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from issue no. 11 - 2008

Forty years after Gaddafi’s revolution

Tripoli lies between the West and Africa

The Libya that has come out of isolation is a country loyal to Islam and open to dialogue. And out of the new Treaty that ties it to Italy will come positive results for Africa also. An interview with Hafed Gaddur, the ambassador of the Grand Jamahiriya to Italy

Interview with Hafed Gaddur by Giovanni Cubeddu

Since 30 August 2008 an innovative and important treaty of “friendship, partnership and cooperation” links Italy and Libya. For Hafed Gaddur, the Libyan ambassador to Italy, the twenty three articles in the agreement all express hope and concreteness. 30Days went to meet him.

Ambassador Hafed Gaddur. Fifty years old, he worked in Italy as a diplomat 
with various assignments from 1985. From 2003 to 2006 he was Libyan ambassador to the Holy See. Since October 2004 he has been coordinator 
of relations between Italy and Libya at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tripoli

Ambassador Hafed Gaddur. Fifty years old, he worked in Italy as a diplomat with various assignments from 1985. From 2003 to 2006 he was Libyan ambassador to the Holy See. Since October 2004 he has been coordinator of relations between Italy and Libya at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tripoli

Your Excellency, the general principles of the Treaty state that international politics is based on respect for the governments that the people give themselves autonomously.
HAFED GADDUR: That is precisely the basis of the agreement: mutual respect. While everybody is talking of Italian investment in Libya, five billion dollars in twenty years, we are not looking at the sum, which in any case includes moral compensation to the Libyans, the search for our deportees to Italy ... [after colonization in 1911, ed.] The Treaty also deals with scholarships for young Libyans who will stay in Italy to study, cultural exchange, archaeological cooperation in a Libya full of hidden treasures. It is a true agreement between two States that must and want to co-exist, that share a geography, a history, roots, and aim at peace and stability in the Mediterranean. We have established joint initiatives to combat terrorism and illegal immigration and the development of the industrial sector in Libya, where Italy can play an important role. It is not an understanding based on what Italy will give, but on collaboration. It is expressed clearly, and signed.
How important today is Libya to Italy, and Italy to Libya?
GADDUR: Allow me two remarks. First of all, I know the Italians and Italy, which I think a wonderful country. The Italians are not colonialists, they are not fond of war and it gave me a lot of courage to confirm all that during my years spent there as a diplomat. Secondly, I saw with my own eyes that throughout the period my country was suffering from the embargo Italy always remained close to us, no matter what government there was, and starting from the First Republic.
GADDUR: Whatever it could do, a little or a lot depending on the moment, it never drew back in proposing mediation with the Americans, even when things were not going well. The friendship shown us by Italy was the guarantee that we would sign this treaty. Maybe we should have done it earlier.
The agreement is very wide ranging and doesn’t go into much detail. What are your real expectations?
GADDUR: The doors are opening in many areas, and I am really optimistic, because I know what Libya and Italy really want. We are two peoples who love concreteness. It is a treaty that reaffirms many general principles but it is in any case complete, and deals with all aspects of our relationship. It gives us a way to work together a great deal.
Tripoli has significant weight in inter-Arab relations and has established itself as the privileged interlocutor of many African leaderships.
GADDUR: If Libya today is an important country it owes it to our leader, whom I don’t need to laud because you all know him well. Compared to countries larger than us, with more oil or better strategic position, we boast the advantage of a leader called Gaddafi, who understood, already decades ago, the need for an African policy. If major powers are courting Africa today, to exploit it, and hurry to get there first, Gaddafi has always affirmed the need for a continent so rich in strategic resources to be self-governing through a strong African Union. What he has tried to achieve and continues to promote with the Arab world, namely unity, he persists in today with the privileged dialogue with Africa.
Colonel Gaddafi... Since 1969 Libya has had political stability. What areas has its government opened and granted for penetration by friendly countries, and what, conversely, does it expect?
GADDUR: Let me explain why your remark is right. Let’s keep to the example of Africa. The Italians in my view have no hidden agenda, unlike others they don’t drag along with every investment a specific political strategy or a military presence. Italy is considered a sincere country, hard-working, above all well-thought of throughout Africa. If it has long-sighted political leaders, then this is a good opportunity for increasing – along with Libya which will give its full cooperation – its presence in Africa.
According to what parameters?
GADDUR: Working together, investing together, even making money together, but without exploiting the people and plundering resources, like the multinationals or those countries that come only to take without giving anything back. Africans risk their lives to get away and seek a better life, when instead we could help them to make the most of their resources enabling them to stay at home. Italy can do this. We Libyans trust you and we are willing.
Conversely, in line with what program is Libya asking Italian help vis-à-vis Europe and the international community?
GADDUR: In improving the functioning of the United Nations Security Council, promoting disarmament, non-proliferation starting from the Mediterranean ... But above all we would like Italian policy to give more time to Africa, because concreteness needs time. Human rights must be protected in Africa, conflicts in the Great Lakes region, Somalia and Western Sahara resolved. Italy is well-thought of, Libya too, and considerably, in Africa. Why not try together?
Gaddafi in Tripoli on 7 October 2008 with Giulio Andreotti. To the right of the Libyan leader, Ambassador Gaddur

Gaddafi in Tripoli on 7 October 2008 with Giulio Andreotti. To the right of the Libyan leader, Ambassador Gaddur

You were also ambassador to the Holy See...
GADDUR: Although full diplomatic relations between us go back to 1998, the relation is older and stronger, we worked together, in Africa and elsewhere. The Libyans well remember when John Paul II in Djerba, Tunisia, asked publicly for the lifting of the embargo, and it was a difficult moment for us. Discussion with the Church is also continuous through our organization Dawa al Islamiya [“Appeal to Islam”, ed.], which each year holds a meeting with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. We are in favor of inter-religious dialogue and dialogue between civilizations. Because even before the appointment of the first apostolic nuncio to Tripoli, the Church existed in Libya and Christians were and are free to pray, just like the faithful of other religions.
In Africa, Libya is constantly promoting Islam...
GADDUR: That’s true, and it’s important for us. It should also be recalled that the first dialogue between Muslims and Christians was promoted and achieved in Libya, with the great Conference of 1976, that is a few years after the Revolution. For us Libyans it is worth talking with the real religions. And real Muslims respect Jesus Christ.
How is Libya today, seen from the inside?
GADDUR: We are a country that has remained simple, with a system based on the consensus of the people.
Forty years after the revolution Gaddafi still appears young. How much has the country changed?
GADDUR: Before we were a part of the Ottoman Empire, then we were an Italian colony, after that an English administration and finally we went through the small parenthesis of the monarchical regime, under which we were not really independent however. Today instead Libya is proud of its recent past. It feels more confident of itself in the world, on a par with others. Forty years have meant agricultural and industrial development, the elimination of illiteracy, and especially the affirmation of our leader never separated from the growth of the country. We do not rely only on oil, we know we must invest in training and technology for our future, and economic analysis tells us that Italy is important for us, because it is a peaceful, safe place for new investment. The Treaty goes exactly in this direction.
Most of the Libyan population lives in the major urban centers. Do the young people keep up the traditions of their fathers, including religious ones, daily prayers and those of Fridays?
GADDUR: Secularization is not strong. Indeed I see that my fellow citizens go to the mosque more than before, including young people. What is necessary is that the true Islamic faith lives, not the fundamentalist sects. That there be more Koran and not the interpretations of certain individuals ... No, Libya is keeping faithful, our leader is attached to it and speaks of it a lot, he wants the people to remain in religion, and even in his journeys abroad he launches that message. He doesn’t miss an occasion to call for the protection of the Islamic faith for what it is. The world may well be global, but the Libyans are keeping their faith, more than ever. The Libyan revolution remains young also in that.
11 September 2001 in Libya: Bin Laden was already for years on the wanted list with an arrest warrant hanging over his head requested by Gaddafi, who had understood just how dangerous he was. That should be remembered as one of your leader’s merits. Is there any danger of Al-Qaida in Libya today?
GADDUR: These organizations that hide under the name of Islam and reveal themselves as terrorist groups already tried to strike us in the ’eighties and ’nineties, to destabilize us. The Libyans number only five million, we are simple people, everyone in the communities knows everybody else well, it wasn’t difficult to quickly identify and isolate those groups. The international arrest warrant that we requested for Bin Laden, through Interpol, dates back to 1998, when he was a good friend of the West. The political stability of my country, the very nature of the Libyans – who are not used to religious or ideological extremism and do not accept attacks on the tranquility of their lives – have helped us to circumscribe and defeat these groups.
And the future?
GADDUR: Who knows, they might return, but they would find themselves faced with our decision against them, taken and kept at the level of the basic people’s congresses, which are the real power in Libya. In the people’s grassroots congresses all Libyans have the right to express their beliefs and their opinions, that is the place par excellence in our system for politics, every one faces everybody else, subject to the law. Outside of that there is no space for any form of religious or ideological extremism. And we shall never concede it.
Let us come to the one-time enemy: the United States. The US bombing of Tripoli in 1986 cost the life of an adopted daughter of Gaddafi who, alerted by Italy, was himself unhurt. Today you are living a new phase with them. That past seems prehistoric.
GADDUR: Our leader, let me say again, has made us Libyans a proud people. We have been friends of the countries that have respected us, and we had difficulty with those who wanted us submissive, silent, not sharing in international life. The United States were our enemies, they bombed us, accusing us of terrorism. We therefore always fought them until they became convinced of the fact that Libya could have a role and that we needed to talk. Since then, we have always been willing. And with words and willingness we have normalized our relations. And resolved, to date, all our problems.
What does all that mean?
GADDUR: That America is an independent and sovereign country, and Libya is an independent and sovereign country. We repay respect with respect, we never accept submission. We are a small country, not like the United States, we accept living even in difficult conditions, but not submissively. There lies our dignity. And Italy has made things easier, has made it clear to the Americans, as well as to other ill-disposed countries, what Libya is and what its people think.
The first annual meeting of African tribal leaders with Gaddafi in Benghazi on 28 August 2008 [© Afp/Grazia Neri]

The first annual meeting of African tribal leaders with Gaddafi in Benghazi on 28 August 2008 [© Afp/Grazia Neri]

Have you perceived any comment or pressure from the US on your recent initiatives in foreign policy, including the strategic agreement with Italy?
GADDUR: No. They have reacted positively to the Treaty. From the start of the revolution up to the ’eighties perhaps neither side, the US and the Grand Jamahiriya, had devoted enough time to understanding the other. Today, instead, the Americans know what Libya is and they see in Italy an ally: so the agreement causes no concern in Washington.
Can you tell us an anecdote or a comment from your leader?
GADDUR: The agreement with Italy was certainly not my individual initiative, obviously. And our leader was present at all phases... even when he was absent. I say this frankly, we negotiated on the Libyan side with that awareness. At some point we went back to Gaddafi with the latest draft, and he, after reading a certain article, asked us the reason for the draft. “You have to change it in this way”, he said dictating the correction. And he continued by explaining that “if the Italians don’t accept it then it means they’re in bad faith”, with all the resulting consequences. We returned to Rome with our leader’s notes and the Italians accepted them without objection, with great satisfaction. We often negotiated late into the night, the talks were attended by top politicians. And there is a sense in all this.
Which is?
GADDUR: The agreement is a giant leap forward. By working together we shall see the benefits. But one can’t ask Libya to wait maybe a year for ratification. We have signed an agreement for the good of our two countries. Time will confirm that it was a gesture of reconciliation, courage, great civilization.
So we may expect your leader Gaddafi in Rome.
GADDUR: Certainly after the signing and ratification there will be no reason to prevent him coming to Italy.

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