By Aimen Eljali and Ashraf Abdul-Wahab.
Tripoli, 5 September 2013:
Public opinion in Libya appears to be overwhelmingly in favour of US and French strikes against Syria in the wake of the chemical gas attacks in Damascus. However, most appear to be looking to action that brings down the Assad regime rather than the limited strikes proposed by Washington and Paris. Additionally, the motives of the Americans and French are questioned, with many Tripolitans seeing the two governments having their own agenda – specifically support for Israel.
Others, while supporting action, fear that that many innocent lives will be lost in the process and that there will be chaos in Syria after Syrians obtain their freedom as, they say, has been the case in Libya.
“I urge America to do the right thing as soon as possible and without any delay,” accountant Fatima Furjani told the Libya Herald in Tripoli yesterday. “They must help protect civilians. The country is now like an inferno for the people.”
Bashar Assad had to be “hit hard” said academic Amal Jahani. An example had to be made of him as a “warning to the world’s other evil dictators of the world”.
Imad Khalifa Tarhouni from Suq Al-Juma also said the Americans had to hit the regime “hard”. The Syrian people needed help from NATO, he said but he warned against the deployment of ground forces. It would “provide an opportunity for Al-Qaeda to fabricate lies, create chaos and undermine the freedom of speech which all Syrians want.”
Tripoli resident Mukhtar Hamaya similarly supported strikes so long as there were no boots on the ground. “That would change the situation,” he said. “People would then say it is a war against Islam and Al Qaeda would grow stronger in Syria as a result. Young Libyans would then volunteer to go and fight in Syria’ he warned.
Designer Sara Said voiced the same concerns. There should be action so long as civilians were not affected but she feared the deployment of foreign soldiers. “It would a start of war against Al-Qaeda and the end result would be catastrophic for the Syrian people and Islam in general,” she warned.
Unemployed Tripoli resident Abdurrazaq Shayib likewise supported an US French attack against Syria, provided the two countries had no private agendas. “It has to be for humanitarian purposes,” he said. “It must ethical – for the sole reason of protecting civilians.” He was concerned about the conflict in Syria opening the door to militants there. “There must be no terrorist armed militias acting in the name of the religion, similar to what happened here in Libya and which has created the chaos which we are living in now,” he said.
The need for strikes to protect ordinary Syrians was stressed by Tripoli businessman Masoud Jeballi. “I am for US French military strikes against Syria so as to provide help and support for all Syrians,” he said. Children had to be protected and an end put to Assad’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. The Assad regime had to be removed, he insisted.
Security official Mustafa Khamira said strikes had to be focused purely against the regime. “Only military infrastructure and vital regime targets should be hit.” He was concerned, however, strikes could have unforeseen events. “The situation could be improved or it might get worse,” he said.
It was completely different from that in Libya, he said. “People came to Libya from everywhere with their own agendas after the revolution to steal money. The Libyan people have not benefitted from them in the least. On the contrary, people are harmed by their presence in Libya. In Syria there is nothing of interest to them – other than the benefit of Israel.”
The belief that the strikes are intended primarily to help Israel appears to be widespread despite the fact that the Israelis are generally thought to want a weak Assad regime, not his overthrow and the resulting chaos that could bring Al-Qaeda to power.
A coffee shop owner in Gargahesh who wanted to remain anonymous said that the US was acting against Syria purely to protect Israel, not out of any concerns about chemical weapons being used by the Assad regime.
Hospital doctor Abdul-Kareem Miloud likewise saw support for Israel as Washington’s chief reason for getting involved.
“I think the reason is to make Syria a fertile land for France and the US”, Miloud said. “They want to snatch its wealth and make Israel even bigger, thus providing greater opportunities for America.”
Nonetheless, he supported an attack. Hitting Syria been delayed far too long, he said. But he too wanted to is carried out “against official military installations only. There must be no civilian casualties,” he said. He too said that Syria was not like Libya, and warned the strikes could create even more chaos once Assad fell. “There are many different sects in Syria,” who would vie for power. “I warn the Syrians against the spread of weapons and the formation of armed militias”.
Insurance company official Feras Ali was of a similar mind. The conflict in Syria had been going on for two and a half years, he said. “So what kind of help are they talking about now?,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s obvious. It is for their own benefit and not to help the Syrians. The US is launching the attack to help Israel and not Syria.”
He was particularly critical of France. “It looks at the Arabs as a slave. It is only after Arab wealth. The US and France are after the money and business of the Middle East.” Even so, he wanted strikes to happen.
Another Tripoli resident who did not want to be named warned that once Assad fell there would probably be a civil war in Syria and Al-Qaeda would try to take power. It would have to ensure it was not flooded with weapons, as had happened in Libya and the resultant chaos that had produced, he said.
Many others spoken to in Tripoli by this paper said the same: support for strikes but concern that it was being done to help Israel and fears that once Assad fell there would be chaos and bloodshed in Syria, worse than in Libya. Not one person was opposed to an attack. Most, however, appeared to imagine that it would bring down the Assad regime, which is not the American or French intention.
With input from Mohamed Najah