As Libyans celebrate the 40th anniversary of Colonel Muammer Gaddafi's coup, controversy over the release of a terminally-ill countryman convicted for the Lockerbie bombing continues to rage. (We covered theories about why he was released and widespread American condemnation of the release here.) The furor comes after a few years of marked improvement in Libya's public image in the West, as Gaddafi abandoned his pursuit of nuclear weapons and the United States opened an embassy in Tripoli in 2008.
Is Libya's PR campaign in danger of derailing? Or is Gaddafi now strong enough--with 3.3% of the world's oil reserves--to ignore Western disapproval?
Here are the best opinions so far:
- High Times for Qaddafi, say Roula Khalaf and Heba Saleh in the Financial Times. They expertly outline the progress of Libya in normalizing its foreign relations and building oil exports, even as Gaddafi maintains some eccentricities and resentments. On top of celebrating the victory of getting al-Megrahi's release, Gaddafi's fetes are intend to mark "Libya's extraordinary rehabilitation."
- Illusory Progress, says Mona Eltahawy in the Huffington Post. Eltahawy recounts her experience visiting Libya on the 1996 anniversary, and says that Gaddafi's diplomatic improvements pave over troubling repression. "During those 40th anniversary celebrations, you can guarantee you won't hear much about two high profile Libyan prisoners - albeit from opposite ends of the political spectrum - who died within a couple of weeks of one another earlier this year."
- Deal Proves Gaddafi's Clout, writes Dr. Walid Phares in the Counterterrorism Blog. "Moammar is enjoying the new era of engagement. They won't do anything against us, he told cheering supporters. Indeed, the Lockerbie compassion seems to be more for oil dollars than so-called local values."
- Still an Eccentric Despot, says Damien McElroy in the Telegraph. "Libya has become a magnet for foreign investors since the regime settled its differences with the West, few can doubt that it remains in the grip of one man's megalomania. The preparations for today's anniversary celebrations refute any suggestion that Libya is about to become an ordinary country."
- Hope for Better Relations, urges Gaddafi's son Saif in an op-ed for the New York Times. "There was not in fact any official reception for the return of Mr. Megrahi, who had been convicted and imprisoned in Scotland for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The strong reactions to these misperceptions must not be allowed to impair the improvements in a mutually beneficial relationship between Libya and the West."