By: Sana Soleman Elmansouri*
“All they have to do is clear the dead bodies away, “Boris Johnson’s speech about the Libyan city of Sirte has had some mixed review. His closing comment, particularly, struck a chord, both with Tory MPs and Libyan politicians. His commentary has been called “unacceptable” “offensive” and “cruel.” But how informed on the situation in Libya are Johnson’s critics, and how much of the backlash is from those genuinely offended?
Indeed, his comment was not well thought out, a possible attempt at sarcastic humour, mixed with a harsh truth, served primarily to upset and offend, and to provide ammunition for individuals with previous issues with Johnson’s actions.
Many seem to think that the “bodies,” which Johnson refers to, are that of Libyan freedom fighters and civilians, who perished during the conflict in Sirte. In reality, he is referring to the bodies of Daesh fighters, the bodies that are extremely difficult to remove due to the installation of triggered explosives. Indeed, Johnson made this clear in a tweet he posted after the conservative fringe meeting where he spoke. “The reality here is that the clearing of corpses of Daesh fighters has been made much more difficult by IEDs and booby traps,” he wrote.
Johnson’s comments on Libya are not out of the blue. The foreign secretary has visited the country twice this year alone, pledging £4 million to support the removal of landmines and explosions and £9 million to help tackle people trafficking and terrorism. He speaks very positively of Sirte throughout his talk, in particular, its landscapes, young people with interests in developing tech, and potential to become “the next Dubai” if provided with the investment. He does not, as some claim, suggest that UK investors should go there for an “exotic time.”
Libyan politicians, many of whom do not reside within Libya, who had a hand in the corruption in Libya, have jumped on the Johnson hate bandwagon, and have been given a media platform to express their views on the topic, but realistically, have seized the opportunity for personal and political gain. Curiously, the Libyan people themselves don’t seem to have been given the same platform to give their opinions, despite the hundreds residing within Britain who could speak on the topic without a political agenda. Libyan politicians who lived in England for over twenty-five years have become succinct at manipulating British media and Libyan public opinions to benefit their positions. Indeed, it seems those with political agendas are fishing in the dirty water, and Johnson’s comment was the perfect catch.
As a politician, one ought to know how to phrase things sensitively to avoid offending and receiving a load of negative feedback; however, Johnson’s comment was not meant to offend, and judging by his past and current actions, his intentions for Sirte and all of Libya are, it would seem, positive.
*A Libyan Journalist