafi by the previous Labour Government, and
challenged David Miliband, the then Foreign Secretary. We even took the family of PC
Yvonne Fletcher in to meet David Miliband, and I was told by senior Labour Ministers at the
time to shut up and to stop rocking the boat, because they were involved in very intrinsic
discussions with Colonel Gaddafi. That led me to write a book about him and all the human
rights atrocities that he carried out in that country.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 7
My question to you is, with regard to regime change Russia abstained in the UN Security
Council, but President Putin has asked questions as to how it is possible that Colonel Gaddafi
was targeted in such a way, deliberately, to kill him, with western forces and intelligence
being sent to pursue his convoy as he was trying to escape. Is this not a flagrant breach of
what we were mandated to do at the time—as to what actually happened in the end?
Professor Joffé: Well, if you talk to NATO, and particularly to the targeting groups
that were involved in the operations in Libya, they felt very badly about that, because they
regard themselves as not being directly responsible, and the actual planning and use of assets
to target his convoy right at the end was a decision taken elsewhere. In a sense, they would
therefore agree with you that the provisions of the two resolutions—1970 and 1973—were in
fact breached in that action, as they had been in previous actions too; because there had been
a series of actions that had taken place outside the context of the resolutions themselves. But
don’t forget that the states involved in doing that were not just European states; there were
also Arab states, and Turkey, as well.
Alison Pargeter: I would agree.
Q10 Daniel Kawczynski: One follow-up question, very quickly: on the point of the
coverage, I remember that on, I think, 11 February 2011 we were watching back-to-back
coverage of Sky News about what Colonel Gaddafi was going to do, and the famous speech
you have referred to—
Professor Joffé: I think you mean 18 February.
Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, 18 February, forgive me—“Shiber shiber, ferd ferd, zenga
zenga!”—and I was surprised at the ferocity, the ongoing coverage by Sky News and the
information it was giving out that there was going to be a bloodbath. What is your opinion on
the way that Sky News and others reported that at that time, and how that went on to
influence decision makers like myself and others to urge the Prime Minister to take action?
Professor Joffé: I am not sure I can comment meaningfully on that. At the time, my
impression was that the news coverage reflected the general view, not just in the media but in
the political establishment, of what Colonel Gaddafi represented. Again, I think there was a
driving sense of the opportunity being created in which the regime could be removed, and a
kind of tacit collaboration in creating the atmosphere in which that could be more easily
Alison Pargeter: I absolutely agree.
Q11 Chair: Since we are on the subject of the killing of Mr Gaddafi, who killed him, in your
Professor Joffé: He was actually killed by a member of one of the militias, a man
who was himself later killed—in Bani Walid, I think—who was just part of the group that
was attacking Sirte.
Alison Pargeter: That is my understanding of the situation, as well. It was a militia
force from Misrata that found him in the sewage pipe and finished him off in a pretty
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 8
Q12 Chair: I have seen some suggestions that the French secret service was responsible for
the intelligence operation that then led to him being identified. Someone has suggested that
he was slotted not from close range but from 400 metres with a sniper rifle.
Professor Joffé: The reports at the time were a little more—how can I put this?—
close combat design than that. I am not aware that he was actually hit by a sniper.
Alison Pargeter: I have not heard that either.
Chair: Having put that out in the public domain, we will see where that leads.
Q13 Nadhim Zahawi: I want to take you back to resolution 1973. Brazil, China, Germany,
India and, as we have already heard, Russia abstained on that resolution. Were there any
practical alternatives to the use of military force, in your opinion?
Professor Joffé: To achieve what?
Nadhim Zahawi: To try to at least create a situation where the people of Misrata were not
feeling as if they were going to be massacred.
Professor Joffé: I think one needs to be aware that inside Libya at the time the idea of
the uniformity of repression is open to challenge. There were always certain towns and
certain areas of the country that were very restive indeed under the control of the Gaddafi
regime, and on some occasions simply rejected it. At the time, the colonel demonstrated
considerable flexibility in adjusting the realities of the Administration to cope with that.
There was an occasion, for example, of an attempted coup in 1993 in Bani Walid that failed.
The colonel tried to make the tribes from which the ringleaders came responsible for their
execution; they simply refused. Five years later, it had to be carried out by the central
authorities, thereby alienating that particular group of tribes—some of them very
significant—from the regime itself. Misrata had long been antagonistic to the Gaddafi
regime, anyway. Beyond that, in Cyrenaica, nearly all the tribes and major cities were
antagonistic to the regime. So, in a way, the assumption that a massacre was being planned
does not reflect the reality.
Something else that people forget is that Libyans were armed and were capable of
self-defence. Indeed, when the revolution began, they demonstrated just how armed they
were. Those militias did not come from nowhere. So in a way I think the danger that was
presented to the civilian population was over-exaggerated outside because people were
unaware of the situation inside anyway. It is certainly the case that very little consultation
took place over what was going on inside Libya over that long period of time from 1984 up
until the beginning of this century when we had no diplomatic relations.
Q14 Nadhim Zahawi: Let me push you on that, Professor. Are you saying that, armed with
that knowledge, the only other practical alternative would have been to do nothing and let the
thing play out?
Professor Joffé: No, I did not say that. First of all, there were sanctions. Secondly,
there was diplomatic pressure that could have been applied. It had been applied before: in
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 9
1987, for example. So there were other techniques available. But, in the heat of the moment,
it seems to me that no one really considered that.
Alison Pargeter: That is my instinct very much: actually nobody really looked for any
alternatives. Everything was done in such a rush. There was such a rush to get in there and
pass that resolution that nobody looked at any alternatives. Actually, there have been noises
coming out of people who were close to the regime since saying, actually, it was looking for
a way out in those early days. I do not know whether that is true or not.
But, thinking of maybe some regional kind of solution, brokered by Algeria, trying to
think about a solution—what Gaddafi wanted was an honourable exit. He did not want to go,
but if he was to go, he needed an honourable exit that would not involve him having to leave
Libya and being pushed out of the country and chased by the international community. So if
maybe something, some negotiated settlement, could have involved that—it could have
involved handing power to his son—maybe that should have been explored. Whether the
rebels on the ground in Benghazi would have accepted that, of course, is another matter
altogether and my instinct is that they would not have done so. But it strikes me that the effort
just was not made at that time.
Q15 Nadhim Zahawi: What was the UK’s role in negotiating resolution 1973?
Professor Joffé: I simply do not know what went on inside the Security Council. Can
I just bring up one small point that might help to illuminate your question? An article was
published in Vanity Fair, of all places, by Professor Philippe Sands, that recounted the way in
which, right up until the speech that Saif al-Islam made that then condemned him in the eyes
of the world, he had believed that he was now in a position, as a result of what had happened
in Benghazi, to influence his father to allow for real political reform in Libya.
We do not know quite what happened in the hours preceding the speech, but
something did. That article, I think—I think one can rely on the evidence in it—demonstrates
quite clearly just how uncertain the situation inside Libya really was. That had been
demonstrated before by the crises that had emerged—there were three of them, in fact—
inside Cyrenaica. Had those been properly understood, other techniques and other methods of
dealing with the situation might have been available.
Q16 Nadhim Zahawi: Let me go back to the NATO intervention, just for clarity for this
inquiry. Did that intervention effectively guarantee that the rebels would overthrow the
Professor Joffé: Yes, I think undoubtedly.
Alison Pargeter: It turned the tables completely.
Nadhim Zahawi: There is no doubt in your mind.
Professor Joffé: Simply because it provided the air power that the rebels themselves
lacked. Of course, you can see a similar pattern developing inside Syria today.
Q17 Nadhim Zahawi: So without it, he may have survived.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 10
Professor Joffé: Yes, he would have done.
Alison Pargeter: I think he would have survived. I think he would have retaken the
east. It would have been very bloody, but I think ultimately he would have survived. His
legitimacy would have gone, but he would have survived.
Q18 Nadhim Zahawi: Did NATO act beyond the scope of UN resolution 1973?
Professor Joffé: My impression is that they did not. Not NATO. Individual states,
Q19 Nadhim Zahawi: Can you name those states?
Professor Joffé: I feel I am about to put my head in the lion’s mouth, actually. I am
afraid I have to say Britain as part of that; France, certainly; Turkey; Qatar; and the United
Q20 Nadhim Zahawi: That is a big statement. Are you sure of that?
Professor Joffé: It may be a big statement, but—
Chair: You have the benefit of privilege in making it to a Select Committee.
Professor Joffé: Thank you. I think those are the states that either provided arms or
provided personnel or training or intelligence.
Alison Pargeter: And they were crucial. The airstrikes alone I do not think would
have been enough to topple Gaddafi. The provision of training, of assistance, turning a blind
eye to weapon supplies, wherever they were coming from.
Q21 Nadhim Zahawi: And they were all complicit in acting beyond the scope of the
Professor Joffé: I think they will be so considered, yes.
Q22 Nadhim Zahawi: My last question is about how NATO airstrikes in Libya were
perceived. My colleague, Mr Kawczynski, touched on this in terms of the media, but I want
to widen that. How were they perceived in the other Middle Eastern countries, in North
African countries? Did they serve as a warning that repression was an unacceptable response
to the Arab spring and would result in western military action? What is your view on how
they were perceived? Obviously, each country is different and it is a big question.
Professor Joffé: Yes, it is, and you have to make a distinction in responding to it
between how Governments may have seen it and how populations did. The Algerian
Government was strongly opposed to it, on the grounds, first, of general non-intervention, but
also because of its own discomfort because it had been threatened by a civil war some years
before. The Moroccan Government was relatively neutral. It did not like Colonel Gaddafi, but
none the less it did not really like the idea of intervention either. The Egyptian Government,
of course, was in a state of confusion because it was undergoing a profound change. Other
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 11
Middle Eastern states, particularly those that were still autocracies, strongly disapproved, yet
some of them—Saudi Arabia, for example—would not have disapproved. They profoundly
disliked the Gaddafi regime and would be happy to see it go. So at the level of Governments
there was a very strong variation. At the level of populations, I do not think so.
Q23 Nadhim Zahawi: You did not mention Qatar.
Professor Joffé: I did not mention Qatar, no. You are quite right. Qatar would have
been happy to see Gaddafi go and, indeed, was one of the states that supported action,
actively supported it. At the level of populations, outside the Gulf there would have been a
very general sentiment of extreme resentment. This came after the intervention in Iraq in
2003; it came also—we tend to forget this—after two centuries of western interference in the
Middle East, going back to the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt, and there had grown up a
really strong dislike of that. The intervention in Iraq, for example, was compared with the
Mongol destruction of Baghdad in 1258. So there was a very strong sense of dislike for what
the West was doing, or was perceived to be doing, even though some Arab states were also
Alison Pargeter: That is why it got tagged, “NATO’s revolution”, rather than the
Libyan revolution. Even some of the rebels fighting on the ground in Libya were
uncomfortable about the intervention. Ali Sallabi, the Islamist camp, were initially up in arms
when there was talk of NATO airstrikes, saying they were going to turn their guns against
anybody who entered Libya. That was a pretty widespread feeling.
Professor Joffé: It is also one of the reasons why today virtually no Libyan will
accept the idea of any external intervention in the current crisis and chaos.
Q24 Mr Hendrick: Professor Joffé, my colleague Mr Baron made reference to hugs in the
desert, obviously referring to Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi. He spoke as well about the
tremendous benefits, in terms of oil and of the relationship that would develop between the
UK and Libya as a result of that. One thing that went overlooked in that little exchange was
the fact that he also offered to give up nuclear weapons and suspend his whole programme.
As we have seen with Ukraine, the fact that Ukraine promised to give up nuclear weapons
has not really protected Ukraine. Similarly, Saddam Hussein promised to give them up and
that has not helped him either. So, apart from the lesson that promising to give up nuclear
weapons does not necessarily make the world a more peaceful place, it is clear that Britain
reneged on what was a good relationship. You said that the offer was superficial, and seen as
naive as well as superficial. Do you not think that it would have been a huge gain and that it
was not in good character for Britain to indulge in regime change so quickly, particularly
given the outcomes we have seen?
Professor Joffé: I am not certain that it is for me to comment on policy decisions by
the British Government in that respect. On the question of the abandonment of the nuclear
programme—and do not forget that a chemical weapons programme was abandoned as
well—it has been argued that, actually, the Libyan nuclear programme was only in its very
early stages and that perhaps it was only there to be given up, as a way of placating western
sentiment. Colonel Gaddafi’s regime was very profoundly condemned elsewhere in the Arab
world for having abandoned something that could have served Arab purposes.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 12
I am not certain that there was so much of a gain in that process, because I am not
certain that the nuclear programme, or indeed the chemical weapons programme, was such a
threat. It was not of the same order of magnitude as, for example, Iraq’s chemical weapons
programme had been, or, indeed, as the Syrian chemical weapons programme had been. It
was very, very old. So in a way, those things were very easy for Colonel Gaddafi to give up
in order to buy western good will as he thought.
Alison Pargeter: I would agree with that.
Q25 Mr Hendrick: Let us look briefly at what happened afterwards. You mentioned the
African mercenaries. Those African mercenaries obviously were on the losing side when the
airstrikes had taken place and Gaddafi fell. Thousands and thousands of those African
mercenaries fled south across the Sahel and took part in the attempted overthrow of the Mali
Government, and they are now contributing to a much wider terrorist onslaught in West and
Central Africa. Apart from western Governments—Britain and France in particular—not
looking at a post-conflict situation in terms of conducting this war against Gaddafi, and apart
from the effects in Libya, this has had huge effects on the rest of Africa. What do you think
western Governments should do in future, particularly in the light of the decisions we might
or might not be taking fairly soon on Syria, before indulging in such interventions?
Alison Pargeter: Maybe not intervene in the first place—that would be my short
answer—without thinking things through properly and without understanding what they are
Professor Joffé: There are two separate issues. The first is whether or not it is a good
idea to intervene. The second is what you do after the intervention has taken place. Leaving
the first one aside, as far as the second is concerned, it is certainly true that the Governments
that had been engaged in the process of regime change did not take responsibility for
considering the aftermath. Had they done so, and had they constructed their intervention
around the way in which they would handle the aftermath, the outcome might have been
rather better than it has been. On a point of information, it is not the Africans who were in
Libya who have now fanned out into Nigeria and into Mali.
Q26 Mr Hendrick: Many of them were. We visited—
Professor Joffé: Forgive me; let me just finish. The real group that actually, in a way,
promoted what occurred in Mali were the Tuareg. They went there not because they wanted
to support extremism but because they wanted to carve out an autonomous region—
Azawad—which they did. It was the extremists already in northern Mali who then profited
from that, so it is a rather more complicated picture than the one you suggested in your
question, and it is quite important to understand that. It is certainly true that the collapse of
the Gaddafi regime has created a situation of chaos right the way through the Sahara from
Libya to Mali, and that that is very dangerous, but I am not certain it is a question of the
numbers involved so much as the lack of any form of state-organised security inside the
region as a whole.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 13
Q27 Mr Hendrick: Finally, not intervening would obviously have been one approach, but is
there any way in which we could have intervened, foreseen what would or could happen
afterwards and then altered policy such that it did not have such dire consequences?
Professor Joffé: I certainly think that what happened afterwards could have been
anticipated. It could have been anticipated had there been adequate information available to
Government to anticipate it. I am not sure that there actually was or that there was any desire
to consider that. There was a strange assumption that somehow democracy would bloom in
Libya once the regime had gone and therefore we did not have to bother. That was clearly a
It is worth noting that the RAND Corporation has carried out a study of the Libyan
campaign and wrote a report in 2012 in which they calculated that a stabilisation force only
13,000 strong would have avoided the current situation. I am not competent to judge whether
or not that is correct, but the RAND Corporation has a lot of experience in making these sorts
of judgment, and it is perhaps a pity that its advice was not listened to.
Alison Pargeter: I agree. It could have been handled much better. Gaddafi’s Libya
was one of the most personalised, centralised regimes anywhere in the region. What I find
extraordinary is the idea that you can go in and take out that central authority and all of the
security apparatus around it and leave absolutely nothing in its wake. Libya was a country
with no institutions to speak of. When you took Gaddafi away, you took everything away.
The idea that you could go and dismantle a regime, and that there would not be fragmentation
and chaos—given what we know about the history and complexities of Libya—is
extraordinary to me. The idea was that somehow democracy would flourish, the Libyans
would get their act together and it would all somehow work itself out.
Q28 Mr Hendrick: You said that and 20:20 vision in hindsight is great. We all have that but
what you would have done differently?
Alison Pargeter: I do not know what one could have done differently. Perhaps some
kind of stabilisation force would have made a difference. I don’t know. There was so much
hostility towards any idea of boots on the ground, wherever they came from, that I do not
know whether that would have been a success. I do not know how you could have made it
more successful, given that you were dismantling an entire personalised, centralised regime.
Q29 Chair: Before turning to the interim Government from 2011 to 2012, you referenced
Gaddafi talking about the beards being the target of his policy. How significant was the
militant Islamist element of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion and to what extent was al-Qaeda
Alison Pargeter: I think it was very significant right from the beginning. A lot of
Islamists—a lot of them militant Islamists who had been part of the Libyan Islamic Fighting
Group—were fighting on the rebel front lines. Some of these individuals had been released
under Saif al-Islam’s rather spurious deradicalisation initiative that had been going on for two
or three years prior to the uprisings. They had all renounced violence but clearly, when it
came to it, they took up arms very quickly. They made up an important faction with the rebel
forces in the east and, to a lesser degree, in the west. What is interesting to me is that right
from the beginning, those Islamist forces started organising themselves in separate brigades.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 14
They would not fight with some of the other rebel forces to the extent that the head of the
NTC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, had to set up two separate command structures because the
Islamists refused to fight under the so-called Libyan rebel army.
Right from the beginning, those Islamists were refusing to be commanded by non-
Islamist forces. They separated themselves out. One of the most important incidents of the
period was the killing of Abdel Fattah Younes, the head of the rebel army, who was killed by
Islamist elements with, so they say, the tacit agreement of the NTC, which shows you the
power on the ground that those Islamist elements had right from the beginning. As I said
before, after the uprisings, one of the first things Gaddafi did was to release thousands more
hard-line Islamist prisoners. These guys were the ones making up a real core of the front
In the west of the country, Belhadj and other LIFG figures were being supported
heavily by Qatar, which was channelling its weapons and money to certain groups in Libya
with an Islamist agenda. They were there right from the beginning. The Libyan Islamic
Fighting Group never actually joined al-Qaeda. It was always more nationalistic in
orientation. It always kept itself slightly apart but it had a very similar ideological outlook to
al-Qaeda. They were there right from the beginning.
Q30 Mike Gapes: May I just follow that up and then go on to the other question? Is it not the
fact that there were Libyans who were with bin Laden in Afghanistan?
Alison Pargeter: Yes, they were with him.
Q31 Mike Gapes: So although you said they never joined al-Qaeda, nevertheless there were
Alison Pargeter: Absolutely, there were links. They just did not like taking on the al-
Qaeda label and they did not necessarily agree with some of its strategies. Libyan Islamists
always had a very nationalistic orientation.
Q32 Mike Gapes: So there were connections?
Alison Pargeter: Absolutely, there were connections.
Q33 Mike Gapes: Secondly, may I go back to something that Professor Joffé said? In the
last Parliament, we heard evidence from William Hague. We were talking about the Arab
spring. He made absolutely clear that his view was that Tony Blair’s Government were
absolutely right to do the deal with Gaddafi because of the nuclear and chemical weapons
that existed. Are you confirming that view that the general view was that this was a good
thing to do because of the implications of chemical and nuclear weapons in the hands of a
regime such as Gaddafi’s?
Professor Joffé: Yes, at the time I think that was true.
Q34 Mike Gapes: I understand Gaddafi changed his position because of the threat that he
perceived to be coming from al-Qaeda-like groups. There was a sense that, after 9/11, he
would rather be on the side of the West fighting those groups than be on the other side and be
a target for those groups. Because of his relations in North Africa and it was so difficult for
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 15
his neighbours, and because of the African Union internal problems that he had and his
problem with the Arab League, he felt isolated. Is that fair?
Professor Joffé: I don’t think so. I think it is a little more complicated than that. It
goes further back. The real beginning of the change of heart in Libya occurs in 1987 as a
result of the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi and of British hostility towards the
Gaddafi regime after the events of 1984. It is quite clear that thereafter Gaddafi realised that
his attempt to support anti-imperial revolution was not going to succeed, and that all that
would happen would be that he would be exposed as a target. The western states were quite
prepared to use force against him.
During the 1990s you see a gradual change in the way in which he relates to the West
and the way in which he tries to seek a rapprochement. I know you can say—no doubt you
will—that the Lockerbie events demonstrate that that was not really correct. I am not sure
that is true, because there is still considerable confusion and lack of clarity over what those
events really were. Indeed, the regime itself in the end was prepared to correct that mistake, if
indeed it was responsible for it, by delivering the two people over to judgment in Holland.
So, in a way, there was still a progression taking place towards the West. Certainly after the
events of 9/11, Gaddafi then added to that the fact of his own profound distaste and dislike of
extremist political Islam, which he saw as a real threat. He was quite consistent thereafter
Q35 Mike Gapes: May I take you to the events of 2011-12 after the overthrow of Gaddafi?
You have already touched on this, but why did the National Transitional Council—the
interim Government—fail? Why was it so difficult for it to establish a transition to an elected
Professor Joffé: I am not sure that it was such a failure. It did not achieve everything
that was intended, but it did manage the process of an election and a transition.
Q36 Mike Gapes: So you think that on balance it was a success?
Professor Joffé: On balance, I think it discharged more or less what it intended to do
and what it had been created to do.
Q37 Mike Gapes: Given the divisions that you have talked about—the East and the West,
and the history of the country not really being a functioning country in the sense of having
institutions because it was a personal regime—did it not have an almost impossible task to
bring about change?
Professor Joffé: It had a very difficult task, but it did carry out successful elections,
which produced a unitary Government that was generally accepted to have been elected by a
Q38 Mike Gapes: So in that sense you could say that the intervention was a success because
it brought about a Libyan process to establish democratic institutions.
Professor Joffé: I am afraid I do not see the connection.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 16
Q39 Mike Gapes: You are in a position where there is an intervention that leads to the
removal of a brutal, repressive regime, and then a Libyan transition is established, and you
have said that it successfully produced a democratic process.
Professor Joffé: Yes, but that is to assume that there was a project from the very
beginning to achieve that outcome. What I would suggest to you is that there were a series of
different stages and a process evolved that, after the removal of the Gaddafi regime, created a
space in which that experiment could be tried, and the National Transitional Council did
manage to conduct affairs during that interim period well enough for there to be an election
process, but that came after the end of the regime. It was changed circumstances.
Q40 Mike Gapes: All right. So in 2012, at the end of the process, were we far too
optimistic? Were the UK, France, the Americans—leading from behind—all over optimistic
about the outcome of that process and that transition?
Professor Joffé: Quite clearly. It was evident at the time that there was no central
authority that could control the security situation.
Alison Pargeter: That was the problem.
Professor Joffé: That was the whole problem.
Alison Pargeter: The NCT never actually managed to have power on the ground. It
might have managed a process, but in terms of having control on the ground, getting control
of those militias and reining them in, it was never able to do that. In terms of the 2012
elections, for me that whole process was rushed absolutely ridiculously quickly.
Q41 Mike Gapes: So did it need outside forces from other countries on the ground to assist it
in that process?
Alison Pargeter: It would have created even more chaos and havoc and would not
have been the solution.
Q42 Mike Gapes: How were they going to get the stability otherwise?
Alison Pargeter: Exactly. The whole country had fragmented. That is the problem of
Libya today. It is fragmented. Because of the way that the revolution unfolded—it was militia
by militia, town after town rising up and separate militias—the whole country absolutely
fragmented. The whole of the central authority was shattered, so how were you ever going to
get it back?
Q43 Mike Gapes: So a NATO stabilisation force in there to assist that process would not
have been a thing to do?
Alison Pargeter: It may have helped, but given the way that Libyans tend to view
outsiders and the way that Libyans view the idea of their sovereignty being transgressed, I
think that it would have ended up causing more chaos, more conflict and more antagonism.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 17
Q44 Mike Gapes: A final question from me: was there any desire among NATO countries to
do such a thing, or was there a reluctance, both because of the terms of UN resolution 1973
and also domestic political opposition to intervention and troops in the ground?
Alison Pargeter: I think the idea was as light of foot as possible.
Professor Joffé: I don’t think that there was any desire among NATO countries, and
of course it was forbidden under the resolution for there to be any direct intervention on the
ground, but there is something else. Even if you couldn’t intervene directly on the ground, it
might have been possible to make a much more concerted effort to help the process of
democratic transition, and that didn’t occur. There was help, but it was nowhere near
sufficient or intensive enough for it to achieve the outcomes that were desired.
Alison Pargeter: As I said before, it was all done so quickly. The Libyans themselves
were complaining, “Why have elections been foisted on us?” This is a country with no
political culture, no experience of politics, not even any experience of civil society or any
kind of political activism. Elections happened very quickly. I think that political parties had
about 18 days to campaign, in a society totally unfamiliar with that political system. It was a
Q45 Stephen Gethins: This is a very fortuitous time to come in on the point that you raised,
Professor, and that you picked up on, Ms Pargeter. Information that was released from the
House of Commons Library over the summer showed that we—the UK—spent about £320
million on the bombing campaign and we have spent about £25 million on reconstruction
efforts since. That is about 13 to one. Could more of an investment have made a difference? I
know that you mentioned that in your last comment.
Professor Joffé: It can only be purely speculative, because we just don’t know, but it
does seem to me that had there been much greater investment, either directly on a national
basis or through the United Nations and helping the United Nations process, you might have
got a much better outcome. In the end, all of it proves that, when confronted with a security
situation, the greatest problem was the fact that nobody thought about reconstituting an
effective army that could control the militias. The militias have proved to be the most
disintegrating factor inside Libya since 2011.
Let me just go back to the question of institutions. There was of course a bureaucracy
in Libya that served the state, but the point is that the state was highly personalised. All
political decisions were made in a very small coterie of people around Colonel Gaddafi
himself. The bureaucracy was there to serve him, so the moment you remove him,
bureaucracy dissolves. There was no attempt made to reconstruct an effective bureaucracy to
be able to administer the country. The only reason today, for example, why Libya still
survives at all is that there are two institutions that have managed to avoid being split—the
Central Bank of Libya and the Libyan national oil company, and the electricity company, too.
They are the only elements that keep Libya operating. I think that indicates the enormous
failure of not being able to provide that infrastructure to allow a state to continue to operate.
Alison Pargeter: When you talk about more investment, the problem everybody had
was, who do you engage with when you want to deliver aid or reconstruction efforts? There
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 18
was never any authority you could actually engage with. In terms of the security field, the
Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence were largely in the hands of militias.
The head of the armed forces, Youssef al-Mangoush, did not want to create armed
forces; he favoured channelling money to the Libya Shields, to some of the brigades, and so
did his successor Al-Abedi. You did not even have a head of an armed forces who was
interested in creating armed forces. The idea that you keep throwing money at the absolute
mess is inconceivable.
Q46 Stephen Gethins: The picture that you have both clearly painted is quite chaotic. Are
you aware of, or can you comment on, the level of post-conflict reconstruction planning that
took place before the intervention? Was there anything that you are aware of?
Professor Joffé: I am not aware of a single bit of planning for that.
Q47 Stephen Gethins: You are not aware of a single bit of post-conflict reconstruction
Professor Joffé: No. It was made up on the hoof, as events unfolded.
Alison Pargeter: I have seen lots of wonderful, laudable plans, but putting them into
action has not happened.
Q48 Stephen Gethins: Your comments have been very helpful. Just drawing on them, I’d
like to finish my line of questioning with something you have commented on a little already.
What lessons would you take for any future interventions in terms of long-term commitment?
Professor Joffé: Be careful what you wish for, to be frank. Realise that, if you are
going to intervene—and I recognise that almost certainly this country and others will
intervene again—you had better think about the consequences of what you do, and you had
better plan for it.
Alison Pargeter: You can’t knock out a centralised power. Look at what happened in
Iraq and Libya.
Q49 Mr Baron: Your comments and answers to Stephen Gethins are interesting, in that they
reinforce the view among many that this was more about regime change than anything else. If
you are not planning for a reconstruction or can’t produce any evidence of planning, it does
smack that you are going in there with a particular motive.
May I quiz you a little bit more on the balance between lack of knowledge on the
ground and ulterior motives? I think it is generally accepted—I would appreciate your
view—that we simply did not understand, or anyway had very little idea of, what was
happening on the ground. For example, I remember the Foreign Office view after the
elections in 2011-12 that a large a number of independents over Islamists being elected was a
good thing, not recognising the fact that those independents had quite a close link with
extremists in many cases. We just did not understand that. Initially, we took that as a positive,
but actually it was a negative. It was that sort of lack of knowledge.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 19
What was it? Was it just simply a lack of knowledge on the ground of what was
happening, understanding the forces at play, that meant that there was a lack of reconstruction
planning and commitment? Or was it that it was very simple, that it wasn’t about Benghazi—
it was about regime change—and therefore you really didn’t mind, once you had knocked
down the door, what happened afterwards?
Professor Joffé: I am not quite sure how to respond to that, partly because I think you
are right that it was about regime change, with very little thought about the aftermath. But
that raises another problem. Why is it that when, for example, we fought the second world
war there was a very detailed series of plans about what to do about Germany after that war,
and how to help the process of reconstructing the German state?
Why was it that when we came to Iraq—not so much a question for Britain but the
United States—the plans that were developed were simply abandoned and alternative plans
put into place that bore no relation to the situation on the ground and were founded on a
profound lack of knowledge and an enormous belief that “democracy” would simply
“flourish”? I quote Paul Wolfowitz. Why is it that in the wake of all the colour revolutions
that occurred in the previous decade and the evidence of how quickly they went wrong, even
in countries that had democratic traditions in the past, we did not learn that if you want
democracy to flourish there are institutions you must build before it can occur? Democracy is
a habit, not just a process of elections. Why is it that we were incapable of learning from the
experience of Afghanistan and Iraq? To that I have no real answer, except that it seems to me
that Governments generally—this is a general criticism of Governments throughout the
Western world—tend to have very short purviews. They serve for five years, and then there is
an election. Therefore, we very rarely undertake the process of thinking through how to
achieve a stable, reliable democratic system.
Let me add one other thing. Speaking from an academic background, I have the strong
impression that very little attention is paid to academics who study these sorts of subjects. I
remember being staggered at the lack of knowledge that existed inside Government over the
question of Iraq. There was no willingness to engage with a body of information that had
been built up, which you may greatly distrust because it is purely academic—ivory tower,
and so forth—but none the less has something to say about the way democracy is established
Q50 Mr Baron: Can I come back to you? This is obviously very pertinent to a discussion we
are having about Syria. Sticking with Libya, is it also a fact that there has been a lack of
investment in our foreign policy apparatus, in the sense that we simply do not know what is
happening on the ground? There have been continual cuts by Governments of both
persuasions—the hollowing out of the library and the closing of the language school. The
Camel Corps is long gone. During the Arab spring, we had to call back Arabists. On Crimea,
we had no Ukraine experts in situ. How much does that contribute to the problem?
Professor Joffé: I think that if you want to understand that particular problem, you
need to go further back, ironically enough, to the Thatcher Government and the way in which
the relationship between Downing Street and the Foreign Office changed at that time. That
marked the beginning of a decay of the role of the Foreign Office as a key element in the
construction of policy in this country. But all the other factors you mentioned, of course, are
true. If you diminish the expertise, you inevitably end up being worse informed, and if you
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 20
are worse informed, you will design policies that are far less effective. That is certainly what
There is also the problem that the idea of effective policy has become increasingly
alien to Government, in terms of foreign policy. Domestic policy is another matter. That
perhaps represents a trend throughout the whole of Europe and the United States that has
been taking place over a very long period. In a way, yes, that is the root of the problem, and I
don’t see any way it can be countered. Although you wanted to exclude Syria, let me just
point out that the current crisis in the way we are managing the situation in Syria could have
been foretold four years ago. The policies that were adopted were guaranteed to fail, as
indeed they have.
Chair: Let us now turn to UN and UK support for Libyan reconstruction.
Q51 Ann Clwyd: May I ask you to give some assessment of how effective or ineffective was
the UN support given to Libya at the time?
Professor Joffé: It depends who you listen to. If you listen to Mr Bernardino León, he
will tell you—in fact, he did tell us—that the general plan has been accepted by both sides,
and we can look forward to a third Government in Libya that will eventually be accepted as
the new Government. That is a question of whether you think creating institutions or creating
the people who are going to populate the new Government is the most important
At the moment, the general view seems to be that Libyans are coming round to the
idea that they have got to create viable institutions, and the people who are going to operate
them is a secondary matter. We see, for example, in Tripoli a general acceptance by
moderates and moderate Islamists of the idea of there being a new Government—a
Government of national salvation. There also is a general acceptance of the principles in
Tobruk. The problems reside over who it is who should then populate that new Government.
That looks as if it will be something to be further discussed, even though the House of
Representatives will run out of legitimacy on 20 October, despite its decision to prolong its
own life. That is exactly what the people at the National General Congress did.
In a way, it is still not clear how successful the UN has been. It is also the case that it
has received far too little support for it truly to achieve the objectives that were originally set
for it. That is partly because there have also been a lot of national initiatives in the past that
have confused and made its task much more difficult.
Q52 Ann Clwyd: Do you think the European Union might have been more effective in any
Professor Joffé: I don’t think the European Union would have been more effective
than the United Nations, but the European Union could have certainly played a part. I am
afraid that, in recent years, the EU has been far too obsessed about its internal crises to be
able to play a very effective part in any of these transitions.
Q53 Ann Clwyd: But given the situation on the ground, could any of these projects have
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 21
Professor Joffé: Looking at it from today’s perspective, no. But there were times
when they could have been. There was that window between October 2011 and June 2012
when it was possible to consider that there could have been a process by which you could
begin to consolidate power and consolidate security, and you might then have been able to
begin to build institutions. By now, however, it has become extremely difficult.
Alison Pargeter: I am very pessimistic about that. In terms of the UNSMIL peace
process, there may be elements on both sides that are accepting of what George was talking
about, but actually the real players on the ground are still rejecting it out of hand.
Professor Joffé: That is true.
Alison Pargeter: The other thing is that none of the processes seem to have bought
into the fact that Libya’s biggest tribes are still entirely outside of this process, including the
UNSMIL process—the Warfalla, the Magariha and the Qadhadhfa. Those tribes that were
associated with the former regime and who felt that they had been scapegoated by the
revolution, have stayed on the side-lines of the whole process. They represent up to 2
million Libyans, but there has been no real attempt to try to bring those tribes in to the
process, and for me that national reconciliation process and bringing those elements in is
crucial to Libya ever getting back on its feet. Those tribes are completely outside of the
UNSMIL process, and that is a serious problem.
Q54 Ann Clwyd: Whose fault is it then that those attempts have not been made? Where do
you put the blame?
Alison Pargeter: A lack of foresight on the part of UNSMIL; an unwillingness on the
part of those tribes to want to be involved, because they still feel that they are being
scapegoated by the powers that be in Libya—it is such a complex situation.
Professor Joffé: I think one can say that, at every stage where a choice can be made
between one policy and another, the wrong policy has been chosen, so you have error
compounding upon error to create a situation that today will be very difficult to solve. The
only thing that offers some hope are two or three small indicators. Number one: there has
been a call for the national dialogue group to reassert itself. That rests on the Tunisian
experience, although the institutions that operate in Tunisia do not exist in Libya. Secondly,
there is a constitution draft in being, which gives some indication of something around which
people could consolidate, although whether they will or not, we do not know. Thirdly, there
is a general feeling that perhaps institutions need to be built, but again, as Alison has pointed
out, until that in some way can be translated into a reality, it will be very difficult to see any
way forward. You must remember that a large number of people have a vested interest in the
Do not forget that the migration crisis is not outside this, because some of the militias
have now been criminalised sufficiently to be engaged in its operation. That represents yet
another problem, because they now have a real interest in maintaining a status quo, and they
are all located in Tripolitania, the sea-based cities.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 22
Alison Pargeter: There are also important figures like General Haftar, who knows
that any peace process means the end of him. He is not going to give up. He is the most
Q55 Ann Clwyd: The UK implemented a number of support projects. Did those fail?
Professor Joffé: I think they have all stopped, haven’t they?
Alison Pargeter: There were attempts to train up soldiers with the idea that they
would go back and be reintegrated into the armed forces, but reintegrated into what? There is
no state, no proper armed forces.
Professor Joffé: The danger with General Haftar, by the way, is that, should there be
a general decision about removing power from the two existing Governments, he is quite
likely to decide that he will therefore take over power, and he does have the military force to
do that, certainly in the east.
Alison Pargeter: There has been talk about setting up a military committee that he
will head and declare a state of emergency. He is waiting in the wings with that in mind.
Q56 Ann Clwyd: Would you say that the Libyan people are better or worse off than they
were under Gaddafi?
Alison Pargeter: I would say undoubtedly worse off.
Professor Joffé: I think they are worse off, I really do.
Alison Pargeter: There was that awful fear that you felt in Libya before—that terrible
oppressive fear—but as long as you kept your head down, you were okay. Now the insecurity
is pervasive. There are so many stories of kidnaps and detentions. I know many people
personally whose family members have disappeared, and that is a common story for many
There are problems with electricity supplies, fuel, goods. Prices are rising. People are
scrabbling to survive. Salaries are not being paid. The whole country has pretty much ground
to a halt. The administration has ground to a halt because you have these two competing
authorities. Life is horrendous. I do not think people would hark back to Gaddafi yet, but
there is a sense that life was far better before and was secure.
Chair: Andrew Rosindell, on the unbridled success of our policy.
Q57 Andrew Rosindell: Having visited Libya with the Foreign Affairs Committee in the
previous Parliament, I’m afraid everything you have said today is profoundly depressing. It
makes me deeply concerned about how Britain has played a part in what has clearly been a
monumental failure of foreign policy.
To come back on what you were saying, we can all gather where your views are on
this and how you feel, but did you feel the same in September 2011 when Nicolas Sarkozy
and David Cameron were standing in Tripoli almost like great victors having saved the
country from Gaddafi and being cheered by the crowds? At that point, would you have
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 23
predicted that you would be saying what you have said today, or did you think, as many of us
did, that we went in there for the right reasons to rescue that country?
Professor Joffé: I can assure you, I never thought we went in for the right reasons. I
may not have predicted the utter chaos that exists today, but I certainly did not view their
arrival in Libya in Green Square, as it used to be called—Martyrs’ Square as it is today—
with any enthusiasm at all.
Q58 Andrew Rosindell: You say we did not go in for the right reasons. Many of us
supported the action in Libya because we felt that Gaddafi was bad and needed to go and we
were rescuing the people on humanitarian grounds, but you say we did not go in for those
reasons at all. So what were the reasons that we do not know about?
Professor Joffé: I can only speculate on why we did what we did. I suppose it is not
so much the reasons that concern me, but the lack of foresight of the consequences. It was a
question perhaps that here was an opportunity to be in step with what appeared to be taking
place inside the Middle East—the radical changes that were seen to be occurring, the
democratisation, the destruction of autocracies; exactly the sort of atmosphere that existed
just after the end of the Cold War. That does not seem to me to be a basis on which you can
make adequate policy, so I was always very distrustful of the outcome and the consequences
of those policies.
Alison Pargeter: Back to your original question, I felt a sense of happiness to think
that that regime had gone. I found it very moving, but at the same time I was deeply troubled
and concerned because all of the issues that have arisen since were clear from that point: the
regional issues, the tribal issues, the way the revolution had unfolded with the different
Q59 Andrew Rosindell: Do you think David Cameron thought about that as well at the
Alison Pargeter: I have no idea.
Q60 Andrew Rosindell: Was he swept along?
Alison Pargeter: My feeling was that he was swept along. There were comments by
William Hague after the first elections in 2012, lauding them, as if that was it and we had
achieved success—there was democracy in Libya in action. Well, democracy requires a bit
more than an election.
Q61 Andrew Rosindell: So the box was ticked and everyone moved on.
Alison Pargeter: Yes.
Q62 Andrew Rosindell: Okay. I will move on to another question, just briefly. What effect
has the deteriorating security situation in Libya since 2011 had on neighbouring countries—
the ripple effect?
Alison Pargeter: It’s disastrous.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 24
Professor Joffé: Absolutely disastrous.
Q63 Andrew Rosindell: Tell us a bit about how the countries close by have been affected.
Alison Pargeter: Tunisia has been affected very badly. There have been streams of
Libyans coming in; there are a lot of social tensions down in the south of Tunisia at the
moment because of the influx of Libyans. More important is the movement of militants and
weapons—the borders are pretty porous. It is the same for Algeria. It has been a disaster. It is
the same for Egypt as well.
Professor Joffé: I’m afraid that is true. Don’t forget that the attacks on the
Tigantourine gas facility in January 2013 originated in Libya: the group that was responsible
trained there, was armed there and moved in from there. That could not have occurred had
there not already been chaos in southern Libya, which, by the way, continues today. Think
how the smuggling networks across the Sahara have been able to amplify and extend their
operations; they are linked into smuggling networks coming from Latin America, as well as
from Africa south of the Sahara. You have a real combination of sources of instability, and
you have effectively given free range to extremist groups throughout the whole Sahara and
down into West Africa. That really is an extremely serious situation, and it comes directly
from the collapse of the Libyan state. It was all foreseeable—that is the terrible point. It really
could have been foreseen.
Q64 Chair: Perhaps what could have been foreseen was the—
Professor Joffé: How could it have been foreseen?
Chair: No, sorry, I am leading on to a different subject: the effect of the events in Egypt on
the failure of the transition between the General National Congress and the House of
Representatives. To what extent was the refusal by the Islamist majority in the General
National Congress to cede power to the House of Representatives driven by what happened in
Egypt and the treatment of the Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood Government? Did that lead to
their refusing to hand over authority to the House of Representatives?
Alison Pargeter: I don’t think it made a huge difference. The collapse of the
Brotherhood in Egypt made a difference to the Brotherhood inside Libya. They were
certainly very concerned: the bulwark of their support had always come from the Egyptian
Brotherhood, going back over many decades. But that refusal to cede power was part of an
ongoing struggle that predated what happened in Egypt. This was a struggle being fought out
in that Congress between Islamist elements and more liberal elements. When the elections
came in 2014, there was no way that the Islamists were going to cede power. I really think
that what happened in Egypt was neither here nor there.
Q65 Chair: We were then left with two administrations in Tripoli and Tobruk. Did either of
them manage to deliver basic governmental services?
Professor Joffé: No, neither did. If I may go back to your previous question, one
needs to remember that in the original elections in 2012, one of the striking features was the
way in which, unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamists did not receive what they regarded
as a fair share of the vote. They expected to be in the same situation as Ennahda in Tunisia
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 25
and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; it didn’t work out like that, even if large numbers of
independents were prepared to be sympathetic towards them. In a sense, they felt cheated,
and they felt cheated again in 2014, so, quite apart from anything else, they were never going
to accept that result—indeed, they didn’t.
Q66 Chair: Was there any justification for their feeling cheated?
Professor Joffé: No, there wasn’t.
Q67 Chair: Do they represent what is clearly a minority view in Libya?
Professor Joffé: Activist political Islam did represent a minority view; Islam itself did
Alison Pargeter: I think it also reflects the fact that in Libya there is deep suspicion of
political parties and organised groups, which is in part a hangover from the Gaddafi era. We
saw that in the elections of 2012, in which 80 seats out of 200 were reserved for political
parties. By the time we got to the election law of 2014, all 200 seats were reserved for
independents. Political parties were not even allowed to contest them; they were not even
allowed to contest the elections to the constitution-drafting assembly. A lot of that suspicion
for the Brotherhood is a suspicion about political parties. When you talk to members of the
Libyan Brotherhood, they say, “Libyans don’t want to vote for us as a party but they like us
as individuals. They will vote for us as individuals.”
Q68 Chair: But they then didn’t get elected.
Alison Pargeter: They didn’t get elected.
Q69 Chair: But they tried.
Alison Pargeter: Yes. They were never really able to establish themselves.
Professor Joffé: You need to remember that in Libya, because of the lack of any
democratic experience, it was individuals who attracted support. The elections of all
independents were statements about the individual reputation of those elected. That did not
necessarily mean that they would be expressed Islamists. They would be local notables—
people with a local reputation—who, for some reason, could therefore guarantee clientage
that would give them the electoral position they wanted.
Q70 Chair: Going back to practical administration—reflecting on the fact that the Islamists
made progress in Turkey by offering to collect the rubbish in Istanbul some time ago—what
has actually hindered the delivery of basic services in Tripoli and Tobruk? Would you
identify any factors that have made it impossible for administration to happen?
Professor Joffé: There has been a lack of a local administration too, although one has
to be careful because, in some places, that has been able to reconstitute itself. Some cities are
rather better organised than others. Under the Gaddafi regime, those functions were carried
out by a series of popular committees that were dominated by the revolutionary committee
movement. They had a certain need to demonstrate that they could manage the process of
administration. With the revolution, they all disappeared. They were replaced by local
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 26
militias that had very different agendas in mind. There was not necessarily going to be an
effective administration that could carry out those very mundane functions. Only in places
where there have been elections since and where effective councils have been appointed have
those functions been undertaken. That has been a very general problem, by the way. It also
occurred in Tunisia after the revolution there. That is the basic problem—there just is not the
administrative infrastructure necessary to make that work.
Alison Pargeter: There is also the issue of mobilising resources. Libya has had an
absolute crisis in its energy sector for the past year or a year and a half. It has got really bad;
output has dropped right down, so they have not had the resources to be able to deliver
anything very much, other than the fact that they have been caught up in their own squabbles
and zero-sum type politics. No-one has been able to address the daily needs of Libya, they
have been so caught up in their own power struggles.
Chair: Mark Hendrick, moving on to the ongoing conflict.
Q71 Mr Hendrick: Regional powers have reportedly backed both secularist and Islamist
militias in Libya with military support, including airstrikes. What weight do you attach to
those reports about regional powers influencing Libya?
Professor Joffé: You are thinking particularly of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey?
Q72 Mr Hendrick: Yes, in terms of support particularly for General Haftar.
Professor Joffé: And there you are thinking primarily of Egypt. Yes, there are
agreements between General Haftar and the Egyptian Government over what must be done,
partly because the Egyptian Government are worried about the consequences of the chaos in
Libya and that spilling over the Egyptian borders. The recent killing of the Mexican tourists
in the Western desert was partly a consequence of the intensified security that has been put in
place for that reason.
One can understand the Egyptian concern. The Egyptians do not want to intervene
directly. They have made that very clear. They will intervene only if they feel threatened. The
air attacks that they have been involved in have been in response to that—in fact, the first air
attack occurred in response to the killing of 21 Copts close to Sirte. Otherwise, I am afraid
that in terms of actually altering the situation on the ground, I do not think that external
interventions by those countries has done anything except to solidify the divisions that exist.
The Islamists have received support from Turkey and Qatar. The secularists have received
support from the UAE and Egypt. All it has done is ensure that neither side can win.
Alison Pargeter: A side might believe they can win, not that it has been a deterrent to
signing up to the peace process. All the time that Haftar believes that he can still get support
and weapons for Egypt, why not carry on?
Q73 Mr Hendrick: So you are saying that, one way or another, Haftar is going to carry on
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 27
Alison Pargeter: Haftar will carry on. He has made it very clear that he is opposed to
the whole of the UN process.
Q74 Mr Hendrick: So a peace process is a waste of time?
Alison Pargeter: It’s a waste of time.
Q75 Mr Hendrick: Which means that both of them will carry on. Do you think there is a
danger that this could spill out into some sort of wider regional conflict, because of the
involvement of—typically—Egypt and the UAE?
Professor Joffé: Well, the wider regional conflict really depends on the chaos inside
Libya, and I think the countries concerned are well enough aware of the dangers of direct
intervention that they will try to minimise that possibility. Turkey is not going to send troops
Q76 Mr Hendrick: It’s got enough on its plate with Syria, hasn’t it?
Professor Joffé: Yes, and it isn’t doing that much in Syria either; its main concern is
with the Kurds.
I think that the UAE is fully stretched in Yemen at the moment and doesn’t want to
become militarily engaged. Egypt has made it clear that it’s concerned only if it feels
threatened itself, and will then take action. Algeria won’t take action. The Algerian army is
constitutionally forbidden to operate outside its borders—not that that would necessarily
restrain it, but it certainly uses that as an excuse for not engaging. Tunisia’s not in a situation
to engage either. So it’s difficult to see how any external power has got the resources to
intervene really effectively inside Libya.
Q77 Mr Hendrick: So, from the sound of it then, it is not an immediate danger to any other
countries in the region, but it is obviously going to continue in a way that it is fuelled
externally, with weapons and support from other regimes.
Professor Joffé: Well, it’s a vacuum, and so it attracts people who wish to exploit the
potential of a vacuum. And given the enormous abundance of weapons there—by the way,
those weapons filter out all round the region, even appearing in Syria—it represents a
constant danger. And if you don’t have a space that’s managed, particularly given the size of
Libya and its location, it’s bound to be a very disturbing and threatening situation for
By the way, surrounding states include the European Union, and it seems to me that
the European Union is caught in a quandary. It was authorised—yesterday, I think—for one
year by the UN Security Council to intervene against migrant boats on the high seas, but the
real problem lies in Libyan territorial waters and it can’t operate there.
Q78 Mike Gapes: Can I ask you about Daesh-ISIL? How significant is it within Libya, and
is it a new phenomenon or just a rebadging or rebranding of organisations that were already
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 28
Alison Pargeter: I think it is significant, but I also think it is rather overplayed and
exaggerated in the media. Daesh are there, but they are not there massively; it is not like in
Iraq or in Syria. For me, quite a bit of it is a rebranding of people who were part of Ansar al-
Sharia, who sort of switched sides to the ISIL brand, if you like. But really they are strong in
and around Sirte; that is their main area of operations. They are operating in a few other
places, but what seems to be happening now is that every time we have a sort of militant
Islamist cell, it gets flagged up as Daesh or ISIS, which of course suits the likes of Haftar and
the whole of the Tobruk camp. So it’s there; it’s a problem. Certainly, in Sirte, it still seems
to have a certain degree of tribal cover locally.
Q79 Mike Gapes: Is it because they think they can get funding from the well-armed, wellfunded
organisation that is in Iraq and Syria, or is there some ideological reason that people
would wish to be associated with that organisation?
Alison Pargeter: I think it’s ideological. It’s kudos; this is a group to be reckoned
with at last.
Q80 Mike Gapes: So it’s similar to Boko Haram in Nigeria, then, in the sense that you
become part of a global brand, rather than being just regional or local?
Alison Pargeter: That’s my feeling, yes.
Professor Joffé: Can I take you back a little way? If you think about it, the actions in
the Algerian civil war carried out by the GIA are exactly the same as the actions carried out
by Daesh, whether in Syria, in Iraq or indeed in Libya. In fact, local groups have got the
potential and have long had the potential to behave in a very similar way. So, to a large
extent, what you’re seeing is a rebranding process. But one needs to be careful, because there
is a significant hard core of people who have come in from Syria specifically to try to create a
nucleus for the development and expansion of Daesh inside Libya itself and then inside the
wider region. But, again, they are weak. Do not forget that they began in Derna, in eastern
Libya, and they were defeated there and forced out by a local extremist group that disliked
their behaviour. They moved down to Sirte, and you might ask the question: why Sirte, which
had been the heartland of the Gaddafi regime? One of the characteristics of Daesh is that it
makes local alliances. It did so inside Iraq, which is one of the reasons why it was so
successful there so quickly. It makes local alliances with people who feel in some way
alienated from the regime in power. In the case of Iraq, it was, of course, the former Ba’ath
party. In the case of Libya, initially it was also elements of the Qadhadhfa, who felt
profoundly disaffected from what had occurred inside Libya. They managed to destroy that
relationship by very violently suppressing demonstrations in favour of Saif al-Islam when he
was sentenced to death. The result has been that they have now regrouped outside Sirte and in
parts of the town itself to reconstitute themselves as a new nucleus. But they still have not
been able to expand.
I agree with Alison that we tend to over-exaggerate the significance of Daesh at
present. Whether it grows further will depend on the extent to which other groups such as
Ansar al-Sharia are prepared to associate themselves with Daesh. There is another location,
too: Sabratha, close to the Tunisian border, but whether that really is Daesh or not, nobody
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 29
Q81 Mike Gapes: Are they actually administering anywhere where they are providing
employment or energy?
Professor Joffé: No, not in Libya.
Alison Pargeter: They are not that strong. Even in Sirte, which they control, they are
not that strong. They are not the only force there. They are running extortion rackets and they
are taking money from local factories and businesses, but they are nowhere near as developed
as you would find in Iraq.
Q82 Mike Gapes: A final question on this: if they are, as an organisation, reduced or pushed
out of Iraq and Syria, is it likely that they would come into Libya in big numbers because it
would provide them with a comfortable environment to operate in?
Professor Joffé: I don’t think so—not as they are currently constituted inside Libya.
Q83 Ann Clwyd: If there were a Government of national accord, what would its main
Alison Pargeter: First of all, it has got to find somewhere to locate itself. That is
problematic, for a start. I have heard all sorts of talk about possibly creating a green zone in
Tripoli, but that has not gone down very well inside Tripoli. Moving beyond stalemate, it is
going to be made up of two competing forces. Both Deputy Prime Ministers will have the
power to veto any decision made by the Government, so that is likely to be problematic.
More fundamentally, how these two sides are going to come together and govern, and put
their differences aside, I cannot see. There are all the other problems of mobilising resources,
and the fact that the powers on the ground are going to act as spoilers at every possible
We have not even started with the problems. It has been difficult enough getting to
this point. If we do actually get to the Government, all the serious problems will really start,
including all the security provisions that arise out of the political agreement that they want to
sign as part of the UNSMIL package. How are you going to deal with Haftar? How are you
going to deal with all the brigades? The challenges are phenomenal.
Professor Joffé: I have to agree with that. It seems to me that you may well be able to
constitute a new institution, and you may even be able to populate it, but until it controls
security, it is an irrelevance. How it is going to control security, I really cannot see, partly
because of the resistance of General Khalifa Haftar, and also simply because of the existing
militias. They are still there. They still have their own dual organisations. They are still
extremely resistant to any question of external control. Until that is solved, I do not see any
way in which you can create a viable governmental solution to the crisis in Libya.
Q84 Daniel Kawczynski: Very quickly, contacts of mine in Libya say that a Government of
national unity is not realistic and is not something that they want, whereas our own
perception is that we have to give the UN as much leeway and support as possible in trying to
bring the two factions together to form a Government of national unity. What are your
thoughts on those differences of opinion?
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 30
Professor Joffé: It seems to me that if you consider that Libya should continue as a
state, it requires a unitary Government of some kind. Whether that Government should be
reconstituted as a federal Government—that would imply that you give authority to the three
regions that make up Libya—or whether it should be simply unitary, as it used to be, is a
matter that, no doubt, needs to be discussed. There is a geographical problem that people tend
to overlook. Libya is constituted, in effect, of two concentrations of population almost 1,000
miles apart. You have Tripoli and Benghazi and around them you have a series of satellite
towns. How you bring those two elements together in a territorial display that allows you to
operate a unitary Government now, particularly as Cyrenaica increasingly does not want to be
part of the wider picture of a unified Libyan state, seems to me to be a problem that has not
yet been confronted.
Q85 Chair: On that happy note, what options are there for the international community,
since you think we are heading up a blind alley with the current discussions?
Professor Joffé: I am not sure that it is a blind alley; I am just saying that it is going
to require much more time and much more careful forethought than was, perhaps, anticipated.
We cannot cobble together a solution. Maybe we have to wait and bring Libyans into the
process, too. Maybe the constitution will be a way. Maybe the idea of a national dialogue will
be another way of trying to reconcile differing points of view. We have to remember that
there are elements there that do not want to be reconciled and that is going to represent a
major problem. There has not been any real discussion about the best form of reconstructing
the Libyan state. Should it be federal; should it be unitary? We have all made the assumption
that it will be unitary, and I am not certain that that is correct.
Alison Pargeter: I assume that many such discussions are going on inside Libya and
the Constituent Assembly.
Professor Joffé: Yes, they are.
Alison Pargeter: That is one of the key sticking points in getting a new constitution
together. These hugely explosive and sensitive issues will take a long time to resolve.
Q86 Chair: So what are the options for the international community?
Professor Joffé: I think, to engage much more with those other elements, outside the
two Governments that currently exist, that are trying to construct some kind of viable solution
for Libya. That is, the constitutional committee, which still exists and has just produced a
draft constitution in Arabic, and elements such as the national dialogue initiative. Indeed, I
am afraid you have to bring together all the elements in Libya, so that they can all feel that
they have some stake in a successful outcome. I am not sure that that has yet been done.
Alison Pargeter: As I said earlier, I think it is really important to bring in the main
tribes that are still outside this process. They might actually be able to tip one way or the
other. That might be helpful. I agree with George; the people who really matter are not party
to this process. How you convince the people on the ground to become party to it, I do not
know, but it is not going to be resolved until that is tackled.
Oral evidence: Libya policy, HC 520 31
Chair: On behalf of my colleagues, I thank you both very much for your time. You have
both been compelling and excellent witnesses, and I am extremely grateful that you have
given us the benefit of your views and answered questions so clearly on what is an extremely