"A new, positive bilateral relationship post-Qadhafi in Libya"

Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt spoke about the future of the UK's relationship with Libya on 14 November.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Alistair Burt

Good Afternoon and thank you for letting me speak to you today.

I want to talk today about the relationship between the UK and Libya, but first I would like to briefly reflect on what has been a momentous year in North Africa and the Middle East.

Arab Spring
From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya to Syria people have taken to the streets and risked their lives to demand change from their governments. It has captured the world’s attention and taken us with them. The Arab Spring has endured; it has become a movement for all seasons with young people prominent among those striving to create the societies their countries deserve - based on fairness, freedom and opportunity.

This hard journey is bearing fruit. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring was born, has become the first country in the region to hold free and democratic elections, selecting a new government to lead their country. Egypt is scheduled to follow with parliamentary elections in just two weeks time. These are reasons to be optimistic.

The Arab Spring is a once in a generation opportunity to create a new set of ties between the UK and countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Whether it’s the use of twitter to organise a demonstration or an influential blogger publishing their opinions - today the power of the individual is undeniable. People in Libya and elsewhere have made it clear that they want a conversation with their governments, not just to be given a message.

Cultural relations are an essential part of the response to this paradigm shift as they are about people to people interactions. They focus on the individual and, by their very nature engage with what matters most to individuals: values, relationships and opportunities.

Libya has already passed many historic milestones in its transition to a new, free and democratic society. The Libyan people have freed their country from a ruthless tyrant and seen the hold that the former regime had over its people crumble. Many young Libyans have been at the forefront of the struggle for change. They have never known a world without Qadhafi, but now they can look to the future without fear and plan for a better and more prosperous life.

The transition to democracy in Libya will take time and we should not expect the road ahead to be smooth. But Libyans’ commitment to democratic values is clear. Young people driving transformation in Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata have clear aspirations of what they want reform to deliver: a quality education system, greater employment opportunities and better access to the wider world. Libyan women are rightly proud of the role they played in the revolution and are now preparing for the role they want and deserve in deciding how the new Libya will be shaped. Many women’s rights organisations, and women active in civil society groups have emerged. Together, the men and women of Libya are the owners of the revolution and it is they who will shape their country’s future

UK role
The UK has been active in leading the international response to events in Libya. We will continue to stand with the Libyan people, fully supporting their efforts to open their societies and play their part in the global community.

The government is providing practical and material support to Libya’s National Transitional Council, supporting the vision of a new Libya based on the principles of democracy, pluralism and representation without exclusion.

I welcome Prime Minister al-Kib’s public commitment to build a state based on human rights, guarded by justice and equality before the law. And I look forward to the UK working closely with Libya to help it achieve this ambition. We are working with the Libyan authorities to consolidate their success by promoting security in Libya through the establishment of a proper police force and a national army; by assisting attempts to locate missing anti-aircraft weapons; by supporting mine clearance in Misrata and elsewhere; and we will be offering assistance in the destruction of stocks of chemical weapons. We will also want to work with the Libyan authorities to resolve the outstanding legacy issues from the Qadhafi era, in particular the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984, the Lockerbie bombing and Libyan support for IRA terrorism.

People to People

But there is much more to the future of the UK’s relations with Libya than the work of two governments. Links between the people of Libya and the people of the UK have been strong even when the relationship between their governments was difficult - not least through the diaspora here. Now we - and you - have the opportunity to make even more of those links for the benefit of both countries.

The British Council has been working to this end in North Africa for nearly 75 years. In Libya, as elsewhere, it has focussed its efforts on English language, education, skills and youth leadership, addressing the underlying issues currently exposed in the Arab Spring. Indeed, it was this legacy that NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil referred to earlier this year when he thanked the British Council for its help promoting culture throughout Libya. We look forward to achieving much more in the new, free Libya.

This country’s great cultural assets - the English language, arts and education are highly respected and admired in Libya - as they are across the world. Access to UK expertise in these sectors remains highly valued and the work of the organisations you all represent will prove of great value to Libya’s future. It is for this reason that the British Council will be committing £1 million this year to extend its work there and to build positive relationships and opportunities for people in both Libya and the UK. This shall include higher education and cultural opportunities.

Opportunities in Libya
Through its work in higher and vocational education and in English, the British Council is uniquely placed to respond to Libya’s needs in the fields of education, employment and civil society development and to work with your organisations to support these aspirations.

In working with young people, the British Council will continue to help them find their voices and express their own ideas.

Its network of ‘Global changemakers’ trained up over 300 young Libyans in communication skills, social media and networking giving them the tools to express themselves and influence others. Many of these young people were actively involved in the revolution. They have spoken out for freedom and demanded to be heard.

Plans are now moving ahead to bring these young people together to generate ideas for a new programme to foster the active engagement of young people in the political process. Undoubtedly they will relish this opportunity to share their ideas.

This is such an exciting time for young people in Libya that I really look forward to seeing what innovative programme they bring to life.

Demand for English language learning remains high. In fact it’s growing. Even while English language teaching centres have been forced to close, classes of sorts are still taking place. I’ve just been hearing that the British Council’s LearnEnglish radio programme has been broadcast throughout the revolution in remote parts of the country.

How extraordinary!

The enthusiasm for English language learning is clear and opportunities for teaching English in the country are there. The potential is enormous.

Universities will undoubtedly play a vital role in helping the development of Libya’s nascent civil society. Their campuses can be emblematic of the victories earned during the revolution; spaces where diversity of opinion and freedom of expression can flourish. Links with UK universities can only help in making this a reality.

Your organisations have all the building blocks to make a real difference in these areas.

The foundations for a stronger relationship have already been laid..

We will support the Libyan people as they build a new government, a new society and a new country. This will mark the start of a new, positive bilateral relationship post-Qadhafi in Libya.

The British Council, in partnership with you all, is ready to put this support into action. I wish you well. And I’d be happy to take any questions.

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Published 15 November 2011