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Arabs let West deal with Libya

Fearing a precedent that could tumble onto their doorsteps, revolt-stricken Arab regimes have let the West handle military operations in Libya where rebels are fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

world Updated: Apr 01, 2011 07:39 IST

Fearing a precedent that could tumble onto their doorsteps, revolt-stricken Arab regimes have let the West handle military operations in Libya where rebels are fighting to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.

After crisis talks in Cairo earlier in March, the Arab League urged the United Nations to slap a no-fly zone on Libya and said Gaddafi's regime had "lost legitimacy," in a boost for rebels fighting to unseat the strongman.

The 22-member pan-Arab organisation also agreed to make contacts with the national council set up by rebels opposed to Gaddafi and based in Libya's second city of Benghazi.

But apart from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the other Arab countries have largely stayed out of the conflict in Libya, where NATO forces on Thursday took control of military operations aimed at protecting civilians there.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said the West had intervened in Libya after the Arab League failed to live up to its duty to protect civilians.

"The suffering of civilians in Libya led the international community to intervene because of the inaction of the Arab League which was supposed to assume the role," Sheikh Hamad told the Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

In London at an international conference on the conflict in Libya, Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani said on Tuesday the crisis was an Arab affair in which the region's states should play much more of a role.

Several Arab states -- many of which are struggling with their own uprisings -- stayed away from the conference which set up a Libya Contact Group, with its first meeting to take place in Qatar.

Meanwhile, there have been no demonstrations in the Arab world to protest against the allied strikes, in a region traditionally hostile to foreign military intervention.

"It's normal, people are not against the Western intervention because for them it aims to end a dictatorship," said Emad Gad, a researcher at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

"If we take the case of Egypt, many see Gaddafi like (Hosni) Mubarak," the veteran Egyptian president who was overthrown after 18 days of nationwide anti-government protests, he said.

Gad says that Arab countries are too busy "dealing with their own problems" to take an active role in Libya.

Egypt and Tunisia, which are both going through fragile transitional periods following the ouster of their leaders, have stated their intention to stay out of the conflict in Libya.

Cairo and Tunis said that thousands of their citizens were still inside Libya and that priority had to go their security.

Antoine Basbous, the director of the Paris-based Observatoire des Pays Arabes, said both Tunis and Cairo "fear Gaddafi because of his capacity to harm and his financial power."

Others like Jordan, which fears a spillover from the anti-regime protests in neighbouring Syria, have also taken a more cautious approach.

Amman is not joining the military action in Libya but has said it was ready to provide humanitarian aid if asked.

"Gaddafi doesn't have many friends in the Arab world," said Basbous, recalling when Saudi Arabia accused the Libyan leader of once trying to assassinate Saudi King Abdullah.

And the conflict in Libya "can be seen as a precedent that can happen to any one of these (Arab) regimes, where the revolutions have not been achieved," said Basbous.

"That's why we see Syria and Algeria supporting (Gaddafi), even if not publicly," he said.

Algeria and Syria had voted against the imposition of a no-fly zone, during the crisis talks in Cairo.

"Right now, the priority for all these regimes is to manage their own crises," Basbous said.