The conflict between the Alpine republic and Libya began in July 2008,
when Hannibal Gaddafi, the then 31-year old son of the dictator Muammar
Gaddafi, savagely beat up two of his servants in the President Wilson Hotel in
Geneva. The Swiss police arrested Gaddafi jr.; he was released on bail after
two nights in a cell. In retaliation, Libya took two Swiss businessmen as
hostages, imprisoning them for “visa violations.”
Switzerland soon dropped the charges against Gaddafi’s son, but Libya
kept the businessmen under house arrest. One year later, in August 2009, Swiss
President Hans-Rudolf Merz traveled to Tripoli. To secure the release of the
hostages, he apologized to Gaddafi for the brief detention of his son. Gaddafi
released one of the hostages, the Muslim Swiss citizen Rachid Hamdani, but
refused to accept the Swiss apologies. Libya kept the other businessman, the
ethnic Swiss Max Göldi, in prison.
The November 2009 referendum, in which 57.5% of the Swiss voters
approved a ban on the construction of new minarets in Switzerland, made Libya
even angrier. Libya announced a boycott of Switzerland, and called for the
dissolution of the country. On February 24, 2010, Gaddafi declared jihad
against the “faithless” Swiss.
In an attempt to downplay the terrible implications of Gaddafi’s appeal
for unlimited violence against Switzerland, US State Department spokesman
Philip Crowley said that the call for jihad against Switzerland was “lots of
words … and not necessarily a lot of sense.” Instead of defusing the situation
with his “joke,” Crowley made matters even worse. Gaddafi took the comment as a
personal insult and threatened that there would be “negative repercussions” for
American oil companies in Libya. On March 10, both Crowley and the American
government offered their apologies to the Libyan dictator. He accepted them,
and said that Tripoli would resume relations with Washington “in a manner of
The unfortunate Max Göldi, meanwhile,
has been moved to a damp, smelly windowless cell in the wing of a Tripoli jail
where he is imprisoned with 90 of the most dangerous criminals of Libya.
Last November, following Gaddafi’s call for the dissolution of
Switzerland, Bern drew up a blacklist of 188 extremist Libyans, including
Gaddafi and his son, who would “for reasons of public and national security” no
longer be allowed to enter Switzerland. Since Switzerland is a member of the
so-called Schengen zone – the borderless travel zone grouping the EU countries
(minus Britain and Ireland), plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland – a Swiss ban
also affects all the other Schengen zone countries. The terms of the Schengen
agreement oblige all members to refuse visas to citizens of third countries
blacklisted by fellow Schengen group nations.
In retaliation for the Swiss blacklist, Libya stopped issuing visa to
citizens of all Schengen member states. Instead of backing the Swiss, as they
are obliged to do under the Schengen treaty, the EU countries threatened to
expel Switzerland from the Schengen zone unless it drop the blacklist against
the 188 Libyans.
In late March, the Swiss gave in to EU pressure. Tripoli hailed the
decision as a victory over Switzerland. The Swiss feel snubbed by the EU.
Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Foreign Minister of Spain – which currently holds
the EU presidency – flew to Libya to apologize on behalf of the EU for the
imposition of the travel ban. “We regret and deplore the trouble and
inconvenience caused to those Libyan citizens. We hope that this move will not
be repeated in the future,” he told Gaddafi.
Mr. Moratinos was joined by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Of
all the EU countries Italy has the closest ties to Libya and had been pushing
hard for the expulsion of Switzerland from the Schengen group if Bern did not
repeal the blacklist.
The EU apology to Libya has reinforced anti-EU feelings in Switzerland,
even in traditionally pro-EU circles. Swiss parliamentarian Mario Fehr, a
Social-Democrat, called it “a regrettable collective gesture of boot licking.”
The Tribune de Genève newspaper wrote
that “the EU caved in shamefully.” The Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger wrote that the
EU bears a huge responsibility. “This conflict is more than a row over the fate
of a Swiss hostage.”
Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s son continues to cause mayhem wherever he goes. Two
weeks ago, a photographer waiting for Gaddafi at a nightclub in Istanbul was
attacked by the Libyan’s bodyguards. Last December, British police had to
intervene at Claridge’s, one of London’s top hotels, when Hannibal Gaddafi hit
his 29-year old wife, a former model, in the face and broke her nose. The
British police did not arrest him, however, but allowed him to go to the Libyan
embassy. In 2005, Hannibal Gaddafi had been arrested in France after beating
his pregnant girlfriend at a Paris hotel. He was later given a four-month
suspended prison sentence for the assault.