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Arabs divided over Libya no-fly zone, recognition of revolution council

Consensus will not be easy to reach at an Arab League meeting on Libya scheduled for Saturday

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 10 Mar 2011
Libya revolt
A rebel fighter walks with a RPG in front of a burning gas storage terminal during a battle on the road between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad (Photo: Reuters)

"There is a clear schism in the positions of Arab countries on how to deal with the current situation in Libya," said an Arab diplomat.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Online on Thursday morning the diplomat, who preferred anonymity, argued that the schism is not over "whether or not (Libyan ruler Muammar) Qaddafi should go, but rather on how to bring the bloodshed to an end".

The position of Arab capitals on Libya has varied right from the beginning of the demonstrations-turned-revolution on 15 February.

Arab-Gulf states known for their unmasked dislike of Qaddafi have been suggesting immediate and un-hesitant support to the revolution that aims to end over four decades of Libyan whimsical dictatorship.

Meanwhile, countries like Algeria and Syria – which clearly fear their turn may be coming next – have been prescribing a more cautious attitude.

Today, the split is still in place. "And the fact that, contrary to many expectations, Qaddafi has not fallen in the past few days is making more people apprehensive".

Syria said on Thursday it was against foreign intervention in Libyan affairs as Western states debated how they should respond to a popular uprising against Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Damascus has remained generally silent on the protests that have swept the Arab world this year and which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.

"Syria affirms its rejection of all forms of foreign interference in Libyan affairs, since that would be a violation of Libya's sovereignty, its independence and the unity of its land," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In a possible criticism of Gaddafi's violent response to the popular uprising, the statement also said Syria "called on the necessity to preserve the life of civilians" and to "resort to wisdom and dialogue to answer the desires of these people".

The Saturday meeting will be faced with two key questions. The first is whether or not to support a call to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, to hinder Qaddafi's brutal use of his air-force against his own people. The second is whether or not the Arab League should recognize the temporary national council formed by opposition and revolution coalition in Libya.

Yesterday, an envoy of Qaddafi was in Cairo with a message to the chairman of the currently ruling Supreme Military Council.

The Council has not issued a statement revealing the details of the Libyan request. However, an Egyptian official source told Al-Ahram Online that Qaddafi made two demands of Egypt: first is to refrain from supporting the call for the No-Fly Zone and the second is to decline any possible Arab recognition of the temporary national council of Libyan opposition.

Egyptian officials say that Cairo's concern over the imposition of the no-fly zone goes beyond the demands of Qaddafi. "How would we continue with the evacuation of the Egyptians stranded in Libya if the no-fly zone is imposed," said one official.

According to another official, "Egypt has to worry about its borders with Libya, and nobody wants to complicate the current internal situation with border issues".

The Arab League meeting on Saturday will be the second in a month on Libya. The first took place late February and decided to suspend the participation of Libyan delegation in all Arab League meeting.

It is not clear whether or not Abdel-Moneim Al-Houni, the Permanent Representative of Libya, who had already defected from the Qaddafi regime, would sit at his country's chair at the Arab League meeting hall to do what he has committed to do, to speak on behalf of the Libyan people, rather than the Libyan dictator.

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© 2010 Ahram Online.