Where is the role of the Arab states in the multinational
effort to save Libya? The Arab League promised to be “visible” in the
third north African uprising in recent weeks. But so far, in this costly operation, Arab help has been
largely symbolic. The League is a diplomatic pan-Arab body, established in 1945
to represent the twenty-two Arab speaking countries in North Africa, the Near
East and the Arab Gulf states. This organization has never been forceful and
responsive to the needs and aspirations of the 360 million people it is
supposed to serve.
The reluctance of the Arab League to be active in Libya is
due to the insecurity of the rulers to whom it is accountable. The regimes that
have not been shaken yet wish to stop the Arab awakening, and the regimes that
have already been shaken want the process of change to be slow, painless and
For several decades, the Arabs have complained about foreign
military presence in their countries. Yet now, to topple a hated and
universally rejected ruler, the League has shied away from direct Arab action
in favor of foreign intervention.
It is indeed shameful for the Arab League to fully outsource
to the outside world the thorny job of liberating an Arab country hijacked by
its dictator. The League should call upon Libya’s immediate neighbors who are
especially suited to help in ending this crisis.
The West and the Arab states should adopt a division of
labor in resolving this crisis. With overwhelming air power, the West will
hopefully manage to dismantle the military forces of Gaddafi, albeit with
difficulty to avoid the expected — and in some cases regime-coerced — civilian
To reinforce the logistics of confrontation with the
adversary and facilitate suitable nation mending, Arab boots on Arab ground are
needed. Now is the time for an Egyptian battalion to march into Libya from the
east and a Tunisian battalion to march from the west to finish the rule of this
despot. Once the Gaddafi loyalists face their Arab neighbors on the two
borders, and once they asses the full impact of overwhelming air power, they
would realize the futility of their situation and surrender. Most likely,
Gaddafi would then finally be handed over, dead or alive, to the intervening
Loyalty to the Libyan regime has been largely bought by
money and privilege. With mounting and solid international intervention, it may
not be long before we hear of a growing defection by the top elements of the
regime, even without Arab military intervention.
Currently, two factors would serve to extend the life of the
Libyan regime: Hesitation by the
international community to fully support the operation and Arab grumbling over
the proportionality of Western intervention.
In principle, preserving the unity of a failed-state is not
easy. For several weeks, the political and military control of Libya has been
divided between a partially “loyalist” Tripoli region and a
beleaguered opposition Benghazi region. The opposition is weak and lacks
leadership. The risk of turning a
revolution into a chaotic stalemate rises with time. Libya is now on the verge of civil war, partitioning, and
exposure to infiltration by undesirable foreign militias.
In these economic hard times, the Western allies also need
generous Arab contributions especially from the oil rich Gulf states in order
to finance such a costly operation.
By participating in the saving of a failed neighbor state,
Arabs would set a new model of conflict resolution, a historic model in which
the region effectively empowers failing states, selectively with external
support, but ideally without international support.
Potentially, the Arabs have all the resources they need to
solve their own problems. What is missing is setting the right order of
priorities. Sending troops to Bahrain rulers and abstaining from helping the
people of Libya is a stark example of selective and counterproductive action:
helping the ruler in one state and ignoring the vulnerable people in another.
As the people of the Arab Middle East strive for freedom,
the Arab League should begin to reflect the new aspirations of its people, and
move away from parroting the ideas of insecure rulers.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is an Arab American commentator. He is a former
Middle East representative at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.