By Patrick Seale, the author, most recently, of The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24/03/11):
The absence of Arab arms in the attack on Libya is a matter of regret — and could have serious long-term consequences. It has allowed Muammar el-Qaddafi to portray the attack on him as an aggression by the West to seize Libya’s oil — an argument which may strike a chord with his tribal loyalists.
The West’s record in the Arab world is by no means guilt-free. Nevertheless, the Western intervention in Libya should be seen in a more favorable light. It seems to have been driven by genuine revulsion at Qaddafi’s 42-year history of human rights abuses against his own people, not to speak of his murderous forays into external terrorism, such as the downing of civilian aircraft. Among his countless brutalities, the massacre of some 1,200 prisoners in the notorious Abu Salim prison in 1996 is only one of the most flagrant.
Every effort should be made to prevent the intervention in Libya from injecting further venom into the West’s relations with the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab states must be persuaded to shoulder more of the burden of bringing about a peaceful transition in Tripoli.
The Arab League gave the Western assault legitimacy — as did the U.N. Security Council resolution — but the overall Arab contribution has been feeble. Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary general, has now voiced disquieting reservations about the West’s air strikes, apparently unaware that an effective no-flight zone requires the destruction of Libya’s air defenses.
In order to prevent further civilian casualties and great material destruction, Arab states must now work to bring the fighting in Libya to a close. They must act to save Libya from what could be a protracted civil war.
Yemen may also need Arab mediation to oversee a peaceful transition from President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule to a new government in tune with the demands of the protesters. Yemen was ravaged by a civil war from 1962 to 1970, which ended only when an uneasy reconciliation was arrived at with the help of outside powers.
In the case of Libya, a high-powered contact group should be formed, to mediate between the two sides and negotiate Qaddafi’s peaceful departure. As well as Arab states, the proposed contact group might include a regional power such as Turkey, and perhaps even one or two countries — such as Germany, China or Russia — that abstained when Resolution 1973 was adopted by the Security Council authorizing intervention.
No Arab country has a greater interest than Egypt in the outcome of the Libyan struggle. But it would seem that Egypt’s generals have been too preoccupied with managing the transition of power in their own country to think strategically about relations with their neighbors.
Egypt could have won the gratitude of the great majority of the Libyan people had it provided the rebels with early and decisive help — not simply the few small arms it is said to have given them. It is not too late for Egypt to act to pave the way for a close alliance.
Libya could greatly benefit from Egypt’s vast human resources, its wealth of skills, its experienced government institutions, as well as its cultural and educational establishments. Egypt, in turn, could benefit from Libya’s oil resources and from its thinly-populated land area. Together the two countries could provide a formidable anchor and powerhouse for the Arab world.
There is little doubt that Qaddafi’s rule must soon come to an end. It is important that the transition be handled without unnecessary violence, and in tune with the extraordinary awakening of the Arab peoples, which the world is witnessing from the Atlantic to the Gulf.
No regime in the Arab world will be immune from the explosion of protest and longing for freedom sweeping the entire region. To seek to repress the democratic movement by force will be as ineffective as seeking to contain a tsunami. Arab regimes which have so far escaped serious challenge should hurry to end police brutality, curb corruption and allow genuinely free elections. The use of force — and especially the killing of protesters — only adds fuel to the flames, as Syria is now discovering.
In addition to external mediation in Yemen and Libya, another urgent measure should be an attempt to negotiate an entente between Saudi Arabia and Iran. By sending troops into Bahrain, Saudi Arabia has asserted its authority in the Arabian Peninsula in defense of its national interests. If this intervention creates a moment of calm, the Bahraini ruling family should seize the opportunity to introduce real reforms.
It would be tragic if the crisis in Bahrain were interpreted as a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Nothing could be more effective in calming tensions in the Gulf region than a genuine attempt at mutual understanding between those two powers — and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a task to which religious leaders in both camps should urgently address themselves.
Enlightened action by Arab leaders could spare their countries further turmoil and loss of life. The region’s fate should not be left to external powers.
Fuente: Bitácora Almendrón. Tribuna Libre © Miguel Moliné Escalona