The UN Resolution on Libya: A Conflicted Middle East

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The Arab world and other countries in the MENA region are deeply conflicted about the UN Security Council resolution endorsing military action to enforce a no-fly zone and prevent Libyan government forces from making further gains in rebel-held territory. While some commentators express relief that the UNSC has finally decided to take action, others expressed concerns or straight out opposition about the overall objective of the military action.

Even before the Security Council approved Resolution 1973, the daily UAE newspaper The National in its editorial urged the UNSC to take action, criticizing the U.S. government as reacting to slowly to the crisis: “‘Swift,’ is a strange way to describe the American response to the crisis so far….Col. Qaddafi is more likely to revert to form, as there is now no reason or incentive for him to keep up appearances. Confronting Libya has become more difficult, but that hasn’t made it any less necessary.”

The Lebanese Daily Star editorial expressed a similar sentiment: “Naturally, the international community can be roundly criticized for waiting this long to act, but the decision by the Security Council is a case of better late than never….What is now needed is action, to prevent Gadhafi’s genocidal policies. Delays in acting against such cases of mass violence and oppression in the recent past have resulted in humanitarian catastrophes, whether in Rwanda, Kosovo, or elsewhere.”

However, not everyone is supportive of the military action. According to news reports, the Turkish prime minister “said the world ‘must let the people of Libya shape their own future,’ and military methods aggravate the situation….Erdogan said a possible NATO intervention in Libya, a plan discussed as a substitute to the current military alliance, will be useless. However, he called for a quick stop of all the violence in the North African country.”

Erdogan’s stance also seems to be shared by his constituents. Yusuf Kanli, writing in the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News, asks, “If using the argument that civilian populations have the right to be protected, [and that] the non-interference-in-internal-affairs-principle … can be placed aside, what is the guarantee that the same pretext will not be used tomorrow for similar operations in some other countries, for example, in Turkey? Besides, what is the guarantee that the rebels to be protected by the international community of nations will be less cruel and more democratic than Gadhafi and usher Libya into a democratic-governance era?”

In India, another country that has been critical of the UNSC Resolution, The Hindu, expressed its support for the government’s position, editorializing that “the Security Council resolution has no clear political objective. Is it to protect rebels or all Libyan civilians? Remove Mr. Qadhafi in what will amount to regime change? Something else? The U.N. has not even waited to hear from its Special Envoy to Libya. External military intervention in Libya would be both wrong and disastrous. Given the murky circumstances, India has done well to express its reservations and abstain in the Security Council vote.”

Cautioning against any premature celebrations of a quick resolution of the conflict, David Brunnstrom writes on Kuwait Times, “A Western and Arab military campaign against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi could be launched within hours and cripple his forces — perhaps drive him from power — within weeks. But it is not without risks. Thursday’s UN Security Council vote backing military action in Libya offers intervening powers a very broad mandate, by authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. It is unclear how far the allies want to go, notably in view of Gaddafi’s initial response of offering a ceasefire.”

According to Gulf Today reports, after initially supporting the resolution, the African Union on Sunday “called for an ‘immediate stop’ to all attacks after the United States, France and Britain launched military action against Muammar Qadhafi’s forces….Libyan generosity and Qadhafi’s role in the creation of the AU could explain the continental cautious stand, experts said….The pan-African body has taken a firmer stance on three West African crises: most recently Ivory Coast and previously Guinea and Niger. Handouts aside, Libya has invested billions of dollars in sub-Saharan Africa. It has interests in more than two dozen African countries, while its petroleum refining and distribution unit, Oil Libya, has interests in at least as many. Libyan telecommunications unit LAP Green is present in five countries in the region and expanding rapidly.

Also, Masood Hudna reports on Al Arabiya that condemnation for the military action against Libyan government forces has also been expressed by the al-Qaeda leader in the Maghreb, Abdelmalek Droukdel, who “delivered on Saturday an online speech calling upon Libyans to fight foreign intervention in their country and to crush the ‘new crusades’…. ‘This is a new crusade against Islam, and freedom fighters have to engage in a long war against Americans and NATO until they are defeated.’ This statement was interpreted by several observers as a call for jihad and an indication that al-Qaeda militants may intervene in Libya and fight alongside the Libyans against foreign troops.”

In the UK, the leading daily The Guardian editorial opines, “The tension between the responsibility to protect civilians and helping rebels to oust a tyrant will only grow in the coming days….As the military pendulum swings back into the favour of the rebels, calculations will change. Gaddafi’s forces will be thrown back into defending Tripoli. Civilians could rise up against the tyrant and all would then be over. It would be good if that happened. But if they stand and fight, what then?”

There are some however, who are already thinking about what the next step forward should be. Calling for a greater role for Arab diplomacy in the resolution of the conflict, Tanvir Ahmad Khan, the former foreign secretary of Pakistan, writes on Gulf News, “It may still be worthwhile to explore the possibility of a complex Arab engagement, led perhaps by Egypt, with Gaddafi that combines implementation of the Security Council resolution with an Arab initiative to persuade Gaddafi to negotiate a transition to a new constitutional order…. It is crucial to prevent mindless reprisals threatened by the regime, but it is no less important to save Libya from a protracted conflict with the international community with its intended and unintended consequences. There is still an important role for Arab diplomacy.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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