Voices from the Arab Press: Europe and the Libyan Question

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

TROOPS LOYAL to Libya’s internationally recognized government are seen in Tripoli, July 2020 (photo credit: AYMAN SAHELY/REUTERS)
TROOPS LOYAL to Libya’s internationally recognized government are seen in Tripoli, July 2020
(photo credit: AYMAN SAHELY/REUTERS)
EUROPE AND THE LIBYAN QUESTION
Al-Etihad, UAE, July 4
At this point, Europe cannot turn its back on the Libyan issue, regardless of the course of action it chooses to pursue: a stable peace agreement on the one hand, or a bloody regional war on the other.
Europe’s interests in Libya are manifold. Therefore, an intervention in the country has little to do with the aspiration to bring democracy to North Africa, and more to do with material benefits. Europe is motivated by the hope to maximize its gains, reduce its losses and preserve its strategic interests in North Africa.
The first of these interests relates to oil. Europe has had its eyes on Libyan oil for quite some time, especially after Colonel Qaddafi decided to ban its export to the United States for its aggression against Libya in 1986, and opened his country up to European petrol companies such as Italy’s Eni, France’s Total, Germany’s Wintershall and Spain’s Repsol. For years, Libya provided these companies with high-quality oil at minimal extraction costs, especially in comparison to the price of oil manufactured in the Arab Gulf.
The second of these interests is linked to terrorism. For years, terror cells established on Europe’s parameters managed to slowly make their way to cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, Amsterdam, Brussels and others. Europe fears that Libya will turn into a terrorism hotbed from which terrorist groups would launch attacks against the European continent. The Europeans are taking this threat seriously, especially given the short distance between Libya and European shores.
The third interest relates to the flow of illegal immigrants traveling from Libya to Europe. The continuous outpouring of refugees into EU states imposes serious social, political and financial implications on European society as a whole. It is known that in recent years, Libya has become a convenient home base for refugees setting their eyes on Europe.
In addition to these three basic motivations, we cannot deny another interest, no matter how small, revolving around the European sense of guilt from the overthrow of Qaddafi after the launch of a popular revolution against him, without taking time to rehabilitate the country in his removal. The absence of such an arrangement led Libya to chaos, opened the door to terrorist groups coming into the country and turned the Libyan coast into a destination for illegal immigrants.
– Ammar Ali Hassan
DEAR ALI, IT IS THE GOVERNMENT THAT KILLED YOU
Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, July 5
Last week, a tragic event took place in the heart of Beirut when an innocent, law-abiding Lebanese citizen, Muhammad Ali Al-Haq, shot and killed himself near a café on Hamra Street. Al-Haq could not bear the difficult economic conditions that Lebanon is going through after returning from work in the Gulf, so, as a desperate, last resort, he decided to put an end to his life on a busy street in broad daylight.
You, Ali, are a hero. You died while embracing the Lebanese flag. In your tragic death, you carried out the most peaceful protest you possibly could: You didn’t hurl stones at buildings, you didn’t set tires on fire in the street, you didn’t loot or steal. You preferred not to engage in violence against those who starved your family and deprived you of your basic humanity. Despite having every right to lash out at the authorities, their guardians and militias, you chose to die in peace, like a martyr.
Before your death, we didn’t know you, Ali. But with your majestic passing, you became a symbol of the revolution against a corrupt system that has occupied our country and transformed its citizens into second-class subjects. Let’s not be mistaken, Ali: You did not kill yourself! The system that has been looting us for over 30 years murdered you. The greed of our disgusting leaders killed you. The political corruption in our country killed you. The lack of care among our authorities killed you.
Ali, I hope you rest in peace. Your tragic suicide is part of a blood tax that our people have paid throughout history against transgressors and foreign occupiers that attempted to destroy us. Your act of defiance will never be forgotten. Your ultimate sacrifice won’t be overlooked. And your death won’t be in vain. You are the wake-up call to us all.
– Bechara Charbel
BOLTON’S MEMOIR AND THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 4
The battle between US President Donald Trump and his former national security adviser, John Bolton, is truly fascinating. Not merely because it is telling of the chaos in the current US administration, but also because of the mutual accusations exchanged between the two men, with Trump describing Bolton as a liar and Bolton describing Trump as incompetent to govern.
The former adviser spent months working next to Trump at the White House, fulfilling the same role played by notable individuals like Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy and Condoleezza Rice. When Bolton left, he sat down to reflect on his experiences in the Oval Office and began writing a memoir. This memoir was finally released last week. But the American president put up a fight against Bolton’s book and worked tirelessly to prevent its publication. The formal reasoning was that the book includes confidential material pertaining to US national security. However, the real reason for Trump’s fierce opposition was twofold.
First, he feared that Bolton’s book would have a negative impact on his campaign for the upcoming presidential elections, as it would paint the Trump administration in a negative light.
Second, Trump recognized that the book would immediately become a national bestseller that would bring extensive publicity and financial benefit to Bolton. This second point is particularly striking since it’s proof that, despite the widespread declaration that the print media and publishing industries are dead, people still have interest in hard-copy books.
The buzz surrounding the release of Bolton’s book is real. It cannot be easily replicated in the digital realm, using tweets and Facebook posts. People still want to learn more about the stories happening at the highest levels of power, behind closed doors, and they turn to books to do so.
Both Trump and Bolton recognize the latent power held by books in setting political narratives and shaping history. And Trump is on the losing end of this narrative.
 – Suleiman Judeh
WHAT HISTORY CAN TEACH US ABOUT SANCTIONS ON IRAN
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, July 5
The Iranian regime is unlikely to collapse until the American elections take place. It is also unlikely that the mullahs will retreat from their aggressive behavior both internally and externally. But after November 3, when the presidential election takes place in the US, all possibilities are open.
Things could change dramatically, depending on who’s sitting in the White House. However, before jumping into predictions about the future of the political war between Washington and Tehran, it might be best, perhaps, to turn to relevant examples from the past.
The sanctions under which Saddam Hussein’s regime existed in Iraq between 1990 to the US invasion in 2003 were very similar in nature to the harsh sanctions regime that exists against Iran today. The lesson from Saddam Hussein is that sanctions did not succeed in changing his behavior or policies. Such authoritarian regimes do not care about the agony of their citizens.
Moreover, these regimes use the sanctions to promote their own propaganda. For example, Saddam manipulated the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to believe that over half a million Iraqi children had died as a result of the sanctions against him. However, later research showed that these figures were fabricated by the regime. It also became apparent that the ruling circle itself was not affected, which partly convinced Washington of the need to invade and topple the regime by force after failing to change its policies.
Does this mean that the severe economic sanctions that apply to Iran today are useless? Yes and no. On one hand, sanctions will neither affect the regime directly, nor will they change the mullahs’ key political positions. However, they are very useful in weakening the regime’s internal grip. This has been confirmed by the repeated protests we’ve seen in Tehran and other cities.
Furthermore, sanctions have curtailed Iran’s foreign military activity in places like Syria and Lebanon, and even in Iraq and Yemen. The regime spent billions of dollars to manage its massive military activities outside its borders, including the financing of tens of thousands of militia fighters. The financial collapse of Hezbollah, Iran’s largest foreign militia, is a direct result of the US sanctions. The Iranian government’s income has fallen by more than 70%, and it is severely struggling to pay the salaries of teachers, doctors and government staff.
Granted, this doesn’t mean that the supreme leader will simply step down. He is likely to wait and see what happens in the election. Also, we don’t know how a Democratic president like Joe Biden will approach the question of sanctions. Will he lift them? I doubt it, because after signing the comprehensive agreement, Iran proved that it had become more dangerous to US interests and American allies in the region.
Worse, if Trump is reelected, the mullahs will face a more dangerous and hawkish administration. Then they will be forced to choose between the fate of Saddam Hussein or cooperation with the West in return for a new nuclear agreement in which they will refrain from their foreign military activities and pledge to limit their nuclear activities.
– Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.