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Syria’s angst and Libya’s awaited Mandela

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

In the past five years Western politicians have said “If I knew then what I know now, I would have acted differently,” in an attempt to justify or deflect blame for the outcome of policies which were shown later to have done harm, such as the debate that took place over the Iraq war in 2003.

The expression occurred to me while watching the debate over the expected strike on Damascus. I found myself applying the expression to the situation in Libya following almost two years of the arrest and death of Muammar Qaddafi on October 20, 2011. I wonder if we will get to hear some Western politicians reiterating the same expression showing regret over a strike, which although they intended to be limited, turned into a war, expanding in an unexpected way. Is it possible for some Westerners—as they see the security situation in Benghazi—to express their regret over rushing to back the NATO campaign without which the Qaddafi regime would not have collapsed so quickly?

Mystery envelops the Syria strike

The situation in Syria is still unknown. Before any strike takes place it is not easy to predict what will happen or the extent and nature of responses it generates. We do not know if the rulers in Damascus, as well as their allies in Lebanon and Iran, will prove to be able to turn the table on those who launched the strike, or whether they will only defend themselves and agree to an immediate ceasefire considering it as only one more round in the conflict, the words that are well known to be used by the Defiance and Resistance Camp, which inherited what we used to hear from the Fasting and Withstanding Front, before, as for what will be the name and the slogans of the next, is a matter I leave for my grandchildren.

I wonder if we will get to hear some Western politicians reiterating the same expression showing regret over a strike, which although they intended to be limited, turned into a war.

Bakir Oweida

The mystery surrounding the outcome of a potential U.S. strike should not make us forget the tragic situation of Syrians inside and outside the country. The U.N. announced this week that the Syrian refugee crisis is the worst in modern history.

It has always been said that the price of change is high. This is true, but it should have been possible to prevent things from becoming this bad. Many parties share the responsibility for what is happening in Syria, with the massacres committed by Assad clan at the forefront, besides the atrocities committed by organizations that claim to belong to Islam. However, peoples who suffer injustice for years are fated to pay a high price when they rise from the rubble to retain their rights. Therefore, they should not be consumed by despair. Despite all tragedies, the known and unknown ones, peace will come and Syria will quickly recover once again, however long its suffering lasts.

Regarding the Libyan affair, that the country is in a sad situation is obvious to see. The series of assassinations and kidnappings continue to fan the embers of tribal conflict. What makes things worse is the state of chaos caused by the proliferation of military weapons. In addition, enacting the law of political isolation in the country produced results similar to what happened in Iraq after disbanding the army and banning the Ba’ath Party, preventing capable figures from contributing to the reconstruction of the country.

Mandela sets the example

Does this justify the application of the above expression to the Libyan situation? Definitely not! However, the Libyans need to show the highest degrees of tolerance, transcending all desires for revenge even when it comes to figures who were close to the tyrant, as long as they were not involved in bloodshed. As for their families, it is just and humane for them to live safely in their country. This requires them to use the approach of Nelson Mandela who laid the foundations of South Africa after the collapse of the apartheid regime.

I mentioned Mandela because he stands as a contemporary example, without forgetting the fact that Libya prior to Muammar Qaddafi had a rich heritage of tolerance. This should keep alive the hope that the national dialogue initiative which the Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan proposed on August 25 will lay the foundation for the future of Libya as well as its tolerant people.

On a personal level, it is not strange to recall the above expression. In fact, had I known from the very first day of Qaddafi’s coup what I knew during the first five years, I would have had a different stance, and the course would have changed, which did happen as soon as I could by moving to the UK. Yet, that did not abolish my feeling of baring a share of responsibility as a journalist. Therefore, after forty four years, I do not hesitate to apologize to the good people of Libya for participating, even if only on a journalistic coverage level, in covering Qaddafi’s dictatorship for a few years.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 6, 2013.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-Ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.