On Libya, Italian PM Silvio Berlosconi should have spoken out six months ago. Italy knows the Maghreb well enough. What is the point in saying what he said on Friday? Nonetheless, he put on record something that western statesmen know but won’t admit — “This wasn’t a popular uprising… Powerful men decided to give life to a new era by putting out Gaddafi. This wasn’t a popular uprising because Gaddafi was loved by his people, as I was able to see when I went to Libya.”
Berlosconi is a clever politician. He isn’t an ideologist by any means, who would berate the doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ as the pretext of western intervention. What prompted him was probably that the new regime in Tripoli might favour the oil companies from France and Britain (which spearhead NATO’s ‘coalition of the willing’ in Libya) in preference to Italy, which used to be Libya’s number one partner during the Gadafi era. The 19th century colonial era was replete with such rivalries among the rival European powers jostling for spoils of war in Africa. History is repeating.
But Berlosconi’s remark also implies a warning — the successor regime in Tripoli lacks popular base and will be surviving on NATO’s military backing. How stable can such a dispensation be? Things can pack up with the same way it seems to be happening in Yemen. The Libyan and Yemeni situations have similarities. Clan struggle constitutes the political narrative; oil mixes with geopolitics; geographical location is strategic; extremist elements are the best organized if the country descends into anarchy. Reports indicate that al-Qaeda elements are crossing the border into Syria and positioning themselves to take advantage of the volatility in that country.
What happens if Syria, Lebanon and Iraq morph into one theatre staging related dramas? The Libyan mayhem is already spilling over into Sinai. Egypt is losing control over Sinai Peninsula and, as an Israeli commentator wrote Sunday in great despair, the space that ’separates’ Israel from Egypt is becoming an “abandoned frontier of weapons smuggling, human trafficking, and African refugees.” Equally, Yemen borders Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite-dominated regions. It comes as no surprise that the African Union shies away from clapping its hands in ecstasy over the overthrow of Gaddafi. Should India rush in where angels fear to tread?