Sunday, May 26, 2019
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Home » Libya » Joint Communique on Libya



People love conspiracies.  They are more fun than reality.  They spread like viruses because they feed popular perceptions.  For example: President Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii; the mafia killed JFK; ostriches bury their heads in the sand when they see danger; Ambassadors eat Ferrero Rocher.  All widely believed; none true.

My experience of dealing with Libya is that conspiracy theories thrive.  But let’s compare some of them with reality.

First: Britain and France launched an attack on Libya in 2011 to overthrow Qadhafi.  Reality: the UN Security Council responded to a request from the Arab League and the GCC to protect civilians, in the first instance to prevent a massacre in Benghazi.  Many NATO and Arab countries were involved in the air campaign.  The fighting on the ground was led by Libyans.

Next: “The West” abandoned Libya after the revolution.  Indeed, there were no “boots on the ground” because that’s what the Libyan people wanted.  The National Transitional Council assured us that they could manage the transition to a new system of governance. Many countries offered to help: the UK and other countries trained police and soldiers and offered technical assistance. Maybe we could have done more, but outsiders could not have prevented the chaos that emerged.

A common one: Britain supports the Muslim Brotherhood.  The fact is that we don’t back any party, group or individual;  we support the Libyan people and do not take sides.  We are happy to work with anyone who engages in a peaceful democratic process and rejects violence.  Talking to people doesn’t mean we back them.

Similarly: the UK is behind ISIL.  This one is plain silly.  Why we would want to back a group of criminals, murderers and terrorists?  They were behind the slaughter of 30 British citizens in Sousse; they beheaded British hostages in Syria and Iraq. Nothing they do is remotely consistent with British interests or values.

Another popular one: Britain wants to divide Libya: Cyrenaica would go to UK, Tripolitania to Italy and Fezzan to France.  Divide and Rule might well have been an imperial strategy many years ago. The days when Sykes and Picot could draw lines in the sand have gone (thankfully).  Carving up territory against the will of the local people is not what we do.

Next: the West just wants to exploit Libya’s oil.  There is no doubt that Europe and other countries need oil.  But we can’t just come and take it; it has to be purchased at market prices. The fact that the price is low shows that there are plenty of other sources of supply.

An important misperception is: Libya is a rich country.  Maybe it was when oil production was over 1.5 million barrels and day and the world market price was over $100 per barrel.  Libya is now spending more than it earns and is drawing down its reserves.  Dependence on imported goods is high, but the means to pay for them is being eroded.  The black market is thriving and the currency is vulnerable. A political solution is vital to rescue the economy.

Finally: the UK is happy with the status quo.  That’s not my marching orders from London.  The UK’s interests in Libya are clear: we want a stable and secure country in which the Libyan people can have a dignified life and earn their keep.  We want an effective and capable government that can unify the country and work with us on terrorism and migration issues.  We are ready to support that government with a programme of assistance co-ordinated with other major donors in the EU and UN.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists won’t believe any of this.  The sceptics will remain sceptical and the trolls will remain hostile.  Conspiracies will continue to be popular for as long as the chaos in Libya continues.  Ending that chaos is now urgent.

Peter Millett

UK Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli


Categories: Libya, News, Press

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