In November 2011, EU leaders warned in a press conference against the threat of Islamic extremism to the Southern Mediterranean’s stability. What have you done to monitor the situation in the region in general and Libya in particular?

In November 2011, EU leaders warned in a press conference against the threat of Islamic extremism to the Southern Mediterranean’s stability. What have you done to monitor the situation in the region in general and Libya in particular?


Bernardino Leon

Unfortunately, the emergence of extremist jihadists in Libya is very clear and is obvious without any special monitoring. It is a source of concern for us given al-Qaeda’s growing activities in coastal states, manifested in its actions in Libya, southern Tunisia and Algeria. Al-Qaeda’s presence is more evident than ever before.

It has a lot to lose from the Arab Spring revolutions and has faced many difficulties in regard to extending support across the world to loyalists, especially after Bin Laden’s disappearance and the emergence of the Arab Spring. We are of course more concerned now about Al-Qaeda as the organisation not only constitutes a threat to democracy in Libya, but also threatens the entire region, including Europe.

Obviously, our security experts and missions in Brussels are keeping a close watch on the situation in the Southern Mediterranean region and we exert maximum efforts to prevent al-Qaeda from becoming strong and effective.

Do you believe the Libyan government is seriously interested in and determined to pursue the ‘STAR’ initiative aimed at recovering stolen assets? Is there serious cooperation in this regard?

[Editor: Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative (STAR) is a joint program carried out through partnership by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)]

Yes, of course. Pursuing recovering stolen assets is one of the important issues in all our discussions with the Libyan government although the procedure to recover these assets is not easy and is a technically complicated one.

In one of its resolutions, the EU stated that lack of legal expertise and sufficient technical resources in the Arab Spring countries is one of the obstacles impeding the accomplishment of this initiative. Is this true in your opinion?

I have said earlier that the Libyans need to build a state from scratch and some areas lack normal human resources, let alone the need for experts.

This is a very complicated subject even for countries with extended experience. Concealing assets under false names and moving them from one place to another is difficult to monitor. We are however working very hard in this regard and hope the initiative will be more effective in the next few months.

Is the EU aware of the hate and discrimination discourse in Libya’s media, incitement to hatred often delivered by political and religious figures against other parties? Many of these figures, with complete indifference for the Libyan government,  enjoy full freedom of movement, travel and residence in EU countries. Why so?

The EU is very keen on promoting national reconciliation. At the beginning of the interview, I stressed the importance of inclusiveness, avoidance of exclusion, unanimity and national reconciliation in order for this transitional stage to  succeed.

Hate discourse has a negative impact and does not serve the interests of the current stage. Besides, no EU party will support or adopt any such discourses.

This discourse, however, is used by some religious figures and leaders of political parties and you nevertheless deal with them?

I am sure we do not sit with them and even if there are special cases, they occur to avoid such discourses in the future. We are concerned about the media and we plan to discuss this issue with members of the Libyan government. We also have bilateral cooperation agreement in this area.

There is an elusive balance between hate discourse and freedom of expression, even in democratic media. A responsible media should avoid such type of discourse – they are to blame before the government.

What is your opinion about the Political Isolation Law especially since the EU has not formally expressed its position towards it?

It is a highly complicated issue. Many EU officials have expressed concern about this law. We understand the real motivation for it manifested in the Libyans’ unwillingness to see former regime officials being involved in leading the new democratic system. But there must be limits to this law. If it were to be expanded, the negative impacts could outweigh the positives with dire consequences.

The EU released a resolution on March 12, 2013 on the status of women. It contained several recommendations, including inviting North African countries to ratify the CEDAW agreement – even while many  National Congress members and Muslim Brotherhood leaderships called for suppressing women’s freedoms. What is your stance on this?

The recommendations to which you have referred are viewed as an important message to all governments as true democracy will not be achieved without women who account for half of society. Women’s contribution to all institutions must not be limited to quality, but to quantity as well. This is one of the priority areas in which we operate. Besides, we provide financial and moral support for women’s projects and their social integration which are our key issues at this transitional phase. Building a real democratic state will not be possible if we excluded women.

Women’s organizations have demand your support when decisions deemed unfair have been created – such as a denial of a woman’s right to exercise political life. One such example was the draft of the sixty-member committee (the committee appointed for drafting the constitution) under which the gender quota system has been abolished. Have you responded to this change?

I can send you many recommendations and statements released on these issues throughout the region, including from EU countries, whenever women’s rights have been violated.