“Libya, Italy is awake,” was the optimistic headline recently published in an Italian newspaper which is usually reliable and well informed. In reality, Italy is full of sleepwalkers.
It’s enough to read in ANSA: “274 people were brought back to Tripoli yesterday in two different operations of the Libyan coast guard (financed by us). More than 10,000 people have been deported to Libya since January and imprisoned.” And according to international agencies and the UN, human rights are not respected in the Libyan detention centers, and the people there survive despite torture and deprivation, like in concentration camps.
Every time an Italian leader meets a Libyan leader, there is an air of farce. This was the case in Rome during the meeting between Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, on his first official visit to Italy since he took office as Prime Minister, less than two months after Draghi’s mission to Tripoli. There was talk of both controlling the borders and protecting migrants—but what is the actual reality? For weeks, dozens of boats have been sailing from Zuara and no one has stopped them before they left: however, there is the Libyan Coast Guard, paid and equipped by us, a European Irini mission in front of the Libyan coast, drones, satellites, radars—in short, a series of devices that are supposed to prevent illegal departures that lead to deadly results.
Then, there is the question of the refugee camps, which have become concentration camps. The Libyans, in their boastful statements, say they want to dismantle them. But first of all, they need to change their laws. Libya does not adhere to international conventions on refugees, from the Geneva Convention to subsequent ones. In a nutshell, anyone who enters Libyan territory is considered an illegal immigrant, is deprived of rights and can be treated as one pleases, like a criminal and worse.
In the meeting, in addition to migrants, there was talk of economic revival. Here too there was an air of farce: Libya produces gas and oil and would like to sell much more. But to do so would require a functioning state, which has not been able to rebuild itself since the fall of Gaddhafi in 2011. The country is divided between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, the first under the protectorate of Erdogan, the second ruled by General Khalifa Haftar with the support of Russia, Egypt and the Emirates. Not to mention the vast area of Fezzan, where tribes are taking care of their business autonomously in the Sahel. The current government of “national unity,” as everyone knows, will be gone after the December elections, where the real big players of Libyan politics and the militias will enter the race.
We are far from stability, and the Dbeibah government that showed up in Rome is a very precarious and transitional entity. And we have to reckon with a Libya where external influences are prevalent: neither the Turkish leader Erdogan nor Putin have any intention of giving up their strategic positions. Turkey won the war against Haftar by guaranteeing Italy—the political protector of the Sarraj government it had practically installed—its current role on the scene as first partner, while Russia has entered the North African coast to expand its military presence. Therefore, Italy, unable to defend its own national and strategic interests, is left with only European and American support, but with no reason to get its hopes high, because the recent past abundantly demonstrates that Western and Italian interests don’t always converge. On Wednesday, for example, Macron’s France showed solidarity with the Draghi government, but in Libya it has systematically sabotaged Rome’s diplomatic initiatives for many years.
Let’s not forget that France’s attack on Gaddhafi in 2011, supported by the U.S. and U.K., represented Italy’s greatest defeat since World War II and the loss of €50 billion in economic agreements with the Libyan leader, who was received in Rome just six months earlier with pomp and circumstance. But for us sleepwalkers, life is nothing but a dream. Thus it was that last Monday, the officials entering the Farnesina were greeted by a banner with an arrow and the text: “The new Libya encounters Italian companies.”
It was a sign full of promises, like a street vendor’s firm, as if a new world was waiting for us from this point on, featuring the logos of Eni, Leonardo, Saipem, Fincantieri and many others. The discussions even included the construction of the “Highway of Peace” which was part of the agreements signed by Berlusconi and Gaddhafi in 2008, the one that was to replace the Via Balbia, a Mussolini project renamed in honor of Italo Balbo, shot down in 1940 by friendly fire in the sky of Tobruk.
In short, in Draghi’s Italy, nothing is ever thrown away, and even Berlusconi’s projects—who, together with Gaddhafi, wanted to dig up the old Via Balbia from under the sands of time—are recycled. Today, the sand ends up in the eyes of those who don’t want to see, like us, the sleepwalking Italians.
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