Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa: 'The Beginning of an Epochal Development'

Amr Moussa is the secretary-general of the Arab League and is a favorite in Egypt's upcoming presidential election. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses the prospects for democracy in the Middle East, the risks of a civil war in Libya and his expectations of the West.

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AFP

Editor's note: This SPIEGEL interview was conducted before the Arab League officially requested on Saturday that the UN Security Council impose a no-fly zone on Libya.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary-General, the dictator Moammar Gadhafi is dropping bombs on his own people in Libya, and you, as head of the 22-member Arab League, are merely looking on?

Amr Moussa: That is precisely what we are not doing. For the first time in the history of our organization, we have suspended a country's membership because its leadership is abusing the country's people. In two resolutions, we have condemned Gadhafi's actions and declared our solidarity with the Libyans, whose struggle for freedom of expression and democracy we fully support. We are consulting with the United Nations and the African Union -- two alliances of which Libya is also a member -- partly to discuss imposing a no-fly zone on Gadhafi's air force.

SPIEGEL: Are you trying to influence him? When was the last time you spoke with the Libyan leader?

Moussa: The way he is now behaving means a personal telephone call makes no sense. Gadhafi lacks the insight that Tunisia's (former) President Ben Ali and (former) Egyptian President (Hosni) Mubarak showed by stepping down. Gadhafi truly believes that the unrest is controlled from abroad and that the Libyan people still adores him.

SPIEGEL: Do you think he is irrational or cold-blooded and calculating?

Moussa: I'm not prepared to discuss his psychological state. The situation is too serious for that.

SPIEGEL: Gadhafi sent an envoy to the Arab League. What did the man want?

Moussa: I didn't meet him. We have already adopted resolutions on Libya and will make the appropriate decisions at the next League meeting. Besides, Libya and Gadhafi are a matter for the United Nations Security Council…

SPIEGEL: …which would have to approve the no-fly zone to give it international legitimacy. This is a highly controversial step. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called it an act of war. The Libyan anti-aircraft positions would have to be bombed first, so that surveillance aircraft couldn't be shot down.

Moussa: I'm no military expert. How this zone is implemented, and by whom, remains to be seen. The Arab League can also play a role here, which I will advocate.

SPIEGEL: You support an international military intervention in a fellow Arab state?

Moussa: You are calling it an intervention. I'm talking about a humanitarian campaign. The goal of implementing a no-fly zone is to support the Libya people in their struggle for freedom against an increasingly inhuman regime.

SPIEGEL: Who should lead the campaign?

Moussa: That depends on the Security Council resolution. The UN, the Arab League, the African Union, the Europeans -- everyone should be involved. I just spoke with the Italian foreign minister, and his British counterpart called me the day before. We are trying to coordinate our efforts.

SPIEGEL: While you consult, Gadhafi keeps on bombing. The regime in Libya is waging a war against its citizens.

Moussa: It's a revolution, but it isn't a civil war yet. We are motivated by the desire to protect the civilian population, not by strategic interests, and not by oil. For us, it's the people that count.

SPIEGEL: Not all Libyans are calling for international support against Gadhafi. Some believe that they can topple the despot on their own. An intervention would deprive them of the pride in their revolution.

Moussa: We Egyptians, of all people, know how important it is to bring down an autocrat using only your own power. I hope the Libyans can have the same wonderful feeling. The revolutions in the Arab nations are not all proceeding according to the same pattern, but change is inevitable. And irreversible.

SPIEGEL: What has triggered the unexpected uprisings? Where are the common roots?

Moussa: People are taking to the streets because they are frustrated and because they have no prospects. Because they were being governed poorly. And because they are tired of seeing their freedom of opinion curtailed. Throughout the entire Arab world, it is an uprising propelled primarily by young people.

SPIEGEL: Do you see other autocrats being overthrown?

Moussa: Yes. This is only the beginning. I bow to the Tunisian people, whose brave revolt started it all. I am proud of my fellow Egyptians, who have already achieved so much with their courage and spirit. What happens in our country has always had a critical impact on the Arab world. The revolution in Cairo opened the door wide up for change. In other words, the Libyan regime will not be the last to fall. I see a domino effect.

SPIEGEL: Who will be next? Will it be President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria or King Khalifa in Bahrain?

Moussa: The situation in Yemen is extremely tense. But you don't seriously expect me to go through all of the countries with you and predict the next overthrow.

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