By Arab News
The French move is a major development in the uprising, signaling victory for rebels
When Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo tomorrow, the issue on the table is a no-fly zone over Libya. If the League decides unanimously to call for one, a UN decision on the matter is highly likely. If it does not, or if the resolution is shot through with reservations about international intervention, then the success of a UN no-fly resolution afterward is far from assured.
The decision by France yesterday to recognize the Libyan opposition Transitional National Council based in Benghazi as the legitimate Libyan government may well help consolidate Arab views on the issue. France was the first country to send humanitarian assistance to the rebels; it is now the first to recognize them as the official Libyan government.
The French move is a major development in the Libyan uprising. It shows the direction the tide is moving. It will be followed by other European governments in the next few days. London will be one of them. Portugal, a member of the UN Security Council, has already made its intention clear with yesterday’s comment that Qaddafi’s regime is “finished.” Italy and Germany may take a little longer, but the doors are being slammed in Qaddafi’s face and opened wide to the opposition. Non-European governments too, not wanting to be seen on the wrong side of history, will likewise hasten to shift their recognition although Washington will probably wait a while.
Qaddafi is on the way out. He has no friends in the Arab world and precious few elsewhere, just Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Chavez in Venezuela and perhaps Cuba. They will not save him. It is only a matter of time before he falls — even though, many Libyan lives may be lost in the process. There is no way his regime will ever again be accepted as a member of the international community. As long as it exists, it will be boycotted as the world’s No. 1 pariah state.
It is what the opposition now does that counts. Its forces at the moment are disorganized, even incompetent. All they have is passion to fight Qaddafi’s planes and tanks. But being seen as the legitimate government of Libya changes the paradigm. As other countries follow the French lead, advice and equipment will flow in. Indeed, there are reports of supplies already arriving. Moreover, the change may well sap the strength of Qaddafi’s forces. Seeing the way the wind is blowing, other units of the Libyan Army may defect.
The big question now is the nature of support for the fledgling government in Benghazi — from France and from other countries that recognize it. If there is a no-fly resolution, will they stick to imposing it or go further? Will they use air power to attack Qaddafi’s ground forces if they are gaining the upper hand? And what if there is no UN resolution? Will the French and British impose one anyway?
France says a UN resolution is its present objective. But if it fails it could still legally intervene. A government it recognizes has asked it for help. Under international law, it technically has the right to provide it even though such a move could be seen to be illegitimate. But by taking the lead in recognizing the opposition, France has shown where it stands.