January 9, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 640

Arab Media Reactions to Libya's Announcement of WMD Disarmament

January 9, 2004
Libya | Special Dispatch No. 640

Following his announcement that he was willing to dismantle his WMD program, Libyan President Col. Muammar Al-Qaddafi appealed to Syria, Iran, and North Korea to follow his example "to protect their nations from catastrophe." [1] The following are excerpts from articles reacting to Qaddafi's move, published by Libyan and Arab newspapers:

Libyan Press: 'The World Needs Weapons of Mass Construction'

Editorials in the Libyan newspapers enthusiastically supported Qaddafi's announcement. An editorial by the Libyan government daily Al-Jamahiriya stated: "Libya is turning the nuclear, biological, and chemical arms race upside down, and is pointing it in the other direction, of ridding itself of this horrific weapon that has become a burden to the world after it was a major stabilizing factor during the Cold War… Libya has declared war on the diplomacy of death … and set the world locomotive … on the track of war on poverty, disease and illiteracy… The world that spends some trillion dollars on producing the tools of death needs only a tiny fraction of that to produce life…" [2]

The Libyan daily Al-Shams wrote: "The advocates of peace and those who want a greener, safer, and more stable planet will welcome this courageous measure… Victories [achieved] with blood, destruction, and ashes bring only tragedies upon the peoples… The world does not need weapons of mass destruction … rather weapons of mass construction… Libya is not party to a regional or international arms race. Its concerns are the individual and human rights…" [3]

In an editorial titled "We Say It Honestly – We Have Weapons of Mass Destruction," the organ of the Libyan Revolutionary Committees Movement, the Al-Zahf Al-Akhdhar daily, stated: "The [real] WMD are the ideas and plans in the mind of every man… But there is [another] weapon of destruction that no effort has been made to eradicate, but we will try to. It is the weapon embodied by poverty, backwardness, and the legacy of the past, such as reactionaryism … nepotism, and corruption…" [4]

Gulf Press: We Doff Our Kaffiyehs to Libyan Perestroika

Outside Libya, only the press of the Persian Gulf countries was enthusiastic about Libya's about-face. The editor of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Ahmad Al-Jarallah, wrote: "Libya's political decision-making history is filled with vicissitudes… First, it imitated Nasserite Egypt… an imitation that failed in all things – in building a strong economy, in wars with Israel, and in exporting a revolution that was actually an export of anarchy… Later, the trademark of Libyan policy became extemporization … [including] unification attempts that died away, and an attempt to shape Libyan society in accordance with [Qaddafi's] Green Book … that steered [Libyan society] into a shoal … and brought it to the brink of madness… [This was] a series of experiments that turned the Libyan people into a laboratory mouse…

If after the extemporization and frenzy that characterized Libya's political decision-making process, we now face a Libyan perestroika heralding the birth of Libyan rationalism … [then] Qaddafi's decision is mature and tremendous… He is continuing [the policy] of openness and economic reform that is akin to Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, which made Russia into a superpower dominating the oil, iron, and steel markets…

"Libya, whose annual revenues reach $20 billion and whose population is small and whose territory is large … needs only a few wise programs and decisions that are accurate, not impulsive… Libya does not need ideological thought … and a Green Book, [as these] cause conceptual and spiritual confusion and malfunctions in society. Libya needs inner strength to attain important world status. Qaddafi's latest decision … is a decision adopted long ago by [the] international community… Openness, economic growth, and efforts to improve the lives of the peoples are the decisions that Libya needs – not decisions to engender utopian theories focusing on past history and imaginary glory… We d off our kaffiyehs to Qaddafi's decision…" [5]

An editorial in the Qatari daily Al-Raya said: "Libya made a courageous political decision that will put real pressure on Israel to dismantle the banned weapons in its possession… The surprising Libyan decision … came willingly, on the background of a genuine understanding and acknowledgement of the political changes in the world and on the background of the uselessness of financial outlay and effort in producing WMDs. Iraq's experience is the clearest proof that going in the path of producing WMDs leads to a labyrinth that brought shameful catastrophes to the Arab cause. The Middle East is in dire need of stability and peace, not of expending huge amounts on an arms race at the expense of growth and the basic needs of the peoples of the region … and the right way of achieving these is through dialogue and negotiation. In a world ruled by a single superpower, there is no more room for a military struggle aimed at actualizing political goals to accomplish political goals. The Arabs spent astronomical amounts of money to acquire and produce WMDs, but [this polic y ] brought them only catastrophe…" [6]

Libya's Decision May Herald a Civil Society in the Arab World

In an op-ed stated to be a personal view, the Arab League representative in London, Ali Muhsin Hamid, said that Libya'sdecision could be the precursor to fundamental change in the Arab world as a whole: "Although Libya's decision was not welcomed by the Arab street, except for reserved official congratulations … Libya's move … will help achieve many aspirations that remained [only] a dream for the Arab citizen. For example, the militarism [evident] in society and in the country for the past fifty years will decrease; spending for security purposes will be reduced and a large part of it will be directed to civilian sectors that have been pushed aside, whose backwardness is attributed to the focus on security and the military. The control of the secret services will be restrained … [as will] the ability of their members to take over the regime … by means of coups… Easing the pressure on the resources of civil society will enhance participation in constructing a political regime based on pluralism, openness, and tolerance, without fear of surveillance, or of a military coup…

"[This trend will also assist in] redirecting civilians towards productive and non-military occupations and jobs, because the dash [to enroll in] the military academies is linked, in the minds of high school graduates, to military officers' social status, and to the financial rewards provided by this officer status that enables them to enjoy privilege, ease, and affluence… Military budget cuts [in the Arab countries] will help narrow the educational gaps pointed out by the recent United Nations Development Program report… [7] It will gradually transform the Arab elites from military-security in nature to civilian and representative in nature, [and] based on political participation, equality, and responsibility before the law… Thus the [Arab] state will be built on new foundations supported by civilian institutions … and will dissipate the fears of neighboring [countries], Arab and non-Arab alike, of the extraordinary military might perceived to threaten their security..." [8]

Egyptian and Syrian Press: A Reserved Reception

The December 24, 2003 Sharm Al-Sheikh summit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak concluded with a statement welcoming the Libyan decision. However, the Syrian press was utterly silent on the decision.

In a January 3, 2004 meeting of Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar' and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Kharrazi stated that Iran and Syria would not follow in Libya's footsteps in dismantling WMDs, because they possessed no such weapons. [9] But Al-Assad said that Syria had the right to defend itself by acquiring chemical and biological deterrents, and that any deal to destroy Syria's chemical and biological capabilities would come about only if Israel agreed to abandon its undeclared nuclear arsenal. [10]

In Egypt, however, the press reflected the regime's official position, while pointing an accusing finger at Israel. The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram wrote: "Libya's move reflects the Arabs' desire to rid itself of WMDs which threaten the peoples of the region … and to dissipate the stereotypical image – which is baseless and is propagated by Zionist elements – that the Arab world is the source of the danger to world peace… Without referring to the Libyan case regarding WMDs … after it has been proven that Iraq is free of such weapons, and following Iran's announcement of its complete willingness to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and open its installations to international inspection, the most important issue at hand is to rid the entire region of WMDs … including Israel, which possesses… such weapons…" [11]

Al-Ahram editor Ibrahim Nafi' wrote: "The Libyan move is thought to be a most courageous and important step towards ridding the Middle East of WMDs… After Iran's signing of [the Additional Protocol] and after Libya's declaration, only Israel remains with its huge arsenal… Israel's continued existence as the only nuclear country in the region is a source of danger to the plan to declare the Middle East a WMD-free zone. The policy of exempting Israel in implementing international law must stop. The prevailing feeling is that Israel is above international law … [and that] it is a genuine source of danger to the security of the Middle East… The many analyses carried out about the European survey on choosing Israel as the leading source of danger to world peace estimate that the source of the Europeans' feeling is the potential danger of the arsenal of WMDs and other weapons in the hands of Israel…" [12]

Other Arab Reactions: From Qaddafi's Pragmatism To His Betrayal

The reactions of columnists across the Arab world – among them a significant number of Jordanian pan-Arab nationalists – ranged from acceptance of Qaddafi's pragmatism to accusing him of betraying the pan-Arab cause.

Former Jordanian information minister and columnist for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat wrote: "Qaddafi has shown outstanding [political] talent … in perfecting the art of political maneuvering and swimming with the current … [while] in the past he swam against the current… Organizations considered terrorist movements by the West found assistance and refuge in Qaddafi's Libya – Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades, the Shining Path, the Tupamaros, the Abu Sayyaf organization, the Japanese Red Army, the IRA, and every liberation movement in Africa, Latin America, and Asia… Tripoli hosted hundreds of conferences opposing the West and the U.S. … and the voice of the Libyan leader boomed when he called for ongoing revolution and Arab unity … and when he voiced mottos such as 'No voice is higher than the voice of battle,' 'The voice of guns should not be silenced,' and 'What is taken by force will be restored only by force'… Qaddafi continually accused the Arab leaders of betrayal, conspiracy, and collaborating with the U.S.…

"Would it [now] be right to consider Qaddafi a traitor to revolutionary ideals and Arab unity…? Absolutely not. As George Bernard Shaw said: 'Anyone who is not a revolutionary before the age of 40 is heartless, and whoever remains a revolutionary after that age is a fool.' Qaddafi is already 60 years old … and he is entitled to introspection regarding his past and to regaining his wits … before it is too late. In the era in which the Soviet Union collapsed, China abandoned Mao Ze Dong 's doctrine for the sake of [national] interests, Vietnam hid its rifles … and offered flowers to the U.S., Fidel Castro swapped his military garb for a Pierre Cardin tie and became an active sales promoter of his country to attract American investment – Qaddafi is fully entitled to some introspection and to abandon his revolutionary aspirations…" [13]

'Qaddafi Realized That the U.S. Has Unsheathed Its Sword Against Arab Dictators'

Dr. Shakir Al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian intellectual and chairman of the American Academic Association in Jordan,wrote: "Within eight months, the American 'chef' managed to serve to the Arab world two dishes from the American kitchen… The first dish is the 'dish of Saddam,' 'defender of the eastern gates of pan-Arab nationalism,' and it [consisted of] dictatorship, despotism, invading neighboring countries, acquiring WMDs, persecuting the opposition … murdering and annihilating it in mass graves … and challenging the will of the international community. The conclusion of this dish was the leader's capture in a spider hole … and his becoming an example to all the Arab leaders playing this game…

"The second dish is 'the dish of Qaddafi,' the 'loyalist of pan-Arab nationalism' – the abhorrent terrorist ruler who murdered hundreds of innocents in airplanes and clubs, and paid a high price for doing so. Qaddafi paid the price for these Don Quixote adventures – billions of dollars, not from his father's pocket but from the pocket of the Libyan people, after expropriating Libyan bank accounts for 'love of the homeland and the leader…' As a result, Uncle Sam's will was satisfied … and the regime will pass into the hands of [Qaddafi's] son, Seif Al-Islam

"President Bush is doubtless glad at the sight of the Libyan absolution … by means of which he will prove to American public opinion that the war in Iraq … is a war aimed at discovering WMDs in [the countries of] all the Arab dictators… Lo and behold! [See] the Libyan absolution, proffered by the Tripoli dictator, humiliated and trembling with fear of a fate like that of the spider-hole dweller [Saddam]… There is no doubt that the Tripoli dictator has proven that he is the shrewdest of all Arab dictators today… With his highly developed sense of smell, Qaddafi smelled … even before the American invasion of Iraq, that what is happening in the Arab world is not [just] another joke or a political maneuver… Qaddafi grasped that with 'Baghdad Spring 2003,' the U.S. had unsheathed its sword before the Arab dictators … and that the season of harvesting heads had arrived…" [14]

The Pro-Saddam Position: Qaddafi Saved Bush and Blair

The editor of the pro-Saddam London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abd Al Bari Atwan,criticized Libya's move because of its implications for the entire Arab world: "One by one, defeats are striking us… We swallow the depressing surprises, that have become routine, like deadly poison, and we clone them in a terrifying way. This 'tremendous accomplishment' of defeats, which has become a bottomless pit, and of ongoing humiliation, should be attributed to our historic leaderships, which periodically demand of us … that we swear allegiance and obedience and thank God day and night for their accomplishments.

"After the fall of Baghdad, and after the humiliating arrest of Saddam Hussein and the even more humiliating [arrest] … of Yasser Arafat … comes Libya, which is following in the footsteps of Iran, opening its nuclear installations and its arsenal of secrets regarding terrorist organizations to experts of the American secret services, with the aim of rubbing out its past support for the resistance movements… and to satisfy the White House. Qaddafi … who had constantly criticized the Arabs and their shameful concessions, claims that Libya remained alone in its struggle against the American blockade. [He claims that Libya] was punished for its [pan-Arab] nationalist stance and its fervent support for just causes in the world, and that it has no choice left but to seek its own interests and the interests of its people…

"We utterly disagree with this logic and we do not support these justifications … because they completely contradict the principles of the Libyan revolution and Arab and Islamic values. The Libyan leadership made humiliating concessions on the compensation for Lockerbie. Libyan officials admitted that the amounts were large … and that they were seeking to buy their freedom and the freedom of their country and to remove the sanctions on it. If this is the situation, why continue with the chain of concessions…? What is the purpose of this haste to improve relations with the U.S. and to pay the heavy price with Libya's dignity and its Arab and Islamic heritage?

"Most of all, we fear that America's blackmailing of Libya will continue, just as it did with Iraq and its leadership. Yesterday it was the Lockerbie compensation, and today it is the disclosure of nuclear, chemical, and biological programs of mass destruction, and tomorrow the blackmail may become a demand to establish full diplomatic relations with the Hebrew state. The Libyan leadership wants … to save its skin from the fate of President Saddam Hussein, but the comparison is out of place. The Libyan leadership can adhere to its principles … without concessions … because Libya is not a member of the axis of evil. Its chemical or biological weapons were not a threat likely to prompt an American attack similar to the invasion of Iraq, especially since the Americans are convinced regarding the deep-rooted change in Libya's policy… starting with its disavowing of its Arab identity and ending with its abandonment of the Arab League and its full cooperation with Washington against the so-called Islamic terror.

"The Libyan leadership did President Bush and Tony Blair a great service by saving them in their difficult hour [when they could not] find WMDs in Iraq. Here is Libya, which has always denied [having] programs for chemical or nuclear WMDs, telling the world that we, the Arabs, hold first place in the world [in telling] lies and misleading, and that for us, only a big-stick policy is valid…" [15]

Columnists in the Jordanian Press

Jordanian columnists were harshly critical of Qaddafi's move. Columnist for the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour Dr. Kamal Rashid said that Qaddafi's decision was unwarranted, because Libya faced no imminent threat. He also bemoaned the billions of dollars Libya had spent over the past 30 years in acquiring WMDs. [16]

'Where Are Freedom and Democracy for the Libyan People?'

Columnist 'Ureib Al-Rintawi wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: "Qaddafi received an extraordinary character reference from the Americans and the British … [even though] he has taken not a single step regarding freedom and democracy for his people… Blair and Bush know perfectly well that Libya surpassed even Iraq in the number of refugees and political exiles… The [Libyan] prisons are full of members of the Libyan opposition … [and many others] were executed on the pretext of attempts at counterrevolution against the glorious Libyan revolution.

"But the Americans and British who negotiated with their Libyan colleagues did not open this file [of Libya's past], because it is oil and commercial interests that are determining the agenda… Where are freedom and democracy for the Libyan people?" [17]

Columnists in the Palestinian Press

The Palestinian columnists were even more scathing in their views. Hassan Khadhr wrote in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam: "Qaddafi was once the knight of pan-Arab nationalism, and today he wants to quit the Arab League. Qaddafi was once the staunch defender of the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea, and now he is calling for the establishment of a binational state called 'Isratine.' Qaddafi was once hostile to the West, and now he expresses his love for the West in every possible way. The latest manifestation of this is his willingness to dismantle his WMDs that goes far beyond anything required by international standards…

"Qaddafi is not the only one … to abandon the revolution in the name of values that he was the first to violate. Qaddafi is not and will not be the first to fail at everything [yet] remain a genius in the eyes of his people. That is why the Libyans did not go out into the streets against Qaddafi, as the Georgians did against Shevardnadze. If the citizens of Libya go out to demonstrate in the streets, it will be a mass demonstration of the familiar Arab style … they will go out to re-swear their loyalty and to thank him for his new policy on dismantling WMDs, just as they thanked him in the past for constructing them…" [18]

[1] Qaddafi also denied any connection between his decision and the fall of Saddam's Hussein regime. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, December 24, 2003.

[2] Al-Jamahiriya (Libya), December 21, 2003.

[3] Al-Shams (Libya), December 21, 2003.

[4] Al-Zahf Al-Akhdhar (Libya), December 21, 2003.

[5] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 28, 2003.

[6] Al-Raya (Qatar), December 22, 2003.

[7] See: Human Development in the Arab World: A Study by the United Nations The Failure to Establish a 'Knowledge Society' in Arab Nations: Arab Human Development Report

[8] Al-Hayat (London), December 30, 2003.

[9], January 3, 2004.


[11] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 21, 2003.

[12] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 26, 2003.

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 24, 2003.

[14] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), December 28, 2003.

[15] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 22, 2003.

[16] Al-Dustour (Jordan), December 24, 2003.

[17] Al-Dustour (Jordan), December 25, 2003.

[18] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), December 23, 2003.

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