Libya conflict a chance for Canada to restore moral standing, UBC professor believes

Photograph of Libyan Saharan

UBC adjunct professor Hani Faris comments on Libyan conflict and Canada's possible relation to it.

Is Libya in, or headed toward, a civil war?

Hani Faris: Civil wars usually are defined by conflict between two or more factions of the population. In the case of Libya, gradually, it’s turning into a war between a society and regime, rather than faction versus faction. It’s inaccurate to call it a civil war. In [Libya's] case, it’s a war between a regime and its populace.

After 41 years of tyrannical rule, it’s only natural that the support base becomes hollow. It’s very difficult to deal with a personality like that of Gaddafi. He shifts from one grandiose scheme to the other very quickly, and in the process, wastes a great deal of resources of the country. 

There's been a lot of discussion about an intervention by foreign powers. Is this about civil rights in Libya or oil?

Faris: Europe and the U.S. are not going to go into Libya out of love for the human rights of Libyans. It's for geostrategic interest.

Libya has the largest oil reserves in all of Africa. It produces approximately 1.8 million barrels (of oil) a day, and exports 1.5 million barrels.

Italy, for example, depends on Libya for one-quarter of their oil needs. Some 500,000 barrels are exported to Italy every single day. How is it going to be able to compensate for that? 

Libyan oil is one of the highest quality oil in the world...a light, sweet crude which has no equal. The only countries in the world which produce this limited kind of oil are Algeria and Nigeria, and of them, their production is fully committed, so they can't substitute for Libya. There are many refineries in Western Europe which depend on Libya to deliver the goods. This is why Europe is very wary of what's happening in Libya. 

How does Libya perceive foreign intervention?

Libya has had one of the worst experiences with the Western world and colonialism...There is very deep resentment of what the Western states have done to Libya. This is why generally, almost every single Libyan, whether pro-Gaddafi or anti-Gadaffi, rejects military interference.

The UN Security Council is talking of a no-fly zone in Libya. Will a no-fly zone be effective in stopping the conflict? 

A no-fly zone in and of itself will not decide the fate of the Libyan situation. Most military analysts seem to agree that even an implementation of a no-fly zone will not decide the outcome. It will be decided on the ground by tanks and artillery.

The reason is that Libya is a huge country. The terrain is primarily desert and semi desert and the population is very sparse, about 6.5 million. And what you have here is groups that advance and retreat, and it’s these engagements that will decide the fate of the revolt, plus what happens in major cities that have declared their independence from the regime, like Zawiya, like Misratah, Benghazi.

ls there a chance that this war will involve other countries?

Say a Western-led force, primarily American, implements a no-fly zone based on a UN resolution.  This is far from likely, given opposition from the Russians and Chinese, but if they are able to work with these two powers and pass a resolution, it's mostly the US that will have to implement it, with some token support from the UK and France. In this case, if the battles begin to lead to massacres, and the no fly zone is not going to stop them. Which means, they will have to put boots on the ground, which means they have to be engaged in war.

Can Canada play a role in Libya?

I think our government and the Conservative party have rendered Canada ineffective in the Middle Eastern region. Through their policies, Canada has lost credibility. There aren’t many in the Middle East who take Canada’s positions seriously anymore. Canada has become a blind supporter of Israeli policies and has lost a lot of the goodwill that it had in the region for a long time. The role of Canada has always been in the moral sphere and not in the material sphere or military presence, but that moral sphere has been wasted.

I don’t think Canada matters anymore (on Libya), and whatever role it plays will be secondary, so nobody will target Canada. But I would like to see Canada take leadership and resolve the conflict, through international organizations or through diplomacy. That’s a role that Canada can play, but the present government does not seem to view it that way.

How will the conflict impact Vancouverites?

We’re affected indirectly by the conflict. Oil prices are at a high price, over $100 a barrel. Our imports and exports of oil have not been affected, so why is oil above $100? Oil is an international market...If oil seems to become scarce in regions of the world, prices reflect it. We’re seeing a rise in the prices of oil, and that is bound to hit the consumer in the pocket. 

What is the the best way for international powers to proceed on Libya?

Given the sensitivity to American and Western intervention, there are some prominent Arab diplomats who have said, if a no-fly zone is necessary, let us try to assemble a force from countries like Turkey, South Africa. These are accepted generally by Middle Eastern countries and the opposition would be different. However, when you get NATO [involved], you are bound to have a popular reaction.

There are continuous summit meanings at the military and foreign affairs state level within the EU. They have to be very careful in addressing an issue like Libya. They should consider working through international organizations such as the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, the Red Cross and the Arab Red Crescent. They should involve third world countries or Islamic countries that have good relations with the region, like Turkey, like South Africa. If they do that, we’ll pass this crisis and we’ll resolve it in time in a manner that will be beneficial to the Libyan population. 

More in Canada

The joy of giving

Science is now providing the evidence for what we have long held to be true: that it is better to give than to receive.

Amazing photos of September in Vancouver

Take a look back at September captured through the lenses of our VO Flickr Pool contributors.

A young Iranian helps Syrian refugees adjust to Canada

A young Iranian, himself, new to Canada reaches out to help Syrian refugees settle here. But with the war in Syria, tensions between Iranians and Syrians are rising. How will he succeed?
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.