Forces aligned with Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi have launched new assaults to regain control of several towns captured in a popular uprising over the past two weeks. Meanwhile, two U.S. warships have moved through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea toward Libya under orders by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. As talk of potential Western military intervention grows, we speak to Horace Campbell, a professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Fierce battles are raging in Libya. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have launched new assaults in an attempt to regain control of several towns that had been captured in a popular uprising over the past two weeks. Earlier today, Gaddafi addressed a small group of supporters in Tripoli in his third televised appearance. He continued to deny the uprising, saying opposition to him is led by terrorists and al-Qaeda operatives.
Meanwhile, two U.S. warships have moved through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean after orders by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that they should move closer to Libya.
For more, we’re joined by Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics. He’s joining us now by Democracy Now! video stream from his home.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Campbell. Your assessment of the situation in Libya?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Good morning, and thank you very much for inviting us to discuss the delicate stage of the revolutionary situation in Libya. It is a situation that is maturing with very deliberate and great dangers for the revolutionaries. The dangers arise from the number of areas: firstly, the massacres that have been carried out by Gaddafi himself and the clique around Gaddafi; secondly, the dangers that are coming from the drumbeats for Western military intervention; and thirdly, the kind of xenophobia and anti-African, anti-black sentiment that is being stirred up among sectors of the Libyans who are rising up for freedom.
So, in this context, it is very important, for those who have solidarity with the Libyan uprising, with those fighting for freedom in Libya, to support the people in Libya and at the same time denounce any attempts by the Western forces, especially elements within the administration in the United States and Great Britain, for military intervention. We have seen, from the testimony yesterday from the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is very uncomfortable with military intervention. Gates is uncomfortable with military intervention. And the head of the U.S. Central Command said that a no-fly zone is a prelude to military activity. And then, on the other hand, we have John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and those forces calling for a no-fly zone and military intervention.
It is up to the peace and justice movement in this country to stand with one voice to say that at this point any kind of humanitarian intervention must be through the United Nations and to support those who are suffering at the borders and those who are suffering inside of Libya. We do not need military intervention by Britain, United States or any forces of NATO at this present moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, when you hear “forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi,” I don’t know if that’s actually an accurate term, because of the number of people he is paying to do this, to fight the pro-democracy groups. But can you talk about the mercenaries and where they come from and why they would support Muammar Gaddafi or work for him?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Well, I am going to be very careful of the use of the term “mercenaries,” because every government that say they have the control over state power use the instruments of the state to employ persons to fight for that state. So the fact that the United States of America employs other nationals to fight their wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, those persons are not called “mercenaries.” So I want to be very careful in the use of this term “mercenaries.”
Gaddafi and his children have access to billions of dollars. There are many citizens of countries all over the world, from the Middle East and from Africa, who have been in Libya, especially those from Africa who were aligned with forces like Charles Taylor from Liberia, Foday Sankoh from the Sierra Leone, the elements from Chad, where Gaddafi has been supporting for many years. Added to this, there are a number of Africans who were kept prisoners in Libya, who were caught trying to escape to Europe because they believed in freedom of movement of labor, just as in the international economy we have the freedom of capital. Now, many of these persons have been caught in this battle. And some Africans who are being paid by Gaddafi are called “mercenaries.”
Now, one has to do intense work among the governments of these states to do the diplomatic work to extricate their citizens who are caught in this fighting. And one has to also, at the same time, do very clear, deliberate work with the people fighting for freedom in Libya, that they do not, in their fight for freedom, whip up any kind of xenophobia against Africans, as if Libya is not an African country, or what we would say, against black Africans who are caught in this crossfire of Gaddafi manipulating citizens who are supposed to fight to keep him and his family in power.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, we’re also joined by Elizabeth Tan, deputy regional representative for UNHCR in Cairo, Egypt, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The refugee crisis is getting more intense every day, Elizabeth Tan, both on the Tunisian-Libya border and on the Egyptian-Libya border. Can you talk about what is happening now?
ELIZABETH TAN: Yes. The crisis is indeed getting worse by the day in Tunisia. There are thousands and thousands of people stranded there at the border who are trying to get back to their homes. Many of them are from Egypt. There are efforts underway to go and to repatriate them, but the border is extremely congested, and UNHCR is very concerned about the humanitarian situation there. We are, together with the International Organization for Migration, trying to mount an air operation to bring people back to Egypt. There are, of course, a lot of other persons stranded at the border both here in Egypt and even more in Tunisia, people who are desperate to get home, to get away from the situation at the border there, thousands and thousands of people stuck who want to go home.
AMY GOODMAN: How can they best be helped?
ELIZABETH TAN: I think for the — certainly, there is a need to decongest the area around the border in Tunisia. In Egypt, I would say that there is — that the situation is better. There are less people there. And most of the people crossing are Egyptian, so they are directly going to their homes. In Tunisia, UNHCR is providing shelter, and agencies are providing food and trying to set up sanitation facilities there, but I think the main need is really to provide transportation for people to get home.
AMY GOODMAN: And food? How are people getting access to food? And what about word that Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are now moving into the border areas, where people have been able to go freely back and forth until now?
ELIZABETH TAN: I think certainly there are a lot of humanitarian agencies, and the governments of both Egypt and Tunisia are helping the people who are at the borders. In terms of — I am based in Cairo. So, there are no problems of people accessing the border, with the exception of people — refugees and persons of — from sub-Saharan Africa who are stuck in their homes, who are very afraid to move, as the other speaker on your program was mentioning. UNHCR is very concerned about those people. But on the eastern side, otherwise, the access to the border is OK.
AMY GOODMAN: Elizabeth Tan, I want to thank you for being with us, deputy regional representative for the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. She’s speaking to us from Cairo, Egypt.
Also, still with us, Professor Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies at Syracuse University. Professor Campbell, I wanted to read to you from The Guardian newspaper. This is a pseudonym, Muhammad min Libya, who wrote this. But he said, “As the calls for foreign intervention grow, I’d like to send a message to western leaders: Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy. This is a priceless opportunity that has fallen into your laps, it’s a chance for you to improve your image in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims. Don’t mess it up. All your previous programmes to bring the east and the west closer have failed, and some of them have made things even worse. Don’t start something you cannot finish, don’t turn a people’s pure revolution into some curse that will befall everyone. Don’t waste the blood that my friend Ahmed spilt for me,” he writes. He is speaking against intervention, Professor Campbell.
HORACE CAMPBELL: I think that is a sentiment that is seen very clearly from sectors of those who are hungry for freedom in Libya, because any kind of intervention by the United States and NATO forces would send a signal to anti-imperialist forces that the revolution in Libya has been instigated by the West and would throw sentiments in favor of Gaddafi at this moment when he’s carrying out massacres against the people. In fact, I would think that the opportunistic and cynical elements in the military establishment in the United States and Britain, in particular, are calculating that keeping Gaddafi in power longer would be to the benefit of the West, because it would destabilize the revolutionary forces in both Egypt and in Tunisia. And I would think that the concern that is being expressed by Lieberman, McCain and Hillary Clinton is not for the revolution in Libya, but is a concern for oil and for the destabilization of the Egyptian revolution, because of the long-term implications of this revolution for Africa and the Middle East.
AMY GOODMAN: What about, Professor Campbell, the fact that it is usually referred to as rebellions, uprisings, revolutions that are taking place “in the Arab world”?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Yes. And one of the major challenges is for the people who call themselves progressives to be very careful in their language about this so-called revolution in the Arab world. Libya is on the African continent, long historic ties to Africa. Tunisia is on the African continent. Egypt stands at the headwaters of the Nile River that comes out of Central Africa. All of these states work very hard to be citizens and members of the African community. We only need to look at the African nation — Cup of Nations Cups and to see the role that Tunisia and Egypt plays in African soccer. So, these are African societies. In these African societies, they have citizens who are of an Arab extraction, and many of these people call themselves Arabs. So what we can see is that the revolution in North Africa links the Arab revolution of Arabia and North Africa.
This intersection of Arab and Africa has been positive in the past during the period of Nasser, when Nasser was anti-imperalist. What we have to be very careful about in this period is those who call themselves Arab carry on the arrogance and chauvinism and racism of Western Europeans who look down on Africans. And it is in a revolutionary process that revolutionaries themselves have to have a higher standard of ethics, morality and racial and gender consciousness so that they do not reproduce the hierarchy and racism that looks down on Africans who are called black Africans, because Tunisians, Libyans and Egyptians are also Africans.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, the issue of Saudi Arabia? We are hearing protests in Yemen, in Oman, in Bahrain, in Jordan. Saudi Arabia, we have heard there have been some strikes, but what about how Saudi Arabia fits into this?
HORACE CAMPBELL: This is the real clincher for the revolutionary process underway. I have been following the writings of Robert Fisk, and Robert Fisk has said that the real challenge will be the extent to which the revolutionary process gets underway in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, like Egypt under Mubarak, like Gaddafi’s police state, like Ben Ali’s police state, these are police states where the political leaders have billions of dollars to repress the people, where the political leaders use the resources of the state to recycle for Western armaments companies. And the leaders of Saudi Arabia are very conservative, oppressing not only the people, but particularly the women of Saudi Arabia. So there are large and huge pent-up sentiments and hunger for freedom within Saudi Arabia.
It is precisely because the Western strategic thinkers understand the potential for revolution in Saudi Arabia, along with all over the Arabian Peninsula, why it is urgent for them to intervene in North Africa, because from the time of Cleopatra right down through the Nazis in Germany, the occupation of Libya, right next to Egypt, was strategically important for access to North Africa and Arabia. So the strategic thinkers in Washington, in London, in Paris and Brussels are considering that with the impending isolation of Israel, with revolutionary processes all over Arabia and North Africa, it is very important for the West to have a foothold.
It is in this very moment they need ways to divert the working peoples of North America and Western Europe from the practice of capitalism. As we’ve seen in Wisconsin, the workers in Wisconsin gained confidence, gained support, gained courage from the peoples of Egypt. We’ve seen signs where the people say they’re standing up for their rights. In moments like these, when the Governor of Wisconsin is cutting back on expenditure on health, on education, for the poor, and the Pentagon is spending over a trillion dollars in its budget, it is times like these that the conservative forces need to whip up a new militarism in the United States of America to divert attention from the struggles of the working peoples, from students, from women, from the youth, who are against the capitalist system as it exists. We are in the midst of the most intense capitalist crisis since 1930s. This struggle internationally is a struggle against capitalism.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Campbell, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a professor of African American [studies] and political science at Syracuse University, African American studies and political science at Syracuse. He’s written extensively about African politics. As we move on now from talking about the protests from the Middle East and North Africa to the Midwest to Iraq, we’ll be going to Iraq in a minute.