British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday defended the British role in toppling former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi during a surprise one-day visit to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, arguing that it was a “complete fiction” to think his departure made the West more vulnerable.
The prime minister flew in from Algiers, despite recent threats to the British embassy and consulates, in a personal statement of support for the Arab Spring and the new Libyan government, which is struggling to assert its authority against militias and lack of resources.
He said that the history of brutal dictatorships in north Africa and the Middle East was that they stored up problems for the future and in the long run “we are safer if we have a secure, stable democracy. That is why to me the Arab Spring is still part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
Before meeting Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan who is trying to construct a government of national unity and disband the militias that dominate the country, Cameron promised to do more to help the country.
Greeted by a band replete with bagpipes, he received strong applause and shouts of “God is great” when he said: “In building a new Libya you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom. We will stand with you every step of the way.”
Urging the recruits — arraigned in front of him in a sunlit courtyard — to stick to their job, he said: “There is no real freedom, no real democracy, no real chance of prosperity without proper security. There is no real freedom without honor and honesty.”
“The most important pledge you make is to uphold the law and fight corruption,” he added.
Cameron visited Tripoli and Benghazi with the then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in September 2011 in the wake of Qaddafi’s fall, receiving a hero’s welcome.
The NATO-sanctioned no-fly zone operated by France and UK cleared the way for the uprising.
This second visit has been planned for months and is designed to show that the prime minister is willing to tackle the consequences of the revolution he helped spawn.
In a sign of deterioration in the country, the British Foreign Office has warned in recent days of threats to the British embassy in Tripoli and advised Britons to leave Benghazi because of a threat of attack.
There is a growing fear that Libya is becoming an incubator of turmoil, with weapons flooding the streets and jihadi militants ready to disrupt civil order.
Critics of the Anglo-French intervention, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, claim that those who backed the removal of Qaddafi had not thought sufficiently about the aftermath.
British officials acknowledge that the Libyan government badly needs help to shore up its authority as an administration, including a functioning civil police and integrated army.
Cameron said that the removal of dictators can reveal hidden fractures in society, but that the only answer is a mixture of openness and effective government.