he unfolding crisis in Libya with daily reports of very intensive bombing raids, the use of Apache helicopters, and incredible reports of American and European special forces on the ground show just how dangerous the situation has become.
Gaddafi and his government are still in control of a large proportion of the country whilst the interim council claim control of the Eastern coastal ports of the country. The uprising in Libya is a continuation of the Arab Spring which started with the self immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, which fairly rapidly resulted in the removal of the president and then spread to Egypt. This was only 4 months ago. During a visit to Tunisia in February I witnessed the verve and excitement of young people gaining an hitherto undreamt of degree of freedom of expression and much older people coming out of years in prison or secret service surveillance. During the time I was there the first demonstrations occurred in Libya and massive numbers of mainly young people descended on the Libyan Embassy in Tunis, as an expression of solidarity; hoping and assuming that the process in Libya would be as relatively bloodless as the events have been in Tunisia.
It soon became clear that the schizophrenic relationship of the West with Libya was going to dominate the entire equation. Formerly a brutally administered Italian colony, Libya had its own revolution in 1969 when Gaddafi and his group of fellow young officers gained power by overthrowing the monarchy and establishing Jamahiriya. This self-styled revolutionary regime modernised the country in transport, oil production and living standards and certainly provided considerable financial help to different liberation struggles around the world.
Deemed a pariah state by successive US presidents, Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli in 1986, the whole country was put under international sanctions and isolation for the next 20 years. Named in the Bush Axis of Evil speech in 2002 Libya nevertheless managed to develop its own economy and as European sanctions were progressively lifted and Tony Blair himself visited Gaddafi, economic relations became normal. Britain in particular was happy to sell arms, hitherto banned products and engage in trade. Indeed until just three months ago Britain was training some of the Libyan army.
The UN Security Council resolution 1970 was tough but did not authorise military intervention, and did call for a diplomatic solution. This was never going to be possible because Sarkozy in particular was demanding a militarily enforced no fly zone, which was supported by the British. In a matter of weeks resolution 1973 authorised this intervention.
William Hague consistently denies that this is an intervention for regime change but everything that's happened since then, including and involving Qatar in oil exportation from the East of the country, the opening of an EU office in Bengazzi, the visit of Hague and recognition of the interim council by France, has made this a war for regime change.
Military intervention has meant that the likelihood of the Arab League/African Union being able to broker a ceasefire and political solution diminishes with every NATO bomb that falls on Tripoli.
The inescapable conclusion of all this is that Western intervention in Libya is based on economic interests and the enormous oil reserves that the country has.
The muted response to Saudi Arabian intervention in Bahrain, to support the king, and its endless defence of President Saleh in Yemen indicate the double standards of the West.
Happy to supply arms and buy oil from Saudi Arabia there is almost no criticism of its absolute monarchy, medieval treatment of women, or suppression of dissent. Indeed there appears to be a promotion of the gulf Co-operation Council into a regional college of kings by the addition of Morocco and Jordan to its membership.
The uprising in Syria appears to be suppressed with enormous ferocity by the regime, but Russian tutelage and lack of concern by the West seems to suggest yet another standard dismissal of human rights abuses.
The Palestinians have been imprisoned, impoverished and largely unemployed for 60 years yet there have never been any sanctions against Israel as it has always been seen as a US and European strategic ally. We need to understand the strength of feeling of the predominantly young populations of the entire region who've had enough of being the world's oil well, and at the same time being culturally denigrated by successive waves of colonialism.
The intervention in Libya is costing the lives of many and, ultimately, is bound to be self defeating. To develop a rational foreign policy for the region we have to understand the history, the anger, the poverty, the deprivation and now the hopes of millions of young people.