Meeting on Libya – Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic
New York, 20 September 2011
I will make a few brief remarks. The early 21st century hasn’t offered us many pleasant surprises. Ever since the century began, we’ve had nothing but new crises to manage: the economic crisis, the financial crisis, the crisis of famine, the crisis of poverty. Wherever we look, there are only complications and difficulties. But there was one piece of great news: the Arab revolutions, the young Arabs who took to the streets using language that we in the West and in Europe hadn’t imagined. They didn’t come out to say “Down with the West”, “Down with France”, “Down with the United States” or “Down with Israel”. They came out to say “We want jobs, an education, democracy. We want freedom”.
I have to say that when we saw the Arab street demanding freedom and democracy we took some time to react, surprised as we were, amazed as we were by this significant change, which is such great news. There was Tunisia, there was Egypt and then there’s Libya. But who in this room would have thought that the Libyan people, that young Libyans would have been capable of overthrowing a dictatorship that had lasted 41 years? Who could have imagined that? The experts? No, that wasn’t what they were explaining to us. The experts were explaining that West and East were doomed to confrontation. And young Libyans took to the streets in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi to say “We don’t want confrontation, we want freedom”.
And that’s why, with a number of other countries, we intervened to help the Libyan revolutionaries, and we are proud of that. And perhaps you know that what makes us most proud is that among those who intervened were the Libyans’ Arab brothers: Qatar, the Emirates, Jordan. I want to say here, Secretary-General, standing before you, that if the Arabs hadn’t had the courage to help their Libyan brothers, it would have been much harder for us because the last thing we wanted was anyone in Libya to think they detected a whiff of colonialism. We know history and we remembered its lessons.
Today it’s a free Libya that the whole world is addressing. It is up to the Libyans and no one else to decide what Libya’s future will be. We have said this with our American and British friends, and all the coalition partners. We will stay to do the job as long as the Libyan revolutionaries need us.
But one thing was demonstrated: it was possible to win the revolution with only Libyan troops on the ground.
We simply want to say to our Libyan friends: tell us how long you want us to stand by your side, and we will do so. We want to say something else to you as well: after having had the courage to fight for your freedom and the courage to forgive, have the courage to achieve reconciliation.
The whole world is watching you. For us, who stood by your side from the very first day, perhaps the best reward is seeing that we were right about our friends. When you arrest Gaddafi, he will be tried. When you call to account those who must be held responsible, they will have the right to defend themselves. That is how you will build Libya’s future, with all Libyans who can to take part in the reconstruction. And the sooner the Libyan government is in place, the sooner Libyan democracy is in place, the better.
I want to conclude by saying one thing. Many people ask us: aren’t you basically afraid that in the future there might be a regime even worse than the one you got rid of in Libya? To them, I’d like to say one thing: fear is not a good counsellor. With that kind of reasoning, the Eastern Europeans kept their communist dictatorships for years. With that kind of reasoning, we ourselves, we European countries have tolerated regimes we should never have tolerated.
Liberty is not without risk, but dictatorship equals certain failure.
I have faith in Libya’s future. There will be ups and downs, but no one has the right to make those who fought to free themselves go back to the way they were.
And finally, this places another responsibility on our shoulders. Since Arab societies are finally moving towards freedom, let’s take care that conflicts which have endured for 60 years do not poison democracy-building in Muslim countries. Not only does the Arab street give us an obligation to act, it would condemn any form of inaction.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Needless to say, France is proud and happy to be a member of the coalition, and if it had to be done all over again, we would do it.
Benghazi will not be Srebrenica. Libya will not be Cambodia, tormented by the Khmer Rouge. There will be no new massacre between Hutus and Tutsis.
Finally, Secretary-General, the international community had the courage to respond. Let’s learn our lesson from that. It’s the way things went in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s how they went in Libya. Let all the world’s dictators know that the international community is no longer condemned to speeches. It is condemned to action and, if necessary, to take up arms in the service of democracy./.