What sparked the unrest?
The worst manner in which one can insult the Libyan people ‘next door’ is to try to dismiss goings on there as a mere aberration or, as a local politician put it, as something he simply hoped would not repeat itself.
This was tantamount to dismissing it all as a mere ‘toothache’ that one simply hoped would go away.
It is was equally pathetic – that, evidently, by design – the Labour Party’s prompt and uncompromising statement that condemned the killing of US Libya Ambassador Christopher Stevens was completely ignored by the Government-friendly media, predictably including the State-controlled TVM too. Almost as if to imply that strong bilateral relations between Malta and the US were and should remain the sole prerogative of the government of the day.
What happened last week was not just a brutal act of terrorism but also a dark incident that should help us focus in the most friendly and less paternalistic of manners on the enduring conflicts in Libya and beyond, as well as to revisit the mere notion of the Arab Spring.
While many months ago the Prime Minister dreamt of leading a 100-man strong commercial delegation to Libya and eminent businessmen close to Maltese Government circles brazenly boasted that “Benghazi would win the PN the forthcoming general election” in the most opportunistic of manners, I had modestly remarked during a Libya forum held locally that confidence building measures, stability and security concerns needed to be addressed first.
As the highly-respected International Crisis Group remarked in a statement last Friday (together with a set of specific recommendations on the way forward), the September 11 killing of the US Ambassador and three of his colleagues is a stark reminder of Libya’s security challenges. It also made the point that “It should also serve as a wake up call.
There is, of course, more than one way to look at the country today: as one of the more encouraging Arab uprisings, recovering faster than expected; or as a country of regions and localities pulling in different directions, beset by intercommunal strife and where well-armed groups freely roam”.
Evidence exists for both: successful elections on one hand, violent attacks on the other.
The bloody end of the recent civil war left in its wake an armed population with 42 years worth of pent up grievances together with an emerging security vacuum.
While embassies of the US and allies have been under siege in the Muslim world over the past days and hours, it was just as worrying to see unrest spread to the very same birthplace of the Arab spring revolutions: Tunisia.
Suddenly, our backyard became a tinderbox region where the Arab Spring uprisings had removed many of the pro-Western strongmen who once kept public displays of Islamic passion in check and under control.
Even though every attempt was made to downplay the findings of a recent Human Rights Watch report titled Delivered Into Enemy Hands, reading through it remains a frightening and traumatic experience as one learns of the G.W. Bush era-led abuse and rendition of opponents to Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
Airbrushing such damning events and statements would prove to be a perversion of the truth and reality.
Contrary to public belief and perception, the phrase Arab Spring was not new in 2011. The phrase had been used on and off for years, whenever it seemed as though political change might sweep the region.
In fact, it has just been recorded that ‘It had gained new currency in 2005, following democratic elections in Iraq and Lebanon’.
What changed was that, after the Tunisian happening, the focus was not so much on which dictators might topple but rather on what might happen after they did.
Even the word ‘reform’ assumed a certain eerie new meaning. Some construed it as being a euphemism to avoid revolution or regime change. That all this is happening when the US presidential elections are so close and so near risks seeing foreign policy catapulting itself into a near pole position when, until days ago, the focus was primarily expected to remain on jobs and the economy.
While much fuss has been made about the anti-Islamic film that seems to have sparked it all, only few realise that the You Tube film had been posted some two months ago. Which begs the question: What really sparked it all?
Some reports suggest that Al Qaeda was taken by surprise when the Arab Spring started and had absolutely nothing to do with it, which left it completely out in the cold. It now seems that they might want to make amends and could be coming in from the back door.
Reports say that a cell operating in Libya had taken advantage of the film protests to attack the US embassy with propelled grenades.
Let us hope that the Libyan people will continue on the difficult road to full democracy while auguring that other key players will be led by policies of democracy rather than by circumstance and strategy depending on self-serving interests.
Meanwhile, there is a growing risk that recent developments could help stall the game-changing developments in Syria out of fear of an Islamic backlash.
The author is a member of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on foreign and European affairs.