News / Africa

New Libya More Arab, Less African?

Libyan rebels patrol to try to find any of Moammar Gadhafi's relatives in Tripoli, Libya, August 24, 2011
Libyan rebels patrol to try to find any of Moammar Gadhafi's relatives in Tripoli, Libya, August 24, 2011
Joe DeCapua

The Arab League Thursday recognized Libya’s rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as the country’s legitimate government. It said it’s time Libya once again had a permanent seat on the league’s council.

Libya’s representative to the Arab League said the country would take part in a ministers meeting on Saturday.

Too much, too soon?

“I think that it’s premature. The government of Libya under Gadhafi is not completely overthrown as yet. Gadhafi is still at large. And the United Nations has not officially recognized a new government for Libya. And I think it’s premature for individual states or even groupings like the Arab League to take that step,” said Na’eem Jeenah, executive director of the Afro Middle East Center in Johannesburg.

He said the question remains as to exactly whom the Transitional National Council represents.

“It’s a council that was formed in the east in Benghazi. When it was formed and up to recently, and I would say up to now, it still represents groupings of people in the east. Even the so-called rebels in the west, like the people who rose up in Tripoli, etc., are not necessarily accountable to or within the constituency of the Transitional National Council,” said Jeenah.

So long and goodbye

The Arab League’s recognition of the TNC may simply be a signal that it’s glad to see Gadhafi go.

“I think that’s a big part of it,” he said, “Remember that they were very quick to come out against Gadhafi when the uprising began. There’s no real love lost between Gadhafi and almost all the heads of state in the Arab League.”

Jeenah said Gadhafi had two main problems with the league.

“One was his kind of policy of, as far as they were concerned anyway, turning his back on the Arab world and turning towards the rest of Africa. He was kind of regarded either as something of a traitor or as a maverick, who just looked to where his bread was buttered politically,” he said.

The other problem was the Libyan leader’s personal style.

“It’s very difficult to expect the Emir of Qatar, for example, to like you very much when in a public forum you loudly call him a fat man and things like that. Or call the king of Saudi Arabia stupid. It was that kind of interpersonal relations that he really messed up,” he said.

African Union

Gadhafi once proposed that countries on the continent form a United States of Africa. Now that his days appear to be numbered, Libya’s relationship with the AU may never be the same.

“I think that the relationship will change quite significantly. I think that the importance that Gadhafi had given to the African Union and to the African continent will be reduced. And in general there will be much more of an emphasis on being part of the Arab League and the Arab world and developing stronger relations with other Arab states and with Europe,” he said.

The AU’s response to the Libyan situation may have sealed its fate.

“With the Arab League having come out so strongly against Gadhafi in favor the rebels,” he said, “there’s been a kind of stronger relationship and camaraderie that’s developed with other Arab states. The African Union, on the other hand, as far as the rebels are concerned, were not very helpful and didn’t come out in clear support of the rebel groups as many Arab states did,” he said.

Under Gadhafi, Libya was a major financial backer of the AU. Jeenah expects that to change.

“I think it’s going to be a problem, at least financially. Libya itself had been contributing about 15 percent of the AU’s budget. And it has also been paying the dues of a number of other countries that had defaulted. Well, it won’t stop completely because I think that Libya will remain a member of the AU and will continue paying its dues. But those dues will be much smaller than 15 percent of the budget,” he said.

Jeenah thinks it will be difficult for the AU to make up for the expected shortfall.

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