Arab Relations

Libya Table of Contents

Qadhafi has been a leading proponent of Arab unity (qawmiya), calling for a union that would stretch from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean. He believes that the members of such a union would have complementary resources: oil and other minerals, manpower, and space for population expansion. Apparently, Qadhafi views this union as taking the form of a strong federation, similar to those of the United States and the Soviet Union, rather than as a unitary state. Qadhafi has said that "it is ironic to see that Americans and Soviets, who are not of the same origin, have come together to create united federations, while the Arabs, who are of the same race and religion, have so far failed to realize the most cherished goal of the present Arab generation." Whether each Arab country's borders are considered sacrosanct or "natural" in some historical sense, over time, particularistic nationalisms have proved too powerful to be superseded by Arab unity.

Pursuing unity on a step-by-step basis, Qadhafi has sponsored or joined ill-fated mergers with Egypt, Syria, and, most recently, Morocco. He also has called on Sudan, Algeria, and other countries to participate in unity schemes. Since 1969 there have been seven unity attempts, all except one initiated by Libya. Less than four months after Qadhafi's coup d'état, Libya joined Egypt and Sudan in signing on December 27, 1969, the Tripoli Charter, which called for the formation of a "flexible federation." On January 1, 1972, the Federation of Arab Republics, consisting of Egypt, Syria, and Libya came into existence. Yet another merger, accepted in principle in August 1972, between Egypt and Libya theoretically took effect on September 1, 1973. The union failed, however, because of disagreements over the timing and objectives of war and diplomatic alternatives to the conflict with Israel. In early 1974, a merger of Libya and Tunisia was proclaimed, only to be repudiated two days later by President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia. Looking once again toward the Mashriq, Qadhafi and President Hafiz al Assad of Syria proclaimed a unity of their two countries on September 10, 1980. In 1987, however, the unity provisions existed only on paper because neither side was willing to surrender its sovereignty.

Turning his attention to his weak neighbor to the south, Qadhafi in 1981 proposed a merger plan with Chad. Goukouni Oueddei, then in power in N'Djamena, rejected the proposal and this merger plan, like all previous plans, failed to materialize. Since then, Libya's involvement in the Chadian civil war has deepened.

Obsessed by the goal of pan-Arab unity, Qadhafi tirelessly, albeit thus far ineffectively, continued to seek partners. On August 13, 1984, a marriage of convenience between Libya and Morocco was consummated with the signing of the Oujda treaty. At the time of the treaty, Qadhafi was at odds with all the Arab states except Syria and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), so the agreement signaled an end to Libyan isolation and revived Qadhafi's ambitions of pan-Arab leadership. The treaty also restored Qadhafi's hope of extending the union to include Algeria and Tunisia as well as Syria. Such a scheme, he thought, could be the nucleus of a more complete pan-Arab union. Not surprisingly, dissolution of this union came as abruptly as its formation. The visit of Shimon Peres, Israel's prime minister, to Morocco in July 1986 provided the main reason for the estrangement.

Despite the failure of unification attempts, Qadhafi condemn Arab leaders who for various reasons opposed such schemes. Because they worked against his purported goal of achieving unity, Qadhafi's resorts to subversion, threats, and meddling in the internal affairs of others proved unsuccessful and costly. Qadhafi's methods have alienated potential cooperators, frightened possible Arab union candidates, and, in the last analysis, isolated Libya in regional affairs. With ambitions of their own, and with differing agendas and priorities, Arab governments have learned, at best, to tolerate the Libyan leader. Many resent his self-appointed role as philosopher-leader of all Arabs. Few, if any, are by temperament given to impetuousness; therefore, they oppose Qadhafi's sudden radical policy shifts. Nevertheless, the pan-Arab thesis championed by Qadhafi, that strength increases with unity, is still valid. It is also widely shared as a goal among Arabs, notwithstanding the aforementioned difficulties.

More about the Government of Libya.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress