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Books on Libya

Update No: 059 - (01/10/08)

After the Cuddly Deals, How Should the West Deal with Libya?
Arriving a day after the Libyan anniversary of the 1969 ‘Fatah revolution’, Condoleezza Rice was met at the Tripoli airport by the foreign affairs minister Shalgham. The US secretary of state then met col. Qadhafi is his residence at Bab el-Aziziya, the very building that was targeted by US fighter jets in 1986. Rice’s visit to Tripoli represents a victory for Libya and it came just a week after the country obtained USD 6 billion in colonial and war reparations, and formal apologies, from Italy’s prime minister Berlusconi. Rice’s visit is the final step in the four year long process made possible by Libya’s formal renunciation of the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the conciliatory diplomatic approach influenced, or guided, by Seif Al-Islam, the likely heir to the leadership of Libya (though he has denied ‘political ambitions’). Libya’s stated commitment to compensate the victims of the Pan Am 103 crash in Lockerbie was the ultimate manifestation of Libya’s willingness to mend relations with the United States. 

Even as the IAEA will soon conclude its investigation into Libya’s alleged and much exaggerated nuclear ambitions, effectively closing any lingering Western suspicions of it harboring WMD plans, the Lockerbie case will continue to be one of the lingering problems of the newly enhanced relationship between Libya and the United States. The Libyans continue to insist that they had nothing to do with Lockerbie. Even as the final compensation payments were concluded, enabling Condoleezza Rice’s visit, Seif ul-Islam insisted in interviews that Libya was innocent and that there has been a gross miscarriage of justice. The assertions are not without merit, as the Lockerbie investigation has never yielded irreproachable evidence. A Scottish police official told ‘The Scotsman’ three years ago that he believed the Pan Am 103 investigation to have been highly suspicious. Indeed, far from dismissing the claims, the Scottish courts have been active in re-evaluating the evidence against Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence agent and convicted of playing a key role in the Lockerbie bombing, for which he serving a 27 year prison term in Scotland. 

Al-Megrahi has been granted an opportunity to appeal his sentence just days after Rice’s historic visit to Tripoli. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in Scotland has re-evaluated the evidence, as part of a three year long review of the case, suggesting that he have endured a miscarriage of justice. The CCRC’s decision is based on the many doubts remaining over the identity of the person who actually placed the explosives aboard the Pan Am 103 Boeing. The timing of the Pan Am 103 bombing was also problematic and the idea that Iran or even a Palestinian group based in Germany were the actual culprits, as often argued by Megrahi's defense lawyers. Moreover, the Appeals Court in Edinburgh has appointed a special defender to examine confidential documents believed to reveal crucial details about the nature and origin of the timer that detonated the bomb on Pan Am 103. The British government has argued against revealing the contents of the document, which originated in an unspecified country. The document emerged during the original trial and the CCRC said that the failure to disclose it “could constitute a miscarriage of justice.” 

More Business, Fewer Lectures
Needless to say, if in fact the appeal process should acquit Megrahi, ultimately undermining the entire case against Libya for Lockerbie, the West itself and the UN would be held accountable for the eight years of Security Council mandated sanctions imposed on Libya from 1992-2000. In such an ironic twist, relations between Libya and the West might be complicated by Libya’s innocence. As Western leaders grapple with just how to deal with Libya, after all the diplomatic and media grandstanding, they should probably hold back from imposing any further conditions on bilateral relations. They should also dispense with temptations to lecture Libya on human rights, democracy and other ‘western values’. In this sense British prime minister Gordon Brown and other western leaders should not hesitate to invite the Libyan leader to London, where he would attend an international oil industry summit. The British press has already ironically and disapprovingly mused where Qadhafi might ‘pitch his tent’

Tent logistics aside, a re-evaluation of the Lockerbie evidence warrants caution in this regard. Indeed, while relations between the West and Libya are better than they have ever been since 1969, there are already signs the United States wants to hold on to some trappings of ‘moral superiority’. The US Senate has already placed obstacles in the appointment of the new ambassador, Gene Cretz, until the Libyan government deposits the promised funds into the find established to compensate victims of Libyan terrorism. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace advises the government “to use its limited but growing influence in Libya to support growth in non-governmental sectors rather than implicitly endorsing the regime's status quo. The regime remains opaque, unpredictable, and, buoyed by its petroleum wealth, is increasingly assertive in international negotiations.” On the other hand, the West now has an opportunity to draw Libya into deeper engagement; having taken the first important steps in re-establishing a relationship, the West must nurture it with care. 

Libya has already given clear signals it expects the United States to treat it as an equal. Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam said that Libya refuses “any pressure or lectures on human rights”. Secretary Rice, seemed wiser than some US senators on this occasion, as she refrained from discussing the need for democracy and appeared genuinely surprised and pleased to have finally arrived in Libya, given the significance of her visit. Ultimately, Libya is recognized as having the fifth largest oil deposits in the world; whereas, the Gulf states are the biggest source for oil on world markets, Libya’s oil is located in a far more stable area. Moreover, whereas Washington is interested in Libyan energy resources, the EU also needs Libyan cooperation in curbing illegal migration to northern Mediterranean shores. In other words, just as the 1992-2000 sanctions, undermining Libya also undermines western growth and needs. So far Libya has the upper hand. 

During her visit, secretary Rice also made another pitch for the proposed US military command base for Africa, AFRICOM. Libya has strongly opposed the plan and all African countries, offered the ‘opportunity’ to host it, have refused. Rice presented AFRICOM as a means to promote African self sufficiency in confronting peacekeeping and counter terrorism work. Although, an issue of disagreement, discussing agendas such as AFRICOM with Libya is a positive diplomatic initiative, as it plays into Libya’s desire to be treated as an equal. This has other implications, as far as US business is concerned. According to the International Herald Tribune (IHT), US oil companies have complained that the rapprochement between Washington and Tripoli has been too slow. This has increased competition for Libya’s resources with companies from Europe, Asia and Russia, who have been securing very important contracts in the past year – especially Russia’s Gazprom. The IHT report quoted the US Energy Information Administration reports that American companies such as Amerada Hess, Exxon Mobil, or Chevron and Occidental have not been able to secure long term contracts. Moreover, US companies have also been losing out to Europeans and Asians in other areas from banking to infrastructure and construction, while Libya has not felt secure about investing its petrodollars in the United States, fearing the ambiguities over its diplomatic status. 

Nevertheless, as important as it is for western companies to secure contracts in Libya, the Colonel has reserved another surprise. As discussed in the Libya update last April, Qadhafi wants to abolish the majority of the government ministries. The idea is to turn Libya into a country of investors, rather than dependents on the state, which would be responsible for organizing and running the economy. The plan, to be implemented in 2009 according to the plan, would only leave the ministries or secretariats as they are called, for security, defense and energy. Even as Qadhafi’s plan represents, at the heart, a de-facto admission of the failure of the ‘Jamahiriya’ (rule of the masses) system he devised in his Green Book, the proposed solution may be just as confusing. Col. Qadhafi reiterated his intention to adopt the plan during a September 1st Fatah revolution anniversary speech. Libyans and foreign businessmen have good reason to trust that this is yet another recipe for chaos.


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