The sudden arrest of prominent Libyan exiles in Egypt and their swift extradition raises questions about the legitimacy of both the Libyan and Egyptian governments’ behavior. The revolts that swept North Africa brought down some of the most brutal and corrupt autocracies of the world. In their wake, one would expect new democratic political systems to demand higher moral standards in behavior within and between institutions, and between states.

Has this happened? Have we seen, in particular in Libya, new political behavior? Something so different from before that it would make us appreciate the enormous sacrifices made to overthrow the regime of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi?

The former regime typically used money to blackmail individuals or other governments in order to reach a desired result, and when money was not enough, it would resort to threats and violence. Qaddafi dealt with African states this way, bribing their leaders to submit to his will and ambitions. Qaddafi behaved in the same way with the European states when they crossed his path or one of his family members. Emblematic is the case of Switzerland, which threatened to arrest one of Qaddafi’s sons for a crime he allegedly committed in Geneva. Qaddafi immediately took two Swiss businessmen in Libya hostage, threatened to cut all oil exports to Switzerland, and pushed other European states to pressure the Swiss to drop criminal charges against his son. One would have thought this sort of thuggish behavior would stop with Qaddafi gone. But, has it?

There was a rude awakening a few months ago. To convince the Tunisian government to return Qaddafi-era Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi to Libya, the Libyan government officially paid the Tunisian government $150 million and it was rumored that another $150 million went to eminent political figures to expedite al-Mahmoudi’s release with no respect for legal procedures. Any hopes that the al-Mahmoudi matter was an isolated case have been dashed after what happened in recent weeks between Libya and Egypt. After the Libyan revolution members of the former regime (some high-level, most medium- and low-level) left the country fearing reprisal and revenge, and found refuge in Egypt. The Egyptian government has a long tradition of welcoming and protecting exiles from all over the world, at least officially, even though the 1993 case of Mansour al-Khikia certainly casts some doubt on Egypt’s actions. Al-Khikia was a well-known opponent of the Qaddafi regime who was kidnapped in Cairo and sent to Libya where he was killed.

For several months now, the new Libyan government asked for the return of its citizens exiled in Egypt, but Egyptian authorities refused, responding that any handover must follow legal procedures as defined by international law and treaties. In turn, Libya attempted to put pressure on Egypt by expelling thousands of Egyptian workers even though they held valid work permits. Egypt retaliated by preventing Libyan television stations from using Egyptian satellite channels to broadcast their transmissions. Relations were strained further when Libyan authorities arrested a group of Egyptian Christians accused of proselytizing.

Suddenly, on March 19, Egyptian authorities stormed the homes of high-level Qaddafi-era officials in Cairo, arrested three, and announced that more would be detained. Two of those arrested Mohamed al-Amin Maria and Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour were immediately extradited to Libya. Egyptian authorities held on to the big fish, Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam (Qaddafi’s cousin) thinking perhaps they could use him as leverage.

What prompted the Egyptians’ latest move? A sudden respect for the Libyan authorities’ request? A quick resolution of the legal hurdles inherent in such a complex case? No answer was given but strangely Libyan authorities announced the release of the Egyptian Christians in their custody soon after the high-profile arrests. Moreover, Libyan authorities announced they would soon exempt Egyptian travelers from visa requirements, and that Egypt would participate more directly in reconstruction projects in Libya. On Sunday, March 22, Egypt and Libya announced an agreement under which Egypt would refine 1 million barrels of Libyan petroleum monthly to provide for the two countries’ diesel needs.

As if this were not enough, the media leaked that Libya would deposit $2 billion in the Egyptian Central Bank. Does this show us new and more transparent, democratic, liberal behavior of the two countries? Regrettably, the answer is no. This is simply the continuation of the same behavior that the Qaddafi, Mubarak, and Ben Ali regimes adopted for years.

To add insult to injury, in the case of Libya, two other important facts confirm that the current government is not living up to high standards. Human Rights Watch released on March 20, a report highly critical of the Libyan government’s disregard for abuse against the Tawergha population. Although this should have caused a major shakeup among the government, the General National Congress (GNC), and the entire population it went almost completely ignored.

Another case that demonstrates the lack of respect for procedures and transparency is Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s mishandling of Ali Aujali’s resignation; Aujali served as the Libyan Ambassador in Washington for many years, before and after the revolution. When Zidan subsequently appointed Aujali as minister of foreign affairs for his government, he was cleared by the all-powerful Libyan Integrity Commission of any wrongdoing during his tenure in the Qaddafi regime. However, Aujali ultimately withdrew his candidacy citing personal reasons. On March 24, on the occasion of his speech to the GNC, members used the forum to attack Zidan for his ties to members of the old regime, raising the case of Aujali; Zidan responded that Aujali submitted his resignation long before but it was never accepted. Under pressure from GNC members, Zidan capitulated, conceding that if the assembly did not want Aujali, he would finally accept the ambassador’s resignation. Upon learning of this exchange, Aujali announced his resignation the same day. Here again is the current government’s disregard for procedures and institutional transparency.

All of these events signal a clear lack of respect for procedures, transparency, and democracy. The question that now emerges is where is the West? Where are the hundreds of NGOs and human rights organizations and think tanks that operate in Libya for the sake of democracy? The truth is that all of these events happened amid a deafening silence of the democrats of the world, who evidently believe that the ends justify the means.

Karim Mezran is a senior fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. 

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