Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

Italy

From Sinai to Lampedusa: An Eritrean Journey

Dan Connell 01.19.2015

Two human tragedies will forever scar Eritreans’ memories of the past decade, during which hundreds of thousands fled repression and despair in their homeland to seek sanctuary in more open, democratic societies: the brutal kidnapping, torture and ransom of refugees in the Egyptian Sinai and the drowning of hundreds more in the Mediterranean Sea when their criminally unseaworthy and overcrowded boats went down, a running disaster epitomized by the October 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck.

Lampedusa

More than 52,000 would-be migrants have landed on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011. Roughly half of the arrivals are young Tunisian men looking for job opportunities in Europe. Most of the others are Sahelians, sub-Saharan Africans or South Asians fleeing the violence in Libya. In many cases, they were forced onto boats by Libyan soldiers, as part of the “invasion” Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi promised should his rule come under NATO attack. [1] The staggering number of arrivals does not include the estimated 1,500 who starved, suffocated or drowned in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Europe’s nearest shore.

The Clandestine Central Mediterranean Passage

About 78 nautical miles separate the Tunisian town of al-Huwariyya at the head of the Cap Bon peninsula from Capo Feto at the southwestern tip of Sicily. An Italy-bound voyage between the two points, on the straight line headed roughly northeast-east, takes about 13 hours at an average speed of six knots under sail. A speedboat moving at 30-45 knots would traverse the same distance in about two hours.

Assessing Italy’s Grande Gesto to Libya

Claudia Gazzini 03.16.2009

Under a tent in Benghazi on August 30, 2008, Silvio Berlusconi bowed symbolically before the son of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonial rule. “It is my duty to express to you, in the name of the Italian people, our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you,” said the Italian premier. [1] Eastern Libya was the site of the bulk of the armed resistance to the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. More than 100,000 Libyans are believed to have died in the counterinsurgency campaign, many in desert prison camps and in southern Italian penal colonies.

Italian Communists’ New Historic Compromise

The revolt in the Occupied Territories broke out at a time when support for the Palestinian cause was at a low ebb in Europe. The Italian Communist Party (PCI), for example, had for the past couple of years been giving priority to building relations with the mainstream Israeli left rather than with either the Palestine Liberation Organization or the left opposition in Israel willing to talk to the PLO.

The leader of the PCI’s right wing, Giorgio Napolitano, has shifted focus away from the Third World since he took over from Giancarlo Pajetta as the party’s “foreign minister” two years ago.

Italy to the Gulf—and Back

Aside from the two superpowers, whose superpower most observers believe to be waning, there is a third, potential superpower haunting Western Europe — which is Europe itself. If only it could get it together. And what better occasion to get together than to protect “our oil” from the awful ayatollahs?

Last September 15, a fleet of eight Italian warships, including three minesweepers and three frigates, set sail for the Gulf, amid cheers and protests. On the eve of the sailing, Defense Minister Valerio Zanone explained the strategic significance of the controversial decision: “it establishes a European connection outside the geographical limits of NATO.”

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