The statement, “Libya belongs to Libyans,” made by our National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar contained a claim, while it also emphasized a new style of politics for the future. It does not hurt to refer to history to reveal the meaning of the statement. The statement, which was the slogan of a new struggle against the French and British hegemony in Egypt in the 1880s, also guided the way for the anti-colonialism activities that flared up in the early 20th century. Egypt’s independence became the slogan against British dominance. There have been those who explain the activity in the 1880s with anti-Ottoman sentiment, however, Egyptians were in trouble with European bankers during the debt crisis that reached intolerable heights in the 1870s. Thus, those who took seriously the slogan “Egypt belongs to Egyptians” were the British, and they invaded Egypt to suppress the movement.
At the time the slogan “Egypt belongs to Egyptians” emerged, Europeans had divided all of Africa among themselves. Africa was being divided, and though it was invaded in 1798 by France, it was the British who established sovereignty in Egypt at the end of the 19th century. The idea that Egypt belongs to Egyptians was guidance for Egyptians in the 1920s as well, however, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s term had to start in order for it to reach its peak. The idea reached a fever pitch during the nationalization process of the Canal. Events that erupted against the British and French signified the start of a new period in the Middle East. The U.S. had shown presence as a global power. Though it is said the idea that Egypt belongs to Egyptians was successful during this period, it did not mean the Egyptian public gained power. The gap between the executive class and the people increasingly grew. The new political structure that formed under the influence of the U.S. was also established over the elites’ hegemony. While it was strongly emphasized once again through the Arab Spring that Egypt belongs to Egyptians, they showed with the military coup that public activities would not be permitted. Though it was the bearer of Arab nationalism during one period, Egypt withdrew into its shell towards the late 1970s. This meant disassociation from the ideology that encompassed the whole Arab region.
Egypt was the only country that had the potential to lead an idea that could include the whole Arab region. There was no other country, including Gulf countries, that held the promise of a unified Arab region promise. However, Gulf countries and Egypt jumping forward when the success rate of public ideologies in Libya was revealed with Turkey’s support is quite meaningful. It can be said that these countries, which started to imply that they are acting in the name of Arab nationalism, are concerned about Libya’s success. It is clear that countries, whose authority over even their own tangible assets is limited, will not take action to seize Libya’s fortunes. Once it became clear that the anti-Turkey ideas, which were strengthened with mandate governments’ propaganda, are baseless, they tried to form a new front. There is no other reason why Gulf countries are prioritizing anti-Turkey sentiment. They must have thought that the success of a form of government, despite having no dependency relations with Europe and the U.S., will lead to the questioning of their existence.
Akar’s statement, “Libya belongs to Libyans,” points to a new idea in our near region. It should be noted that this statement, which indicates sovereignty for Libyans, corresponds to a new government understanding in the modern sense. While this statement excludes general ideas such as Arab nationalism, traditional structures are also left in the past. When this is discussed within the context of the ideas that developed after the French Revolution, it is clear that we are talking about a new idea for Libya. The real emphasis of the statement is to Libyans’ sovereignty. We had previously noted that Europeans divided the entire African continent among themselves in the 1880s. From then onward, France, the U.K., and Italy tried to establish sovereignty over Libya. Italy invaded Libya with the U.K.’s support, while the process that concluded with the War of Independence started for us. Today, imperialist forces, primarily France, want to seize Libya’s wealth all over again. It is obvious this understanding disregards Libyans. Akar’s statement reveals a more powerful meaning within this context. It is also a declaration that the colonial period is in the rearview mirror for Libya.
We can talk about the new ideas that are spreading across our near region. This signals a new circumstance. It is clear that we cannot possibly understand this period with the parameters of the 21st century.