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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Asia Times Online :: Apathy in the face of cruelty

Asia Times Online :: Apathy in the face of cruelty
Since the start of the Libyan uprising, mainstream news outlets have reported that African and even Eastern European mercenaries were fighting with Muammar Gaddafi's forces. The Libyan rebels, eager to minimize any support for Gaddafi among the Libyan population, have fed Western media horror stories of mass murder carried out by black Africans.

Consequently, many immigrant workers were caught between the ire of a regime that did not care much for them and a new wave of prejudice and discrimination fueled by the media and rebel propaganda. The fact that some foreigners fought for the regime


does not tell the full story. Most African immigrants were unwilling participants in a war that no one had anticipated.

In order to understand the presence of so many Africans and non-Africans in Libya, one must understand the role played by the former dictator.

Using Libya's large oil revenues as if they constituted his personal fortune, Gaddafi engaged in meddling in the affairs of his neighbors, supporting nationalist movements, and conspiring to overthrow regimes he did not like.

He also used immigrant workers to blackmail his neighbors. In the 1980s and 1990s Gaddafi gave hundreds of thousands of Tunisian workers hours, not days, to leave the country empty-handed. The sudden "dumping" of workers without their earnings was meant to create economic and social crisis for neighboring governments.

It was his way of punishing the Tunisian authoritarians Bourguiba and Ben Ali. He used the same tactic with the Egyptians. But Gaddafi's most bizarre achievement was coaxing some European leaders to use him as a gatekeeper, in charge of preventing Africans from reaching the shores of Europe.

Speaking at a ceremony in Rome on August 31, 2010 and standing next to (then) Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Gaddafi declared:

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