After the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the people of Libya are now also trying to free themselves from totalitarian rule. Ute Schaeffer considers how Europe should respond to this movement
We do not know much about current conditions in Libya. How many people were victims of the fighter jet attacks on protesters? Who opposes the regime? There are few photos; there is no trustworthy news; the victims have not been named. The dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, has achieved his goal. He has cut Libya off from the public eye and sealed his people into the socialist Islamic republic that he conceived. The EU's timid reaction is embarrassing. After hours of debate, the continent's foreign ministers did not even come up with a single sanction.
The EU is well aware that it is cooperating with a dictator whose role models are Mao, Stalin and Hitler. Gaddafi is a long-time harbourer of international terrorism who is to blame for both the attack on the La Belle disco in Berlin and the Lockerbie bombing. For decades, the self-proclaimed "King of African Kings" has fuelled wars in Africa by delivering weapons to various groups and financially supporting them. The continued instability in Central Africa can be traced back to him.
Europe also knows that Gaddafi is all too prone to making exorbitant demands. At the last European–African summit meeting in Tripoli, he rambled on, delivering a tirade lasting one-and-a-half hours without anyone leaving the room.
From outcast to ally
Now Europe is finding out what it means to turn a pariah into Europe's policeman. Last October, the EU signed an agreement with Gaddafi regarding cooperation on migration. The agreement came about despite the fact that African refugees consider Libya to be a brutal police state.
The more than two million Africans who try to escape to Europe through Libya every year are placed in camps where human rights do not exist, before being deported to neighbouring desert states. This inhumane policy contradicts Europe's fundamental values.
Moreover, it is a scandal that the EU has provided funding for this practice. Gaddafi runs an unjust regime that has not signed the Geneva Conventions on refugees and has no asylum procedures. Perhaps the current photos from Benghazi or Tripoli will make the EU re-evaluate its relationship with Gaddafi. But right now that does not seem likely.
In Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Madrid, it has been common to hear the view that "we need Gaddafi, and that's why we are cooperating with him." Libya is the fourth largest oil producer in Africa and is Germany's third largest supplier of oil. But if you make a pact with the devil, you should not be surprised if you lose your credibility.
Europe's double standards
It is much easier simply to deport immigrants than to confront complex problems such as how to combat migration through peace and development. It is a double standard that hurts the credibility of Europe's foreign policy. Europe should not support a flimsy stability founded on dictatorships like Gaddafi's.
Now we can only hope that the UN Security Council will adopt a clear position on the events in Libya. At least Russia has condemned the massacre that occurred over the weekend. In a certain sense, Gaddafi anticipated the current events in his vision of an Islamic socialist people's republic. The "state of the masses" sketched out by him at the end of the 70s would rule itself and would do without a ruler. That is exactly what the people in Libya are currently working for. Gaddafi should go.
© Deutsche Welle 2011
Ute Schaeffer is head of Deutsche Welle's Mideast and Africa service
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de