Gaddafi’s threats had to be taken at face value

From Prof Zaki Laïdi.

Sir, The piece by Richard Haass (“Bleak history lessons for Libya’s future”, Comment, March 28) contains some inaccuracies and debatable points. He states that “what began as a limited no-fly zone is becoming something more ambitious”. This is simply not true.

From the outset United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 explicitly aimed at establishing a no-fly zone and “taking all necessary measures to protect civilians”. There are two components in the resolution. And that is why the implementation of the resolution started with French strikes near Benghazi in order to prevent a bloodbath. To the best of my knowledge nobody disputes the two-track nature of resolution 1973.

Mr Haass stresses that Muammer Gaddafi’s threats against Benghazi are overestimated because Libya is not divided by a single dominant faultline. The remark is quite strange in regard to the record of brutality shown by Col Gaddafi against his opponents. Moreover, Mr Haass, who is probably not very familiar with Libyan history, seems to underestimate the division between the east and the west.

Col Gaddafi has during the past 40 years marginalised the eastern part of his country, which has always been regarded as a threat to his power. Benghazi is the historical stronghold of opposition and there is no reason not to take his threat at face value. Ethnic cleansing is not the only motivation to slaughter opponents on a large scale. When Hafez al-Assad killed thousands of Islamists in Hama, Syria, in 1982 he was not driven by ethnic objectives; he wanted to send a clear signal to any group tempted to challenge his absolute power.

The point on which I agree concerns the future. The Libyan opposition is fragmented and there is no clear alternative to Col Gaddafi. A coalition of former old regime members, military and moderate Islamists is probably the most desirable outcome.

But there is, of course, great uncertainty in all Arab countries where upheavals are taking place. I do not underestimate the risks. But international politics does not aim at taking no risk.

Zaki Laïdi,

Research Professor,

Sciences Po, Centre d’études européennes,

Paris, France

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.