The AU and the Arab League on the Airstrikes in Libya

Offered without much comment, as I’m still thinking through my opinion on the intervention in Libya.

The African Union:

The African Union’s panel on Libya Sunday called for an “immediate stop” to all attacks after the United States, France and Britain launched military action against Moamer Kadhafi’s forces.

After a more than four-hour meeting in the Mauritanian capital, the body also asked Libyan authorities to ensure “humanitarian aid to those in need,” as well as the “protection of foreigners, including African expatriates living in Libya.”

It underscored the need for “necessary political reforms to eliminate the causes of the present crisis” but at the same time called for “restraint” from the international community to avoid “serious humanitarian consequences.”

The Arab League:

The Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, deplored the broad scope of the U.S.-European bombing campaign in Libya and said Sunday that he would call a league meeting to reconsider Arab approval of the Western military intervention.

Moussa said the Arab League’s approval of a no-fly zone on March 12 was based on a desire to prevent Moammar Gaddafi’s air force from attacking civilians and was not designed to endorse the intense bombing and missile attacks — including on Tripoli, the capital, and on Libyan ground forces — whose images have filled Arab television screens for two days.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone,” he said in a statement carried by the Middle East News Agency. “And what we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.”

Cynics have explained the AU’s statement as motivated by its financial dependence on Qaddhafi, and (other) cynics have explained the Arab League’s view as dictated by a desire to play both sides of the field (ie, to lend token support to an effort that might oust Qaddhafi while at the same time deflecting potential popular anger). With the AU, its position seems consistent to me with its other stances against Western intervention in Africa. In neither case can the positions be reduced to one factor, though.

What do you think? Are these organizations operating cynically?

11 thoughts on “The AU and the Arab League on the Airstrikes in Libya

  1. I suspect that the AU and Arab League will always — in their current configurations — need pretty compelling reasons to do anything other than speak up for the “sovereignty” of member nations, don’t you? Protecting the sovereignty of member nations is hardwired into the organizational DNA. Whether it’s anything more than talk, though, is another question; everyone seems to think that Arab league support was crucial for getting the NFZ through the security council, and that would have been the time for them to do anything, if they were going to.

    • Makes sense. I think the Arab League’s support was crucial for the NFZ, but I also think Moussa’s statement was a blow to the political credibility of the operation. As for the AU, maybe their dissent won’t carry much weight, but had the AU gone along with the NFZ Qaddhafi would have been pretty seriously isolated.

  2. That’s what I mean; it feels like both of them took the path of least resistance. The Arab league gets to have been for it before they were against it, and the AU neither abandons Gaddafi nor really comes out for him either (as always, the language of “restraint” does wonders to preclude taking a stand).

  3. Depends on the composition of the Au panel, too, doesn’t it? Gen. Abdelaziz of Mauritania was strongly backed by Qaddafi when he had trouble establishing control after his coup. So that’s at least one out of five who will most likely have pushed for a pro-Qaddafi line. The others:

    * South Africa: Historically the ANC have been pretty tight with Qaddafi, but RSA voted for the intervention resolution in the UNSC, so perhaps not this time.
    * R Congo: ?
    * Mali: ?
    * Uganda: ?

    • Alle,

      Mali, Congo have all benefited from Kadafi’s largesse. So they are not different from Ould Abdel Aziz who was saved by Kadafi when he had hard time after his putsh. Don’t expect better from the guy from Gabon. For Uganda and South Africa, no idea.

  4. I find it rather hard to believe that either group didn’t realize this would happen and if they didn’t then they’re clearly not credible representatives of their organizations.

    • Well said Gyre. Both the AU and the Arab League are difficult to assess on anything besides talks or saving crooked regimes. Have you heard them saying anything on AQIM? Nope.

      • I don’t see how AQIM fits into this equation, I had thought they didn’t like Qaddafi anymore.


  6. I think it’s important to consider that the Arab League endorse the NFZ idea with only 11 members in attendance and at least 2 abstaining from the final vote. Note also that Algeria has been increasingly vocal in its criticism and opposition to the NFZ, which predated the Arab League resolution and was expressed during the deliberations (and in its abstention). I think these problem in its response are an important factor in is “reconsideration” of its earlier stance. I agree with Tidinit and Alle re: the AU. I think the response is consistent with its attitude on other interventions, as you note Alex, and I think that Qadhafi’s money and patronage are a major factor. Plus like Alle notes, Mauritania’s Aziz has been a major recipient of Libyan money and while there are some signs he’s losing confidence in Qadhafi’s reliability and viability they remain pretty close. On South Africa I’d just second Alle’s comment; and just say that I think some of the western analysis/coverage has really downplayed Qadhafi’s role in Africa and hasn’t appreciated the range of his influence (and I’m not trying to overstate his pull or influence here).

    • Nice points. I will have to look closer at Algeria’s stance.

      Zooming out a little, the Economist has an interesting map of where various countries stand on the NFZ.

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