Libya and the West

Many in the West were outraged by the boisterous welcome that convicted terrorist Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi received when he returned to his native Libya, an event that received wide media coverage.  Megrahi is considered a hero by many Libyans who believe his conviction and imprisonment in Scotland constituted a miscarriage of justice. 

Some may be surprised that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, who heads an authoritarian regime, would risk alienating the international community  by allowing such a celebration.  During the past decade, Libya has tried to reengage with the West after many years of being a pariah state.

Tensions between Libya and the West began shortly after Qaddafi came to power in 1969 following a military coup.  Qaddafi kicked Western oil workers out of his country, and he evoked further ire when he sponsored a terrorist attack on a Pan Am passenger jet in 1986.

But in recent years Qaddafi has apoligized for the Pan Am incident and financially compensated victims’ families.  He also abandoned Libya’s nuclear weapons program and opened up his country to Western businesses. 

Although Western officials criticized the public celebration of Megrahi’s release, it is unlikely that European governments will punish Libya by imposing significant economic sanctions because they want access to Libya’s oil and other sectors of its economy.  Some observers believe that Megrahi’s release was part of a financially-motivated deal between the British government and Qaddafi’s regime, and that belief is supported by Saif al Islam el-Qaddafi, the dictator’s son, who suggested that such a deal was made.

Qaddafi is therefore free to pander to a domestic audience and other African countries that have suffered from European colonialism.  He is a self-described revolutionary socialist who has tried to use his current position as head of the African Union to promote pan-Africanism as a means of increasing Africa’s influence in international affairs vis-a-vis the West.  In this light, it is understandable why Qaddafi allowed such an ostentatious celebreation of Megrahi’s release.

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