Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz said that his country “is living through an exceptional circumstance in the building phase of the country after the revolution,” describing the security situation in Libya as “not normal. There is a complete absence of the army and the police, which are responsible for the security of the state. Armed groups are not under control.”
In an interview with Al-Hayat, Abdel Aziz said Libya is ready to cooperate and investigate with Saudi Arabia the leaked recordings of [former President] Moammar Gadhafi talking with Qatari officials who spoke on the status of the kingdom, and said, “We don’t know who is responsible for these recordings. And if we receive a request from Saudi Arabia to investigate the matter, we are ready to do so.”
He commended Riyadh’s cooperation with Libya post-Gadhafi, pointing out that the recent return of the Saudi ambassador to Saudi Arabia is “not related to security.” He also acknowledged that his country has several problems besides the security situation, including “the trafficking of humans, arms [and] drugs …”
Regarding trying those symbolizing the former regime, Abdel Aziz said his country is committed to fair trials. “Regarding Ahmad Gaddaf al-Dam, we have asked Egypt for his extradition. They told us that he holds Egyptian nationality. All we know is that he’s a wanted Libyan,” he said.
Here is the text of the interview:
Al-Hayat: How do you see Saudi-Libyan relations today in light of Riyadh’s keenness to strengthen them and the appointment of a [Saudi] ambassador to Tripoli?
Abdel Aziz: With regard to Saudi-Libyan relations, I say with confidence that these relations are not historical, but rather strategic at all levels, because during the [reign] of the former regime — Gadhafi’s regime — the relations were not normal. But in the days of the monarchy, the relations between the two kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Libya were distinguished at all levels, and also in the context of political cohesion. And when Libya was hijacked for 42 years [by the Gadhafi regime], the relationship was at first normal and then became very bad. We are now with [Saudi Arabia]. This is a commitment by the two sides and a political will by both.
We have opened a new page in the relations between the two countries. At the political level, there is complete political coordination regarding issues of common interest, especially when talking about the Palestinian or Syrian or Sudanese issues and other [issues] of interest to the region that we agree on. When we chaired the council of the Arab League last year, we communicated during the regional and political meetings under the umbrella of the League and at the economic level. We made a lot of suggestions, and so did Saudi Arabia. There are some agreements between us relating to cultural, educational and economic fields, and others in the investment field are still being studied.
With regard to the field of cooperation in the fight against terrorism, this is a very important operation and goes back a long way, because my connection to Saudi Arabia started almost three decades ago, specifically when I was working under the UN framework. I worked with Saudi Arabia in 1982 and was close to the development of the kingdom’s anti-terrorism methods and this view gradually became a great example for other countries in the fight against terrorism, because most states were mainly focused on repression to fight terrorism. But the kingdom developed an approach to fight terrorism within the framework of fighting through security, ideology and psychology. It succeeded and is succeeding in this area.
We saw the many initiatives that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz provided to the UN. The latest [of those initiatives] was a multi-structure international community, including a special anti-terrorism center and other efforts related to tolerance and dialogue among civilizations.
Al-Hayat: Was there sluggishness or hesitation on Riyadh’s part to establish relations right after the fall of the Gadhafi regime?
Abdel Aziz: Quite the contrary. In the past, we made three official visits to the kingdom with the head of the Libyan National Congress Mohammed al-Maqrif. We met with members of the Saudi government and there was a positive response. The [Saudi] king said, “Libya is Saudi Arabia,” in the sense that there has not been just openness, but a full will to establish and develop relations.
Al-Hayat: About the security chaos in Libya today, how do you see its danger in light of the release of the kidnapped Jordanian ambassador and the return of the Saudi ambassador to Saudi Arabia?
Abdel Aziz: I don’t think that the return of the Saudi ambassador was mainly caused by the security aspect, because the ambassador is aware of the excellent relations with Libya and his visits are to hold consultations in the kingdom on special subjects. The security dimension has no role in that.
As you know, the transition from revolution to state-building is not an easy process at all. We live in exceptional circumstances, especially after the war to liberate the country. In the absence of the army and the police, which are the forces responsible for security in the country, it is natural that such problems happen, especially since there are armed groups that are not under the control of the state, in the sense that during the past two years thousands of Libyan prisoners, who are professional criminals, left prison and many of them wore revolutionary uniforms and became [rebels] and committed crimes.
Al-Hayat: Are these some of the revolution’s errors?
Abdel Aziz: Of course, but it is one of the things that resulted from Libya’s liberation. And we paid for it by the presence of weapons. In addition to that, extremist groups began to grow in the country. They have dangerous beliefs and they are allied with other groups, whether internal or in neighboring countries, and thus they cause a kind of violence, kidnappings and crime. State-building needs to build security institutions first and foremost because with no security there can be no investments, building a real state, nor an effective criminal justice system to protect rights and freedoms.
Who is feeding those groups?
Al-Hayat: Have you sensed who is feeding the armed groups in the country?
Abdel Aziz: Chaos is not managed by a state, and it is difficult to accuse a particular country. Usually countries have interests, and the interests of some countries is that Libya be a state of laws. Other countries have ties to parties that wish those groups to be part of the rule in Libya. We frankly have some parties that raise the party banner, not that of the nation, unfortunately. They have relations with certain states that support them. All parties must only raise the nation’s flag.
In Libya, we are a moderate and homogenous society. We have the Senussi movement as a reference, which is a movement that started as a proselytizing and moderate movement. It had influence in Africa and the Arabian Gulf, and was against colonialism and fought Italian colonialism and the British presence. It evolved until it became able to build a modern state, a constitution, a court and a parliament. But this kingdom was kidnapped 42 years ago and we entered a vacuum with no constitution during all this time. Building the state anew takes time. So, to answer the institutional dimension, we also need the human element to build our capabilities.
Al-Hayat: Do you have a time frame to restore stability in Libya?
Abdel Aziz: First, two main conditions must be achieved, namely that the political elites in Libya be in agreement and reconciled, because national reconciliation is fundamental and national dialogue is a key issue, as well as international and regional support. Without support for Libya at this particular stage, we wouldn’t be able to overcome it with ease. [It is necessary to] train the army, the police and the judges on the fundamentals of trials. Just governance needs tools, and tools don’t exist at the right level in Libya now. There must be a justice system, trained commissions of inquiry, trained lawyers and civilized prisons that respect prisoners’ rights and their freedoms. And when we get to such a level, we can say that we started the stage of nation-building.
Al-Hayat: There has been talk of Saudi Arabia training a number of Libyan soldiers.
Abdel Aziz: We have already asked the kingdom to provide training for our army and police. The kingdom has shown willingness to train a certain number of our troops, and we are ready if there’s a formal approval by the kingdom. We are ready and our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an open door.
Al-Hayat: The media are playing leaked recordings of Gadhafi speaking with Qatari officials about the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]. Do you know about these leaks? And if yes, did you conduct an investigation about them?
Abdel Aziz: I’ll be honest with you, you cannot judge a thing without patience, wisdom and research. We don’t know who is responsible for this information that was leaked. If we receive a request from the kingdom to investigate it, we are ready to cooperate. But judging something with limited information is difficult.
Al-Hayat: So, there is no internal committee to follow up on that?
Abdel Aziz: Now we have the general intelligence agency and the investigation agency. But I cannot tell you that there was an investigation into this issue or not.
Al-Hayat: In Libya, there are rumors that trying the figures of Gadhafi’s [regime] is going slowly. How do you comment on that?
Abdel Aziz: Regarding the trials, we are pleased with them. And regarding the [major figures], we have agreed with the International Criminal Court that Libya has the right to try the regime’s major figures in Libya. We are in touch with the court so that the trial proceedings are honest and fair, and that’s what we’re proceeding on. This is not a request only at the level of government or legislation, but a real popular demand.
The truth is that there is some delay in the trial because some of the elements associated with [the trial] have not been arrested. That’s causing the delay.
Ahmad Gaddaf al-Dam
Al-Hayat: What about Ahmad Gaddaf al-Dam?
Abdel Aziz: Gaddaf al-Dam is a clear case. We have already contacted the Egyptian side regarding extradition, and we gave them a special file for his extradition. That man, in a certain period, committed a problem in Egypt. He fired shots on a certain occasion, and was jailed and released. And we are still in touch with the Egyptian government on this matter. We have judicial cooperation with them and we hope that the Egyptian government understands that extraditing him is an integral part of strengthening cooperation between the two brotherly countries. We asked the Security Council, in a general capacity, that the states cooperate with us judicially and extradite Libyans who have committed crimes against us.
Al-Hayat: But Egypt considers Gaddaf al-Dam an Egyptian national.
Abdel Aziz: The Egyptian side told us that he holds Egyptian nationality. But we all know that he is Libyan and is wanted by us.
Al-Hayat: Was that during President Mohammed Morsi’s days?
Abdel Aziz: No. After he was tried.
Al-Hayat: Regarding the borders with Egypt and how to control them, what are you doing in light of the difficult circumstances?
Abdel Aziz: The situation in Libya is not normal, nor is it in Egypt. And the interest of Egypt and Libya in the border issue is a fateful issue for both countries. We are in contact not only with Egypt but with all neighboring countries. In 2012, we held a special conference on borders. [The conference] gathered ministers of defense, interior and security agencies related to the borders in Libya and its neighboring countries. That was followed by another conference in Rabat that stressed the Tripoli plan for exchanging information, and it is something fundamental. We have an administration that is ready to implement the Rabat Declaration, especially regarding the establishment of a border security center. At the same conference, Egypt offered to host the third ministerial meeting that year.
In fact, we have problems with illegal immigration and the trafficking of humans, arms and drugs. This is affecting Libya and all neighboring countries; border security cannot be done unilaterally. Otherwise, how could Libya protect its borders without the presence of human elements and technical equipment?
Al-Hayat: How do you assess the international support for Libya at this stage?
Abdel Aziz: Frankly, international support, whether from friendly or brotherly countries, is present and effective. But we have a problem in our inability to absorb this support. In the absence of institutions, it is difficult to absorb a lot of international support. There must be role coordination and distribution for the states in support of Libya, whereby some of them specialize in building the police, others the army and [others] specialize in building the institutions.
Al-Hayat: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is requesting to move to Libya because [the group] is being pressured and criminalized in Egypt. Could Libya host them?
Abdel Aziz: For us, with regard to criminalizing the Muslim Brotherhood, whether in Egypt or in the Arab Gulf States, we don’t have the thought of the Muslim Brotherhood historically. At the end of the 1980s, some [Brotherhood] elements entered Libya as teachers and workers, not [on an ideological basis]. During the monarchy and under [Gadhafi] they had no ideology, because, as we say, “whoever joins a party has betrayed.” But now, by virtue of the openness and the democratic process, there needs to be political parties. We have not gotten to the stage of maturity where we can characterize that this [person] is from the Brotherhood or Tahrir or others. And therefore, we are willing to cooperate, especially in the dimension of security and intelligence, with any country. The world is wide open now.
Just as Brotherhood figures and elements move around from Egypt to European countries, we don’t deny that there are Brotherhood elements in Libya. But we want to cooperate in the area of intelligence. And if there is this cooperation and [the Brotherhood] commits irregularities, then it is possible to cooperate with [other countries] on that.