The Malta Independent 30 March 2023, Thursday
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Diplomatic Hypocrisy: Libya on the brink

Malta Independent Tuesday, 22 February 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

The situation changes minute by minute, hour by hour. It is clear now that short of a massacre, Muammar Gaddafi will not reclaim control of Libya.

The discussion must start from this standpoint. Benghazi has cleared the city of security forces and has even secured the defection of army generals, if reports coming out of the blacked-out country are to be relied on.

Benghazi lies in the province of Cyrenaica and a revolt, which was ruthlessly suppressed in 1980 in Tobruk had already put Gaddafi on edge. The seed was planted long ago. Cyrenaica only became part of modern day Libya when the land became an Italian colony – it was artificially hammered together and remained so even after Gaddafi’s 1969 overthrow of King Idriss of the al-Sanussi dynasty. Prior to that it was either an independent province, or part of various empires.

Put simply, Libya is like the old Czechoslovakia, it is two separate states hammered together under the flag of an authoritarian regime. The people are different, they are from different tribes to the people of Tripoli, and they are also more prone to religious extremism. This is the worry.

By and large, the international community does not seem too worried about the overthrow of regimes, but the prospect of a breakaway state fuelled by religious extremism – which could potentially declare war on Gaddafi has sent shivers down the spine of many.

Apart from the threat of an Islamist civil war on our doorstep, Malta has three worries. In no particular order of importance (as all three are major issues), these are the prospect of skyrocketing of the price of oil, an influx of immigrants fleeing the bloodshed in Libya and the loss of Maltese business assets just across the water.

Oil has already hit $108 per barrel, its highest price since September 2008 – with the prospects of sanctions against the Gaddafi regime already mooted, then one can only expect the price of oil per barrel to just go off the charts again.

The longer it drags on, the more the price is going to spike and this is completely independent of the fact that Libyan oil might be placed under sanctions.

The second issue to mention is that of boat people. For many years, Libya was the departure point for many Africans trying to get to Europe. Many times those journeys were organised by Libyan citizens. Judging by what we saw in Lampedusa, where 5,000 Tunisians arrived in a matter of a few days, Malta will not be spared. And it will not be the Africans we are used to either, it will be Libyan nationals and they will have very solid cases of political asylum to make.

The last item to mention is that of investment. When we talk of investment, we do not mean a dingy little factory owned by a Maltese. We are talking of multi-million investments in both the private and public sector. There are Maltese hotels, the government of Malta owns stakes in projects, there are residence projects… the list goes on and on. All the while, like other European countries, Malta has backed these dictatorships. Ben Ali got a national award. The PM was in Libya just last week… It really is quite sickening really. The whole Western world has backed varying regimes to varying degrees. As soon as the leaders are deposed, we condemn them as dictators. And this is the free west? We should be ashamed of ourselves.

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