Libya

Looking for a Fourth Way

Revolutionary leader Qadhafi is currently attempting a foreign-policy balancing act: On the one hand, he is making extensive concessions in an attempt to gain favor in the West, while on the other hand holding fast to his vision of becoming the leader of a "United States of Africa".

Revolutionary leader Muammar al-Qadhafi is currently attempting a foreign-policy balancing act: On the one hand, he is making extensive concessions in an attempt to gain favor in the West, while on the other hand holding fast to his vision of becoming the leader of a "United States of Africa". Arian Fariborz reports


Muammar al-Qadhafi

​​Just a few months ago, the rapid changes made by Libya’s leadership in its conflict with the countries of the Western world would have seemed unlikely: After a decades-long legal and political tug-of-war, Libya last August accepted responsibility for the attack on an American plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and awarded $ 2.7 million to the families of those killed in the attack.

In January 2004, damages were also awarded to the survivors and families of the victims of a 1989 attack on a French UTA plane that took 170 lives.

Concessions no matter how much it costs?

And in a third case of Libya-sponsored terrorism, the bombing of the "La Belle" discotheque in 1986, the government in Tripoli has announced its intention to award compensation damages to the victims.

And that’s not all: Just recently Libya announced it was discontinuing its atomic weapons program, and signed an Additional Protocol to its nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This will allow the IAEA to carry out unannounced inspections of Libyan atomic energy facilities.

The North African country has also just initiated with a comprehensive program to do away chemical weapons, supervised by the "Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons" (OPCW).

And in December 2003 Libya declared its total renunciation of chemical weapons. With this step, the North African country has fulfilled most of the prerequisites for normalizing relations with the West. But Qadhafi is paying a high price. Even if he does not see the damages payments as an admission of Libya’s guilt, agreement to pay compensation could be seen as pointing in that direction.

More pragmatism, less "green book"

Qadhafi’s foreign policy changes are taking place at an impressive rate of speed. And there is no doubt that his change of course puts an end to the ideological and political aspirations he held previously, when the Libyan "People’s State" was established.

After the failure of the pan-Arabian experiment and the long-faded revolutionary myths of a "third way" between capitalism and socialism, Tripoli is apparently desirous to take a more pragmatic political approach.

After decades of international isolation and embargos imposed by the UN, the "Jamahiriya" ("State of the Masses") is finally willing to shed its image as a rogue nation and center of international terrorism, and open itself up to the West.

The chances for success are not bad. The USA, in reaction to Libya’s discontinuation of its atomic weapons program and the Lockerbie compensation, has already begun lifting sanctions.

Americans are now allowed to travel to Libya, for the first time in 23 years. After decades of frosty relations, the United States has announced its intention to open up a diplomatic mission there.

This represents a change in relations with the former arch-enemy. For unlike the United Nations, the United States had always strictly enforced its penalizing measures. American firms have been prohibited from investing money in Libya since 1986. That is now set to change: The Americans are planning to promote contacts between Libyan and American companies.

A new partnership with Europe

The Europeans have also intensified their contacts with Libya since the lifting of US sanctions – with France, Britain and Italy leading the way. British Prime Minister Blair made a historic visit to Tripoli this March and offered a 'hand of partnership' to Libyan leader Colonel Qadhafi. And also Italian Silvio Berlusconi flew to Tripoli last February to negotiate with Qadhafi about oil deliveries and emigration matters.

And since Libya’s announcement of compensation payments for the victims of the UTA attack, the French government has been anxious to set up business relations with the North African country. Chirac has promised France will do all it can to support Libya’s return to the international community.

France has even agreed to support Qadhafi’s desire to join the "Euro-Med" (EU Association Agreement for the Mediterranean region). The Libyan leader hopes this agreement will promote trade and bring his country closer to the European Union.

Muammar al-Qadhafi has grown tired of foreign-policy adventures, and is seeking not only a peaceful agreement with the United States, but even with the arch-enemy Israel. The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz has reported that diplomats from the two countries recently began talks designed to lead to the establishment of normalized relations.

Ambitious plans for a united Africa

But those who believed Libya’s revolutionary leader’s concessions to the West were part of a broader political agenda dictated by the US were proven wrong at the African Union summit meeting in Syrte, Libya, in late February.

In his opening speech, Qadhafi, in his traditional style, warned of the dangers of a new colonialism, and issued a call for the African continent to unite by establishing a common military strike force.

Human rights violations and a dictatorial state

But while advocating the rights of the African peoples, Qadhafi seems to have overlooked the situation in his own country: In the past several years, hundreds of black-African foreign workers from the countries of Chad, Nigeria, Ghana and Sudan have been killed in racist attacks in Libya.

In fact, Nigerian members of parliament placed the number of victims from their country at more than 500. Thousands of Nigerian and Sudanese refugees have since returned to their home countries.

And there is another aspect in which the human rights situation in Libya leaves much to be desired. According to Amnesty International, there are still many political prisoners being held without access to the courts.

There are cases of people being held for years and deprived of all contact with their families or legal counsel. And there are torture chambers. The death penalty is prescribed for a number of crimes. Amnesty also criticizes Libya’s court system for carrying out unfair trials.

In spite of the foreign-policy changes and successful humanitarian initiatives – such as the freeing of hostages on the island of Jolo and in Afghanistan by the Qadhafi Foundation –the authoritarian-styled country still seems a long way away from a democratic awakening.

Arian Fariborz

© Qantara.de 2004

Translation from German: Mark Rossman

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