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International sanctions and end of isolation

At the second Afro-Arab summit in Sirte, Libya, 10 October 2010, from left: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia), Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen), Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)
At the second Afro-Arab summit in Sirte, Libya, 10 October 2010, from left: Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia), Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen), Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak (Egypt). Photo: AFP /KHALED DESOUKI
In April 1992 the UN announced sanctions against Libya, unless the two Lockerbie suspects were extradited. This was not immediately effective, because Gaddafi had already taken precautions to protect his currency reserves, and Libya continued to export oil at an increased rate. But there was increasing unrest inside Libya, particularly amongst the Banu Walid tribe, some of whose members were executed for their role in an alleged coup. There were riots in Misrata and Tobruk in 1993 and attempts on Gaddafi’s life by Islamists in 1995 and 1998.

Although the international support for the embargo began to crack in the late 1990s, the decade coincided with the emergence of a new factor in Libyan politics, the emergence of Gaddafi’s children as political actors. Muhammad, the son of Gaddafi’s first wife was the first to reach the age of twenty, in 1990. Five others followed, over the next seven years.

In 1998, Libya agreed to a trial of the Lockerbie suspects in a neutral country, under Scottish law. In return, the UN sanctions were suspended. The trial took place in the Netherlands, beginning in 2000. In 2001, al-Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland, and Fhimah was acquitted. Subsequently, other theories about the attack were circulated, blaming the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and East German intelligence, but the Lockerbie trial started the process of undoing the isolation of Libya.

After 11 September 2001, Gaddafi was among the first Arab leaders to condemn the attacks on New York and to stress his enmity for Osama bin Laden. Libya joined the global fight against terrorism. After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi took further steps to cooperate with the western powers, fearing that he might be the next target and realizing the need to lift the Libyan economy by ending sanctions. In 2003 Gaddafi admitted Libyan responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and agreed to pay compensation to the families of the Lockerbie and UTA flight victims. Shortly thereafter, UN sanctions against Libya were lifted. In 2004 Gaddafi declared that he would renounce the Libyan programme for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the US lifted most of its economic sanctions and restored diplomatic ties.

Further Reading

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Fanack provides an overview of the population of Libya, including an overview of its demographics and refugee situation.

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