The Politics of Al-Megrahi’s Release

The public outrage at the release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, who was convicted for the bombing of the Pan Am Flight in 1988 has also led to widespread condemnation of the Libyan regime over it’s handling of the release of Al-Megrahi. The US has criticised the Scottish government for releasing a terrorist on compassionate grounds when he should have served his full term for the murder of 243 passengers. 

Whist criticism of Libya has been fierce from the US, the European response has been mixed and centred around condemnation of the celebrity welcome Al-Megrahi received as he landed in Libya. In the United Kingdom, rumours are rampant that Secretary Peter Mandelson negotiated al-Megrahi’s release in return for lucrative energy deals for British Petroleum in Libya.

There are however strategic reasons behind the UK and Europe’s acceptance of Libya. President Hans-Rudolf Merz’s of Switzerland offered an apology to Libya on the same day as al-Megrahi’s release. Merz travelled to Tripoli to apologize in person for the arrest in July 2008 of Hannibal Gadhafi, the son of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi and his pregnant wife by Geneva police, who claimed that the two were abusing their servants in a Geneva luxury hotel. The incident last year led the Libyan leader to cut off oil exports to Switzerland.

UK exports to Libya have risen to £280 million since Gaddafi was welcomed back into the international fold after years of sanctions. As UK foreign secretary David Miliband feebly denied the charge that Megrahi’s release was linked to commerce with Libya, Jack Straw, the justice secretary, rushed through the ratification of the treaty that allowed the release of al-Megrahi, warning that a delay would damage relations with Libya.

Libya has Africa’s largest oil reserves and at the heart of this incident is the simple fact that Europe’s efforts to diversify away from Russian energy are leading the continent right into the outstretched arms of corrupt rulers like Gaddafi. Since the Ukrainian gas crises, Europe has attempted to diversify its energy sources away from Moscow, which has used its natural gas exports to achieve geopolitical goals.

It was during Tony Blair’s tenure that Europe led by Blair worked diligently to rescue Gaddafi’s government from the clutches of American neo-conservatives who after 9/11 wanted regime change in Libya. The only alternatives to Russian energy for Europe is the Middle East and North Africa and with the Persian Gulf firmly under US patronage countries such as Libya will find itself receiving much appeasement from Europe.

Despite talk of promoting ‘human rights’ the UK and European governments only really care about securing economic and strategic interests. Hence, they are happy to do business with the most brutal government’s who oppress their own people whether that is Gaddafi, the Saudi royal family, Mubarak or Karimov in Uzbekistan. When it comes to the Foreign Policy of Capitalist states, it is interests that matter – not principles. The empty words uttered by these politicians cannot mask their greedy actions. What this episode shows is that business interests mean more to both the UK and European governments than the lives of ordinary people – whether their own citizens, or the thousands of victims of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.