Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Money beyond might

Gamal Nkrumah examines the implications of David Cameron’s trip to Tripoli

Al-Ahram Weekly

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s surprise trip to Tripoli defying British security warnings this week is a benchmark in British policy towards Libya in particular and North Africa at large. The grand strategy and strategic assessment of Western European interests in North Africa is intriguing. The stated official policy is that the West is keenly interested in creating a military, security and effective police force in Libya. Early warning and interoperability are important considerations as far as Western powers are concerned. A failure to accurately access Libyan societal Islamic values and the complex nature of Libyan nationalism tinged with ethnicity, racial identity and tribalism, coupled with the true level of cultural differences between Libyans and their Western partners, pose problems for serious collaboration between Libya’s new rulers and Western powers, including Britain.

Whether Cameron was aware during his visit to Libya of these persistent problems and complications and whether he understands the extent of hard-core support for the former regime of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is anyone’s guess. The failure of the Libyan authorities to plan and execute efforts to maintain the process of good governance and transparency has become abundantly apparent in recent months. Yet Cameron had a specific goal in mind. He asked his Libyan hosts and was given permission to dispatch British detectives investigating the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie for the first time since the demise of the Gaddafi regime.

Cameron also dispatched British Metropolitan Police detectives investigating the murder of British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher who was gunned down outside Libya’s London embassy in 1984. This is the fourth time British detectives are dispatched to Libya to investigate the case. “In all of these cases I want to achieve justice and the full uncovering of all the facts,” Cameron told reporters in Tripoli.

However, British over-reliance on Libyan exile groups with questionable credibility and influence in Libya and London’s inability to understand the intricacies of tribal politics and the inner-workings of militant Islamists in Libya is a most serious strategic mistake. Britain, like France, has explicitly specified that fighting terrorism and militant Islam is a key objective to its presence in Libya and North Africa.

Cameron’s trip to Tripoli could compound the West’s strategic mistakes and the NATO aggression against Gaddafi’s Libya. The full chronology of what happened during the ouster of Gaddafi is unclear and unfolding. NATO demonstrated that it could easily topple the Gaddafi regime through the means of conventional warfare. However, post-conflict goals were less well defined and Cameron made no significant effort to clarify these goals.

What is clear is that Libya is extremely well positioned to become one of Europe’s most important oil and natural gas suppliers along with Algeria and Russia. NATO’s military intervention was not a “liberating” invasion. Economic motives and a hunger for Libya’s high-grade oil wealth were imperative motives. However, all this makes Libya especially vulnerable to attack from militant Islamist militias, and many such armed groups hold sway in post-Gaddafi Libya.

The assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in September 2012 when unidentified Libyan gunmen targeted the United States consulate in Benghazi is proof that mortal threats exist to the US-sponsored democratisation process in Libya, and the country’s wider relationship to Western powers. Britain itself warned its nationals this week to evacuate Benghazi, a decision that angered the Libyan authorities. London later warned that its embassy in Tripoli and consulate in Benghazi are under grave threat of terrorist attacks. British businessmen, however, are expected to ignore the warning of British diplomats and policymakers.


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