It's All About Oil and Some
After eight years in a Scottish jail, the Libyan man convicted for his role in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has been released on compassionate grounds. Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi is said to have only a few months to live and has arrived in Libya where he was greeted by thousands of supporters. While Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill argues his decision was an act of compassion toward a dying man, it is a lot more complex than that.
It would be naïve to think that Scotland and the United Kingdom in general have taken the risk to anger the American government and the families of the victims of the Pan Am bombing simply for humanitarian reasons. The most likely truth is about economic considerations, with oil and gas as the primary motive and then for political reasons as Libya continues to take over key positions in regional and international institutions.
From an economic standpoint, Libya is an oil hub not to ignore. Its massive reserves and proximity to Europe make it an important partner to have for the Europeans as they deal with the volatility and erratic behavior of their Russian suppliers. Meanwhile, with Russia looking to get closer to Libya and North African producers in an effort to control the supply side, the Europeans have to respond fairly quickly to prevent the Russians from influencing the region. Oil, gas and energy are only one set of considerations for the Europeans in dealing with Libya. There are also the billions of dollars that Libya is spending on building its economy, from roads to dams and from oil rigs to manufacturing plants. As well as the sovereign wealth funds it is spending in Europe helping companies remain afloat amid one of the worst economic conditions in decades. Thus far, these projects have essentially benefited the Southern Europeans, with the Italians and the French making substantial inroads, and the British looking to compete more efficiently.
For Libya, the release of Al Megrahi is a big “ah-ha” moment. While Libya had to recognize its involvement in the Pan Am bombing as part of the deal it reached with the West, most Libyans generally feel that Libya had nothing to do with the Pan Am bombing and as such consider Al Megrahi’s conviction as unjustified. But politically, the Libyan diplomacy has been working around the clock to insure that its views about sensitive issues such as Lockerbie and colonization are heard. A good example has been Colonel Gaddafi’s insistence that Italy compensates Libya for its colonial role. With Libya’s growing economic clout, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi went along and agreed to the Libyan terms, acknowledging the negative role Italy played during Libya’s colonization. Needless to say, Berlusconi’s decision did not sit well with many Italians. But when billions of dollars are at stake, economic considerations tend to be more powerful arguments than anything else.
For the British, the Al Megrahi release comes at a very sensitive time characterized by Libya’s growing regional influence and involvement in global affairs. Libya’s influence in Africa with its ever expanding investments, influence of many regimes and governments in the continent and its presidency over the African Union make it country that cannot be avoided. Its growing clout in the United Nations as it takes over the General Assembly leadership is another reason for the UK to strengthen its relations with Libya. And what is better than releasing Al Megrahi a few months before his death and a few days before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
At the end, while the United Kingdom and Libya would both get something out of this deal, the families of the Lockerbie victims will see it differently. They would no doubt oppose the views of minister MacAskill who said the decision was made because Scottish law required that "justice be served, but mercy be shown." For the families, justice has not been served and his decision sadly reopens the wounds of an event that happened more than 20 years ago.