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Press voices hope and fear over Libya

Celebrations are underway in Benghazi


Swiss newspapers cheered on Tuesday what appeared to be the imminent fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya.

At the same time they voiced concern over how the nation would move forward after four decades under the control of Moammar Gaddafi and his clan. Gaddafi’s location – as well as his intentions – remain unclear.

Rebel troops swept into Tripoli on Sunday, meeting little resistance from loyalists. Although they claimed to have captured three of Gaddafi’s sons, the appearance of Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi at a hotel early on Tuesday contradicted this account.

Uncertainty aside, the Swiss press has welcomed the pending collapse of the Gaddafi regime as good news.

“Whether Gaddafi sneaks into exile or ends up in court: the regime of the vainest of the vain Arab dictators seems to have come to an end,” wrote Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger, “After nearly 42 years of his aimless and wayward leadership, Libyans have the chance to build a society that could become a role model for the Arab world.”

The Aargauer Zeitung summarised Gaddafi’s career like this: “For 42 years, the repressive and corrupt Gaddafi clan tortured the people of Libya. For 42 years, the desert tyrant helped other dictators in the region. For 42 years, the ‘mad dog’ (Ronald Reagan’s description) put fear and loathing into the United States, western Europe and Israel through terrorist attacks.”

The Tages-Anzeiger featured a political cartoon showing former Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz in his living room. His wife, pointing to Gaddafi in the doorway, is saying, “He wants to know if he can stay here – you’re the only who ever took him seriously”. The cartoon refers to Merz’s attempt to free two Swiss hostages in August 2009.

La Liberté also referred to Switzerland’s strained relationship with Libya.

“Switzerland, its national pride humiliated by Tripoli over the business of the two hostages, is relishing the downfall of the colonel, like so many other victims all over the world. As it enjoys the spectacle, may it harbour a grateful thought for those countries which … are playing a decisive role in this useful public service,” wrote the paper, pointing out how France, Britain and the United States, among others, had committed a lot of manpower and money to the military operation over the past six months.

Rocky road

The newspapers agreed that the time ahead would not be an easy one for Libya. As the Aargauer Zeitung stated, “The rebels are politically divided and have no government experience at all. … The end of Gaddafi does not mean the start of a Western-style democracy.”

“After Gaddafi, the taste of victory for many Libyans could soon be very bitter,” warned the Corriere del Ticino, stressing that “the division of the pie” could trigger dangerous tensions and rivalries. The error that Western countries should especially avoid “has already been committed in Iraq, where the funding for the reconstruction came in dribs and drabs and in a much reduced way compared to funding to support the military offensive.”

Der Landbote was more optimistic about Libya’s future: “The future for the torn country can probably only get better. Something to hope for is peace without vengeance and a round table where those involved can collaborate on a democratic future.” It described the Libyans as a young people who “have proven that they can take responsibility”.

Tabloid newspaper Blick also referred to the struggle ahead.

“The military victory is one thing, but the construction of a free, peaceful and democratic Libya is another. Now the West – Europe – is more needed than ever. That goes for Switzerland as well. The extent of the involvement for the rebuilding of Libya will have an impact on countries like Yemen, Bahrain and especially Syria,” noted the paper.

International impact

The editorial in Le Temps also drew a parallel with Syria in relation to the events unfolding in Libya.

“(Syrian president) Bashar al-Assad is high on the list of autocrats in danger. He can no longer ignore it. The brave opponents of the Alawite regime will have their determination boosted by the fall of Gaddafi… The grip of the international community is tightening around Damascus. It will become all the tighter as the Libyan front lets up,” stated Le Temps.

Indeed, the end of Gaddafi will have an impact on everyone, in particular Europeans, as the Tribune de Genève pointed out. One reason is Libya’s oil.

“The second reason is that Libya serves as a passageway to Europe for thousands of desperately poor people from the southern part of the African continent,” it explained.

The Tages-Anzeiger focussed on the general risks of a revolution, noting that nobody could predict the outcome.

“That goes for Libya as well as Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen. What these Arab uprisings have in common is clear. Those who were oppressed for decades are prepared to pay a bloody price for freedom and self-determination. They are overthrowing the autocrats, but nobody knows what will follow next.”

Swiss-Libyan relations

The first Swiss merchants settled in Libya at the end of the 19th century.

Switzerland recognised the new state immediately after Libya’s declaration of independence in 1951.

At that time there were about a dozen Swiss nationals living in Libya. Swiss geologists, technicians and other experts also settled in Libya as the oil industry in that country developed.

From 1962 onwards, the Swiss embassy in Tunisia represented Swiss interests in Libya.

In 1965 a consulate was opened in the Libyan capital Tripoli, and an embassy was opened in 1968.

The temporary detention of Hannibal Gaddafi in Geneva in mid-July 2008 led to political tensions between Libya and Switzerland.

The Libyan authorities reacted by taking measures against Swiss nationals and companies in Libya.

On February 23, 2010, one of two Swiss citizens who had been prevetned from leaving Libya was permitted to return to Switzerland.

The other was released on June 13, 2010 after serving a four month prison sentence for visa violations, and immediately returned to Switzerland.

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(With input from Julia Slater),

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