This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 14/03/2011
The Arab foreign ministers have now taken another important and responsible decision regarding Libya. After suspending Libya's membership to the Arab League, the Arabs decided to call on the international Security Council to shoulder its responsibilities by immediately imposing a no-fly zone on Libyan military planes, and to establish a safe zone in areas that are facing bombardment, in order to protect the Libyan people from the regime.
This of course is an important and responsible resolution. It followed a similar move, which in turn paved the way for this decision, namely the call made by the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] last week to the international community, to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace. Therefore, today the ball is in the court of the international community, which must carry out its duty to protect the people of Libya from the tyranny that it is being subjected to at the hands of the regime.
The West and the US of course were hesitant about imposing a no-fly zone for several reasons; one of which was that there was no unified Arab position on the issue. Now the GCC, and the Arab League, have invalidated that excuse. The West has all the capacities and mechanisms to apply the no-fly zone, in order to save the Libyan people from the tyranny that is being perpetrated by Gaddafi. Perhaps some Western states, including the US, believe that the Gaddafi regime might win on the ground, and this is a natural conviction, because the regime is not hesitating to use all of its military power, let alone mercenaries. But if the Libyan regime does prevail by crushing its own people, how can there ever be cooperation with it? What about human rights? What about international laws and conventions?
Germany and France were quick to welcome the Arab League resolution, even though the Germans were asking: how can the Arab League call for a no-fly zone whilst rejecting foreign intervention? The answer is simple; the decision to impose a no-fly zone will come from the Security Council, and therefore it has international legitimacy, and is not an individual act by one state in particular. Consequently, there must be a unified European and American position, and the imposition of the no-fly zone must be carried out quickly through the Security Council. Of course, this will be a tough diplomatic battle, but the foundations are in place, and the justifications are genuine.
The priority now is to protect the Libyan people, and not to offer vague proposals, such as the Turkish initiative that was announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 'Al Arabiya' television channel. What is most important today is to protect the Libyan people. We must also realize that the Libyan regime has lost its legitimacy; therefore any initiative should not only be clear, but should also not aim to restore credibility to Gaddafi's regime.
What happened in Libya is of course different to what happened in Egypt or Tunisia, as the military institutions in those countries demonstrated a sense of responsibility. Perhaps what is happening today in Sanaa, or what is about to happen, is most similar to what is happening in Libya. There is now a genuine need for caution, so that Yemen is not dragged into a civil war. But what is urgently required today is that the Libyan people are given protection, as soon as possible.