Qaddafi, 40 years in power

(Press review – week from August 31 to September 4, 2009)

Colonel Muammar Qaddafi celebrated this week its fortieth year in power. The ceremonies were magnificent in Tripoli but marked by the absence of the European leaders. In the review of the international press this week, we will come back on these events and on the ambiguous relations that Europe keeps with the Libyan leader.

40 years: Retrospective and Celebration

On its website, RFI offers a quick retrospective on these forty years in power. In 1969, when he was 27 years old, the young Captain Muammar Qaddafi overthrew old King Idris El-Sanousi. In 1977 he establishes the Libyan Arab Socialist Jamahiriya. It then seeks alliances with its neighbours to the East, West, and then the South, without success. He is then associated via relatives to several terrorist acts including the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 which caused some 270 casualties. As a consequence, Libya is ostracized by the international community. It gradually resumed its place only a few years ago. In 2003, Muammar Qaddafi renounced to its program to develop weapons of mass destruction and announced that it will compensate the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing. In 2006, relations with the United States are improving and Libya is removed from the list of « rogue states ». Qaddafi then opened his country to foreign investment and established relations with several European states.

After forty years in power, he remains the undisputed leader in Libya. Le Monde and theRTBF get back to the reign of the Colonel. According to Luis Martinez of the Center for Studies and Research International (CERI), quoted in Le Monde, « His strength is to be able (…) to share power – in particular the administration and the army — with other tribes, while maintaining leadership the Qaddafi’s »,  » With oil revenues, the regime has been able to build an extremely efficient security and repression apparatus. Thus has been neutralized or eliminated any challenge: the monarchists, the Islamists and democrats ». This analysis joins the one of the political scientist Antoine Basbous interviewed by RTBF. He said Qaddafi has cut all the heads of those who tried to oppose him and managed to concentrate all the economic cards in his hands.

Le Monde describes the resources on which Libyan Qaddafi keeps his hand: $ 136 billion (94.7 billion euros), obtained from its exports of oil and gas, against only 8 billion in 2002.

True to its reputation as an extravagant, the Libyan head of state has celebrated his forty years in power with pomp and circumstance, reports the Express. The ceremony, heterogeneous, was punctuated by military bands, dances, aerial acrobatics, parades of soldiers and weapons, projections and fireworks. The public has been largely rejected of the festivities by an extensive security apparatus.

Le Figaro said that European leaders were not the only absent Tuesday in Tripoli. Indeed the Arab leaders are neither great supporters of the colonel, often irritated by his extreme positions and unwanted interventions during Arab summits.

RTBF returned on those who were present at the festivities that is to say heads of state of Tunisia, Algeria, Kuwait, Zimbabwe and Sudan. Muammar Qaddafi had also made Hugo Chavez his guest of honor.

A busy week

In addition to the ceremony of his fortieth birthday, the week of the colonel  was full of appointments. Le Figaro reports that the Italian Prime Minister was in Tripoli this Sunday to celebrate the first anniversary of the friendship treaty between Italy and Libya. Italy seems in any case anxious to get into the good graces of its former colony and offered a new coastal highway going through the country from east to west on 1700 km. The French newspaper said however that Silvio Berlusconi was in a hurry to leave the country once the ceremony over to join the other Western countries with the boycott of the anniversary of Qaddafi where they were invited.

Monday, the Libyan leader invited his African counterparts at the Special Summit of the African Union, which he currently chairs. Euronews notes the presence of the Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir who is under international prosecution, and the Qaddafi’s statements about Israel. This time he accused Israel of « being behind all conflicts in Africa. »

The Libyan capital was then left up on Tuesday to the ceremonies for the 40th anniversary of power of Muammar Qaddafi whom splendor has already been underlined.

AFP further reported that the French State Secretary for Cooperation, Alain Joyandet after having represented France in the ceremonies the day before, inaugurated Wednesday a new hospital in Benghazi (1000 km east of Tripoli) funded by the French government. This French financial aid had been promised by France in the wake of the release of Bulgarian nurses a year ago.

Relations with Europe

Although invited by the Libyan leader, EU leaders have all declined the invitation and were represented by members of their government. The cause has to be found in the reception reserved to Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the author of the Lockerbie bombing, released last week by the Scottish authorities. The welcome, qualified as triumphant, of the man in Tripoli airport has indeed shocked the European and American opinions.

Seif al-Islam, the eldest son of Qaddafi spoke last Saturday on this subject in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. He explained that the reception of Al-Megrahi was neither an official nor a heroic welcome. He also expressed his joy to see the man back home, convinced of his innocence. He insists that the release of Megrahi has never been the subject of a trade agreement between Britain and Libya. Confirming the version given by the English and Scottish authorities, according to him the alleged perpetrator of the Lockerbie bombing has been freed for medical reasons, being ill with cancer in terminal stage. Megrahi has also abandoned the opportunity to appeal to spend his last days with his family. Seif Al-Islam asks finally a new public inquiry on Lockerbie tragedy to unmask the real culprits.

Two days later, it was the turn of the Libyan Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to speak on the subject, as reported by Le Figaro. Commenting on the images transmitted to the television that shows Megrahi in a hospital bed in Tripoli, wearing a mask. Mohammed Siala said the man was dying. This image corroborates the medical reasons of his release and that he would not attend the ceremony 40 years. But it too late at this time for the Western heads of state to attend the festivities on Tuesday.

The European representatives that were present also agreed to leave the ceremony if al-Megrahi was there personally, RTBF reported. But only a brief video of his return to Libya was released, which according to the French Secretary of State for Cooperation is not to be considered as an incident.

Another case was also reported in the press recently: that the apologies of President of the Swiss Confederation Hanz-Rudoplh Merz for the arrest « unreasonable » Hannibal, another son of Qaddafi accused of abusing his servants when he was residing in Switzerland. The apology caused an uproar in the European and Swiss population. Hanz-Rudoplh Merz then explained that it was the only way to secure the release of two Swiss nationals detained by the Libyan authorities in retaliation for the arrest of Hannibal. Back with a guarantee of their release, the excuse of the President was credible. But a report by AFP reported in La Libre Belgiquesaid that Qaddafi is now claiming more than half a million euro deposit for the release of the Swiss nationals. In addition, the Libyan leader filed an application for the breaking up of Switzerland to the United Nations announces Le Temps.

Quoted in the Pakistan’s Daily Times, Antoine Basbous analysis clearly by saying that if EU leaders are not willing to upset Qaddafi, the opinions see him as undesirable.

Alain Joyandet explains to the daily Le Parisien that to keep contacts with Qaddafi is a good strategy to stop the expansion of Al Qaeda in the Sahel.

But the real reason is not the containment of terrorism, but the enormous wealth of Libyan subsoils. As said in Le Monde by Francois Burgat, a researcher at CNRS and author of What I know about Libya (PUF)., Qaddafi « can afford the luxury of being impertinent. »