By Tariq Ramadan
5 September 2011
The situation in Libya is confused and quite disturbing. Qaddafi has disappeared; nobody knows exactly what is happening in Tripoli. We seem to be witnessing the Iraqi scenario all over again: French, US, and British forces are helping the rebels both on the ground and in the air as they try to convince the world that their intention is to protect civilians and to free the country from “this monstrous dictator.” We heard the same tune before, in 2003, when former ally and friend (during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War), Saddam Hussein, suddenly became a tyrant with a sinister face in contrast to the purity of American policy. It was all about weapons of mass destruction, freedom, democracy, and civilization, we were told. All lies. A few years after the American economic blockade (enacted by President Bill Clinton) that was killing more than 500,000 innocent Iraqi civilians per year, the Bush administration was ready to launch a war and to kill again. In the name of geopolitical interests (driven by Israel and its American lobbies, as reported by journalist Robert Fisk) and oil resources. But we must remember that the war had begun even before George W. Bush took office.
The French newspaper Libération revealed, on September 1, 2011, the existence of a secret agreement between the French government and the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC): after the war, 35% of the country’s oil exports would be allocated to France. France, it seems, was playing in Libya the US game in Iraq. The war was fought for democracy, freedom and dignity inspired by the “Arab Spring,” boasted French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The Libyan leader he had welcomed to Paris only eighteen months before had overnight become a satanic figure. It was France’s moral duty to liberate the country from the “mad tyrant.” Now we are hearing another version, a different truth that reveals far less glory and a much greater concern for business.
The role of French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, who acted as an impromptu foreign Minister for few a days and helped to set up the TNC, is fascinating. Why indeed was he involved, with whom, and how? It was as though his mission was to merge French and Israeli interests in the region. Qaddafi was an obstacle ; to get rid of him was a great step forward for Israeli strategy not only in the Middle East but in Africa as well (French essayist Pierre Péan revealed in his book Carnages : The secret wars of the great powers in Africa the true extent of Israeli activity on the African Continent). Realpolitik; cynical logic.
It was impossible for the current American administration to be at the forefront of the Libyan intervention. The wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the domestic consequences of the global downturn made it impossible to justify direct involvement, so France took the lead: a win-win scenario for both. Should we be surprised? There is little new in North Africa and even as the West pays lip service to the “Arab Spring,” we must not forget decades of support for dictators.
Hence one should remain cautious about the way things are going to be handled in the region. China, India and Russia are new actors and beyond promoting democracy or not the Middle East remains first and foremost a battlefield for economic interests. It is unlikely that these interests will be neglected in the name of a so-called new longing for Arab democracy. It is critical to be aware of such cynical calculations—and to hope that the Arab populations will take advantage of any opportunity to free themselves from foreign powers and to find their way towards political and economic independence.
It is equally critical not to go to the other extreme. These days, on the Internet, we hear voices denying the very facts, so obsessed are they with criticizing the West and detecting an American plot behind every single event. Qaddafi was, after all, a dictator and so is Bashar al-Assad. In other words, politics is not a simple matter of calling the enemy of my enemy my friend. By all means denounce the American and French game (and generally that of all the great powers from the West to China, India, Russia or Israel) when it means support for dictators to protect interests. But it would be wrong to support the despots at any price.
The only way forward is to oppose both the hypocritical position of the great powers and the unacceptable repression of the dictatorial regimes: neither idealization nor naivety. The Arab populations need support without our buying what is said in the West, China or Russia, or accepting blindly media coverage of recent events. To look forward to the fall of the Qaddafi and al-Assad regimes requires a sharp mind in order not to be manipulated once again by governments that care nothing for human rights, freedom, equality and democracy.
At the end of the day it is our duty, as citizens, to be vigilant: democratic rights cannot be given; they must be won. Our struggle is an intellectual, civic and political one and it should be launched—and will hopefully prevail—in the West, in Africa, in the Middle East and in Asia. It is an ongoing struggle that will demand all our intelligence, understanding, lucidity and dedication. Our hopes have rights; the first is that we must never forget to think.