Sarkozy to Ghadafi: Come to My Arms!
By Farish A. Noor
While some countries go under, others seem to be making their way back to
the international mainstream. Burma’s military junta, for instance, seems to
insist on doing everything possible to ensure that the country remains on
the global ‘pariah list’; and long after practically every other military
dictatorship on this planet has made the transition from army fatigues to
Hugo Boss suits, the generals and colonels installed in Rangoon seem
disinclined to trade in their boots and helmets for a dinner jacket instead.
Not so for the ever-so-dapper and trendy Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi who has
set new standards for menswear in political circles. The tent-dwelling
‘spiritual leader’ of Libya marked his slow rehabilitation back into
international diplomatic circles in 2002, shortly after the attacks on the
United States of America on 11 September 2001, when it became clear that
Libya could have also ended up on the Axis of Evil list. Soon after Ghadaffi
sent his representatives to negotiate with the British government, and the
entente cordial was resumed over a round of drinks at a suitably understated
Gentlemen’s club in London. Ghadaffi handed over lists of names of alleged
militants and terrorist suspects, and attempts were made to revive the
stalled negotiations over the Lockerbie plane bombing case.
This year Libya was once again in the spotlight over the case of Western
medical aid workers who had been detained on the suspicion that they had
unwittingly exposed hundreds of Libyan children to the HIV virus. On 25 July
the six Western medical workers were finally released, thanks in part to the
negotiations that were made by the French with President Sarkozy’s wife
Cicily who played a crucial role during the process. It was shortly after
that that Ghadaffi was invited to Paris by President Sarkozy, and that is
precisely what he did.
The French press has been livid and borderline hysterical since Ghadaffi’s
arrival to the city. One satirical newspaper noted that Ghadaffi extended
his visit from three to ten days – at the French taxpayer’s expense – and
was given numerous tours around the city to keep him occupied and
entertained. On one of these excursions he was taken to see the Mona Lisa.
Furthermore the colonel had also requested that he be allowed to set up his
own tent on the grounds of the hotel where he was staying- despite the fact
that tents can be desperately cold in winter.
But the highlight of the visit by the Libyan leader was his visit to the
arms manufacturers of France, where he had placed orders for a cornucopia of
Christmas goodies including Dassault Aviation’s Rafale hunter-pursuit jet
fighters. Apart from the fighter aircraft Ghadaffi has also placed orders
for thirty five army helicopters, six ships, armoured cars of various sixes
and an air defence radar system, as well as twenty-one Airbus jets. Ghadaffi
then also signed a deal for co-operation in nuclear energy research in
Libya, with the hope of building a nuclear power reactor there one day.
Needless to say, this turn-about in French-Libyan relations has been greeted
with a fair degree of surprise and concern in many quarters. Demonstrators
who showed up to protest the visit of the Libyan leader were promptly
arrested on International Human Rights day, which was a case of adding
insult to injury according to France’s Minister for Human Rights Rama Yade.
The sight of demonstrators being dispersed by Parisian police was for many
an ironic statement about the human rights standards of Libya and France as
But despite criticisms from the ranks of his own party and government,
President Sarkozy was adamant to squeeze as much as he could from the visit,
and needless to say among those who profited the most have been the arms
dealers and hi-tech corporate moghuls of France. Whether Ghadaffi will use
his new Rafale jet fighters for ‘peaceful purposes’ is as open a question as
what will be the fate of the new nuclear reactor that France proposes to
build for Ghadaffi.
But one thing is certain though: Ghadaffi’s adroit manoeuvres show that even
a robed leader in Bedouin dress can make it big in a developed Western
country provided that he has enough cash to splash around. And furthermore
it renders irrelevant the question of whether Libya ever possessed any real
arms of mass destruction: As Ghadaffi has shown, if you want weapons of mass
destruction you simply have to fly to the developed world and buy them
there, off the rack.
Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and historian based at
the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin; and one of the founders of the
http://www.othermalaysia.org research site.