Swiss-Libyan relations continue to deteriorate

Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s call for an Islamic holy war against Switzerland last Thursday stands as the most recent marker of rapidly deteriorating relations between Libya and the famously neutral European nation, and threatens to further complicate an already difficult political situation.

Gaddafi’s demand for Jihad, holy war, came before a crowd of visiting Muslim dignitaries at a mosque in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

During a lengthy address, the longstanding dictator criticized Switzerland’s recent referendum banning the construction of minarets, a distinctive architectural feature of mosques, as a direct attack on Islam.

“Boycott Switzerland: boycott its goods, boycott its airplanes, its ships, its embassies; boycott this unbelieving, apostate race, aggressor against the houses of Allah,” he proclaimed during the gathering, which was originally intended as an observance of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth.
While Switzerland’s controversial ban of minarets in November of 2009 has been condemned by both Islamic and Western states as an encroachment of religious freedom and a sign of growing European Islamophobia, diplomatic tensions between Switzerland and Libya far predate this issue.

In 2008, Muammar Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was taken into Swiss police custody following allegations that he had physically assaulted two members of his personal staff during a visit to Geneva.

While Hannibal Gaddafi was released on bail and the charges against him promptly dropped, the damage to Libyan-Swiss relations was profound.

Libya withdrew five billion dollars from Swiss banks in the summer of 2009 and cut oil trade with the country.

Weeks later, two Swiss businessmen visiting Libya were arrested on charges of violating the conditions of their visas.

Months of diplomatic conflict climaxed with the release of only one Swiss national in late February of 2009; the other remains in Libyan custody, serving a four-month prison sentence.
In response, Switzerland placed entry restrictions on 186 high-ranking Libyan diplomats, including Gaddafi himself, during the fall of 2009.

In what the BBC refers to as a retaliatory move, Libya revoked the visas of all citizens originating from Europe’s Schengen zone in early February.

The borderless zone, which Switzerland joined in December 2008, provides a unified passport system for 22 European Union countries, as well as the non-member states of Iceland and Norway.

In this context, the Swiss-Libyan spat has serious economic consequences for European nations hoping to capitalize on Libya’s vast oil stores and economic resources.

The political implications of Gaddafi’s call for Jihad are yet to be seen, but it is likely that they will extend beyond Swiss borders and be felt throughout much of that very same zone.

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