Arab League pressed to condemn Qadhafi

The entrance to the Arab League headquarters in Cairo's Tahrir Square is normally through a grand set of wrought-iron gates, which open onto a courtyard with fountains. But after a crowd of rowdy protesters blocked off the main door, reporters and delegates alike had to make to do with the back way instead — squeezing past the staff toilets and edging round a rusting portable building. Following two months of uprisings that have shifted the fulcrum of power in the Arab world away from the region's ageing political elites and into the street, this new method of entry seemed not entirely inappropriate.

“25 January marked the beginning of the age of democracy and transparency, the age of Arabs withdrawing their consent to be humiliated and patronised, the age when we decided to create a future for ourselves,” said Hakim Abdel Ali, a 32-year-old Libyan living in Egypt, and one of those demonstrating outside the building. He was referring to the date on which Egypt's 18-day revolution erupted, toppling the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak and sending shockwaves across the region. “The men in there have to decide whose side they are on, this is their final chance,” added Ali. “Either they speak out now and order Qadhafi to fall, or they make themselves an irrelevancy forever.” In the street the demands of protesters were clear: the Arab League must unequivocally call on Qadhafi to stand down, or face expulsion. “They sit passively while Libya is burning, and they call themselves Arabs,” said Bassem Tarek, a 20-year-old Egyptian involved who wanted to express solidarity with Libya's anti-regime uprising. “Many think that Moussa [the secretary general] is just a client of dictators, a spewer of lies,” added Abdel Rahman Ashraf, 19. “If he wants to prove us wrong then he has to come and talk to us here.” If the age of democracy and transparency has begun, the news appears yet to have reached the Arab League's largely greying coterie of permanent diplomats, who gathered for an emergency summit on the dramatic events unfolding across the border in Libya. Secretary General Amr Moussa made a short-lived effort to step outside and speak with protesters, but his words were quickly drowned out by chants of “Qadhafi is a butcher” and he was whisked away.

Inside the graceful if rather dilapidated marble corridors of the headquarters, it was business as usual — with delegates tight-lipped, security guards ubiquitous, and journalists shut out of all deliberations. The press pack was allowed only one brief glimpse into the main hall, just as delegates were standing for a moment of silence to honour those killed in Libya — which the Iraqi representative described as “terrible bloodshed” and “unprecedented circumstances”.

When the Arab League did make a decision, it was to suspend Libya from the organisation — but whether that will be enough to placate the youth on the streets remains unclear.

Inside, the round table at the centre of the room was packed but for one conspicuously empty chair: that of Major Abdel-Moneim Al-Huni, the Libyan representative who has resigned his post in protest at Qadhafi's violence.

“The regime has failed miserably, and Qadhafi must leave,” said Al-Huni in a statement issued earlier. “The people have stated their final verdict which cannot be retracted; it is no longer acceptable for Qadhafi to continue another moment in power.” He went on to confirm he was stepping down from his role at the Arab League: “I declare to the international community, Arab world and every Libyan man and woman that I have resigned my post because it is dishonourable to serve a regime which kills its people and annihilates them in this inhumane manner.” Speaking just before the meeting, Amr Moussa — who is believed to be keen on challenging for the Egyptian presidency in upcoming elections — described the demands of Arab populations for development and political reform as legitimate and acknowledged this was a “pivotal stage of Arab history.”

However, he offered no response to accusations that the 22-state Arab League is little more than a talking-shop, and went on to warn against those trying to “stir up sedition between sister states”. “They will now sit and talk for hours, because they have nothing else to do,” remarked one journalist with a long history of covering the institution. “These are crumbling old men completely out of touch with reality. I wish they would go to their graves instead of the brave people of Libya.” Around them demonstrators waved Egyptian, Tunisian and pre-Qadhafi tricolour Libyan flags, and sang “Egypt and Libya, on one hand”, and “Into Libya we march, martyrs in our millions”. The contrast in energy on each side of the gates was clear; whether Moussa and the Arab League can win round those Arabs disillusioned by the old political status quo and establish a new voice for itself remains to be seen.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 5:18:16 AM |

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