Libya – the price of freedom

It is amazing to watch the same routine reactions and developments when one Arab regime after another is swallowed up into the vortex of popular anger that has raged in the region. First there is firing on the crowd to see if protests persist, then dark forces are accused of destabilizing the country pointing at foreign interests or terrorist groups and then certain political prisoners are released to calm the atmosphere down. This is followed by a promise of the removal of the state of emergency laws. The current president then changes the government and provides arms to loyalist forces who are mobilised to create disorder and justify repression. The dictator then tries to negotiate whilst the escalation leads to the final countdown, with the eventual ousting of the strong man. Yemen is following Tunisia and Egypt’s same path while Syria is facing a disorder that could be just as uncontrollable. The fact that the order of events is repeating itself according to a similar pattern shows the vulnerability of outdated regimes that have so far survived along the southern border of the West, enjoying the tolerance of the international community, not to challenge the delicate status quo upon which the oil supply, Israel’s survival, the control of migratory flows and the containment of the politicisation of Islam depend. All are excellent reasons to relegate the local populations aspiration for freedom to another moment in history.

Libya – the price of freedom
This historic moment has arrived and Europe should now show the courage to reverse the "high stability, little democracy" equation, that has worked for many years. Last week, I followed the visit to Egypt of a European Parliament delegation led by Jerzy Buzek, its Polish president. When asked to describe the situation in the region during a meeting with European diplomats, one of them used the following example to describe the political climate: since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, the Arab League has organised two meetings in Cairo. The League’s headquarters are located in Maydan at-Tahreer; well, during these meetings, no Arab diplomat from the 22 member countries wanted to go to the square to meet the revolutionary committees. During the past weeks, representatives from the five continents are passing through Egypt as if guided by a shooting star to go to the most broadcasted square in the world but no non-Egyptian Arab diplomat had this idea. It seems that stability comes at a price…

It could be that stability is an important a value for western pacifists that have recently described the Alliance operations in Libya as an unjustified war, invoking the Italian constitution. "Italy repudiates war as an instrument of offense of other peoples’ freedom and as a means of international conflicts resolution", is the translation of Article 11. However, this constitution was established thanks to the Partisan Resistance and to the Allied victory over Nazi-fascist forces. There would never have been an Article 11 without the American’s help. These past few days, I have received petitions by e-mail claiming an end to Alliance operations in Libya. I have not signed them. A leader, a government or a clan that uses its own military planes and heavy artillery and recruits foreign mercenaries for bloody reprisals against the citizens' protests for democracy and freedom needs to be stopped with no mercy. Failing to do so would mean adding further pain to the injury inflicted by Italian colonialism. I have recently read an interview by an Arab world and geopolitics specialist who compared the protests repression in Egypt with that of Gaddafi denouncing the fact that NATO has positioned warships along the Libyan coast, but not along the Egyptian coast. I am sorry to disagree but the army in Egypt did not open fire on the crowd, and it did not bomb the protest marches. Whoever places the military response to the Libyan uprising and the police force repression in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Yemen on the same level is making a mistake, and is confusing revolutionary uprising with imperialism, or repression with pacifism. Last week I listened to a Libyan State TV commentator who combined threats to the West with a call for Islamic resistance along with a fraternal warning to the civil population of this kind: "The French shall enter your house, rape your women and steal your belongings."

Libya – the price of freedomThose who are against this military intervention will certainly say that the West has got involved because of oil. Somebody may have thought this, but military intervention to protect the population claiming freedom and protesting against a corrupt and violent regime is better than military intervention to deter a pro-democracy uprising, which is the case in Bahrain with the arrival of Saudi tanks. With deep sadness and regret, after several sleepless nights, it is the first time in my life that I am genuinely in favour of military action in a current conflict. Mostly because I have experienced even if indirectly, the Egyptian people’s suffering caused by their denied freedom and I have much faith in the Arab renaissance and in the role it will play to bring about change and reform. Furthermore, the Gaddafi’s photos with western heads of state and governments, flaunting his wealth, compared to the bitterness and contempt with which he fired on his country’s people to save his personal kingdom these last weeks has fed the desire of many Libyans to get rid of him as quickly as possible. But this is not all.

The recent emerging counter-revolutionary signs in Arab countries should be convincing evidence of the need to strongly stop the repressive Libyan machine, in order to save the popular movements for freedom across the region. It is important to note that Gaddafi’s troops advances before the imposition of the no fly zone was accompanied by signs of suffering and violence against demonstrators in other Arab countries. On the 8th March, young revolutionary women were assaulted and attacked in Maydan at-Tahreer to create division and confusion using sexist prejudices. On the 10th March a church was burnt in Atfeeh close to Cairo, and in the capital’s popular areas, gangs attacked Christians, causing 13 deaths. This day has been called the day of the "invisible hand", referring to the role played by the police apparatus of the previous regime. On the 12th March the army opens fire on the crowd in Sanaa’ causing around 50 deaths. On the 13th March the police forces attack demonstrators in Bahrain and the next day the Saudi army is authorised to enter the territory. Even the little news that we receive from Syria are mentioning a few dozens deaths caused by the current conflicts between demonstrators and police in Daraa and Lattakia. Leaving the field open to the Libyan regime would mean encouraging further the repression and indicating that stability is more important than freedom.

Libya – the price of freedomThe role that the Libyan regime has played in manipulating the fluxes of migrants is another reason worth mentioning to justify the need to neutralise Gaddafi’s troops. If you read Bilal by Fabrizio Gatti, you would discover how similarly to the migrant trafficking network, the Libyan police have exploited the poor black Africans en route towards Europe. Obviously, this is all done according to the rules. "May the Italian-Libyan cooperation for the management of regular migrant fluxes and combating irregular immigration be an example for the relations between Europe and Africa"; "Gaddafi is a great friend of mine and of Italy. He is freedom’s leader and I am happy to be here": are two declarations made by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Tripoli on the 25th August and on the 7th October 2004, both mentioned in Gatti's book. It is a pity that the poor black Africans have had to pay the traffickers and the police alternately up to seven times to continue their voyage, as the documentary "Like a man on the earth" by Riccardo Biadene, Andrea Segre and Dagmawi Yimer reports.

May Libya’s liberation from the military regime be "an example for relations between Europe and Africa" instead. May this example serve as a deterrent for other countries that fear their masses’ upheaval and an incentive to discourage European politicians who collude with corrupted regimes.

I would like to highlight another interesting element: the military intervention in Libya unwillingly matured in the West, after great hesitation, institutional and diplomatic contacts and much concern. It was not a heroic act of strong political will and linear ideology accompanied by a mediatic fanfare and well paid analysts as was the case in the Iraqi and Afghani campaigns. Besides, it was the Libyan rebels and their friends advocating intervention who apprehensively requested military intervention. It is enough to quote the call of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy consisting of 1650 science and culture specialists, including many Arabs to Barak Obama, US president, last week to recognise the need to arm and support the national coalition government in Benghazi and to persecute the officials and mercenaries who perpetuate crimes against humanity. Their call concluded with the following words: "The Libyan case is for the moment the most urgent one but people throughout the Arab world will judge your words in Cairo [of Obama] the actions you will undertake now”.

The young people of the "Revolution of the 25th January" have discovered that freedom has a bitter taste. "We Egyptians must now face the fact that democracy is not within arm’s reach like a candied fruit in a shop window and to recognise that there is a long and difficult process to achieve it" – declared Amr el-Etreby, the active animator of a Facebook group during the revolt, to Al-Jazeera on the 20th March. Like the less fortunate Libyan rebels, these young people are those who have risked the most, with a strong spirit of sacrifice and martyrdom encouraged by Islam amongst its followers. For decades, Western leaders were worried that this spirit feeds dreams for religiously inspired terrorism. This spirit has proven to be an extraordinary source of inspiration for the struggle for freedom, dignity and citizenship.

To abandon these young people at a time when the army is firing on them would be yet another act of cowardice, to which the reason of State, political calculation and a non-interventionist ideology wants us to get used to at all costs.

Gianluca Solera

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