Libya declares war on Switzerland?

February 27, 2010, No comments

So much for neutrality. Despite famously sitting on the fence over almost any issue, Switzerland is seemingly now at war with millions of people. In a statement remarkable even for him, Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi has called for a Muslim jihad, or holy war, against the Alpine Republic. It’s not because he’s making a stand against bank secrecy; that would be laughable given how many billions Gaddafi has stashed away in various places. No, it’s for a far more realistic reason: the Swiss vote to ban the building of new minarets – as reported in an earlier post. Never mind that the vote was last November (news oviously takes a while to reach Tripoli).

Clearly, this isn’t about a democratic vote, as distasteful as that concept is to Col Gaddafi. It’s about family pride. Switzerland and Libya have been bickering since July 2008, when Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was arrested in Geneva and charged with abusing two servants while staying in a luxury city hotel. The charges were later withdrawn, the servants compensated and Hannibal went home to Daddy. But that was just the beginning. Two Swiss men in Libya were arrested that same month on spurious charges: they were little more than a Swiss tat for a Libyan tit.

Cue an ongoing soap opera. Last year Libya (or more precisely Gaddafi) withdrew millions from Swiss bank accounts, threatened oil supplies, and even redrew the map of Switzerland, dividing it up between its four neighbours. The then Swiss President, Hans Rudolf Merz, went to Tripoli and apologised in person; this act of appeasement could have been a masterstroke if it had, as Gaddafi promised, resulted in the two Swiss hostages being released. It didn’t. Merz made himself Mr Unpopular (quite an achievement for a Swiss politician) and the Swiss realised that although they may keep their word, others don’t.

When the Swiss reportedly drew up a blacklist of top Libyans who would be prevented from getting visas to the Schengen zone (Switzerland is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen agreement), the row became very undiplomatic. Nothing is guaranteed to put pressure on Gaddafi more than stopping rich Libyans from going shopping in Paris.  Libya retaliated by stopping visas to anyone from the Schengen countries. With Libyan troops apparently ready to storm the Swiss embassy in Tripoli, the EU stepped in and forced the Swiss to back down. Last week, one of the Swiss hostages was released and flew home; the other was taken to prison.

And now Mr Gaddafi has called for a jihad against the infidel Swiss. No mention of his son’s embarrassing stay in Geneva, or its repercussions; it was all about that minaret vote. Apparently, any Muslim who does business with Switzerland is ‘against Islam, Mohammed, Allah and the Koran.’ Almost the whole lot, then. Real Muslims should boycott Swiss products. Presumably that means that Gaddafi won’t be selling his oil to the Swiss any more: in January this year 70 million francs worth of Libyan oil (which is largely state-controlled) was bought by Switzerland. Somehow I doubt Gaddafi will put his money where his mouth is; as outspoken as he is, his mouth just isn’t big enough for all the billions he has stolen from the Libyan people.

As for the Swiss, they seem somewhat perplexed by the whole thing. Or at least the government does. Perhaps its members feel like they are through the looking-glass. Heidi in Wonderland. At least there’s a Mad Hatter to make it authentic.

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