Letter to President Obama about Libya

March 14, 2011

The Honorable Barack H. Obama

President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest

Washington D.C., DC 20500-0004

Dear Mr. President:

We the undersigned scholars fully appreciate and applaud your concern about not repeating the rush to unilateralism, which has too frequently defined American foreign policy in the Middle East in recent years. We also remember the strong commitment you made in Cairo on June 4, 2009 to support efforts to promote democracy in your “New Beginnings” speech to the Arab and Muslim worlds. In that speech you stated:

“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice, government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people, the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas. They are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”

These comments were widely hailed throughout the region and received as a strong signal that your administration would robustly support the rise of popular democracy wherever it occurred.

Over the past two months the Arab world has been shaken to its core by a profound and widespread popular call for democracy. This call has transcended all social classes, ethnic groups and religious confessions. The historic extent and nature of this appeal is of monumental historical significance. Oppressive and corrupt regimes in both Tunisia and Egypt have already been swept from power, and are actively challenged now also in Yemen and Libya.

Although non-violent popular movements were able to topple the regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, the case of Libya has been different. The protests, which began there on February 17th, started peacefully, as they did throughout the region. However, the regime of Colonel Gaddafi quickly responded by resorting to the use of military forces against unarmed civilians. The regime’s orders to its armed forces to use planes, helicopter gunships, heavy caliber machine guns and similar weaponry against unarmed protestors quickly prompted mass defections from the Libyan armed forces to the side of the protestors. The regime’s subsequent use of mercenary forces against the civilian population has only escalated the level of violence.

In response to calls for an American-led no-fly zone over northern Libya you have argued for the need for regional and international sanction for such a measure. We contend that with the recent unanimous vote of the League of Arab States, numerous calls for such action from states within the region, as well as wider calls from traditional American allies such as France and Britain for such action, legitimate sanction for the speedy imposition of a no-fly zone now exists and we call upon you now to assume a leading role in halting the horrific violence being perpetrated by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces by swiftly taking the following concrete actions:

  • (1) Working closely with U.S. allies, NATO, and the United Nations to create a coalition that will impose as quickly as possible a no-fly zone for all Libyan military aircraft over the full extent of northern Libyan airspace, and implement such measures as may be required to render the Libyan air force inoperable throughout the country.
  • (2) Joining France in recognizing the provisional government of Libya based in Benghazi as the sole legitimate government of Libya.
  • (3) Entering into immediate dialogue with the provisional government to determine how the U.S. and the international community may provide this legitimate government with both humanitarian and military assistance.
  • (4) Assist in the jamming of military communications by the Gaddafi forces.
  • (5) Issue a clear warning to all military officers and mercenaries supporting the Gaddafi regime that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of international law if they participate in crimes against humanity; and offer protection to any senior officers now loyal to Colonel Gaddafi who choose to defect.

Mr. President, we now stand at a pivotal moment in the struggle for democracy in the Arab world. If the words you spoke in Cairo nearly two years ago are to have any meaning, you must now assume a leading role in supporting the massive popular uprising for democracy throughout the region. The Libyan case is for the moment the most pressing, but people throughout the Arab world will judge your words in Cairo by your actions now. The support you promised for democracy in Cairo must be substantive and swift. To extend such support is not only to stand on the right side of history, we believe that it is also critical to the long-term national interests of this country.


Larry Diamond

  • Director, Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Stanford University

John L. Esposito

  • Director, Al-Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University

Akbar Ahmed

Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University

Francis Fukuyama

Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Michele Dunne

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Robert R. LaGamma

President, Council for a Community of Democracies

Aly R. Abuzaakouk

Director, Libya Forum for Human and Political Development

Imbarek El Shamikh

Ex-Prime Minister of Libya

Dr. Esam Omeish

Libyan Emergency Task Force

Mohamed M. Bugaighis, Ph.D

Chairman, American Libyan Freedom Alliance

Radwan A. Masmoudi

President, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy

Saad Eddin Ibrahim

Founder Director, Ibn Khaldoun Center for Human Rights Studies

Shadi Hamid

Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center

Joseph K. Grieboski

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy

David N Dorn

International Director, American Federation of Teachers

Rev. William Wesley Elkins

Drew University, Adjunct Professor, United Methodist Church

S. Abdallah Schleifer

Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Founder, Adham Center, The American University in Cairo

Sherman L. Jackson

University of Michigan

Hamza Yusuf

Zaytuna College

Vincent J. Cornell

Emory University

Douglas M. Johnston

President, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy

Rabbi Josef Potasnik

Board of Rabbis of New York

Richard J. Cohen

University of Virginia

I. William Zartman

SAIS-Johns Hopkins University

Reuven Kimelman

Brandeis University

Laurence O. Michalak

University of California Berkeley

Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin

George Mason University

Gabriel Marcella

Retired, US Army War College

Christopher S. Taylor

Director, Drew University Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict

Asma Afsaruddin

Indiana University

Tamara Sonn

College of William & Mary

Antony T. Sullivan

Near East Support Services

Emad Shahin

University of Notre Dame

William L. Sachs

Center for Interfaith Reconciliation

Whitney Bodman

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Senator Mike Gravel

The Democracy Foundation

Stephen McInerney

Project on Middle East Democracy

Nayereh Tohidi

California State University, Northridge

Richard W. Soudriette

Center for Diplomacy and Democracy

Richard C. Rowson

Council for a Community of Democracies

Louay Safi

Georgetown University/CMCU

Najib Ghadbian

University of Arkansas

Patrick M. Cronin

Center for a New American Security

Abbas Milani

Iranian Studies Program, Stanford University

Jean-Louis Juvet

Neuchâtel University (CH)

Catherine Balten

University of Notre Dame

Radwan Ziadeh

George Washington University

Maher Hathout

Muslim Public Affairs Council

Joseph Bock

University of Notre Dame

Fred Dallmayr

University of Notre Dame

Steven B. Bloomfield

Harvard University

Jose Casanova

Georgetown University

Robert Pastor

American University

Mohamed Nimer

American University

Ahmed E. Souaiaia

University of Iowa

Joseph V. Montville

George Mason/American Universities

Sheila Musaji

Editor, The American Muslim

Rafik Beekun

University of Nevada

Abdulaziz Sachedina

University of Virginia

Pamela K Taylor

Muslims for Progressive Values

Chibli Mallat

Harvard Law School and Utah University Quinney College of Law

Dr. Khursheed Mallick

East-West University

Ermin Sinanovic

US Naval Academy

Jamil Jreisat

University of South Florida

Nader Hashemi

University of Denver

Alejandro Beutel

Muslim Public Affairs Council

Hamid Abdeljaber

Rutgers University- New Jersey

Siraj Mufti

International Center for Peace, Tucson

Philippa Strum

City University of New York

Nathan Roberts

University of Texas at Austin

Mary Knight

New York University

Bruce Lawrence

Professor, Islamic Studies, Duke University

Sohail Nakhooda

Kalam Research and Media

Robert F. Shedinger

Luther College

International Leaders & Scholars:

Pofessor Stephen Chan OBE

School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Roberta Bonazzi

European Foundation for Democracy

Farhad Khosrokhavar

Professor at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris

Mohammad Siddik

Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Univ. Azhar Indonesia, Jakarta

Sameer Jarrah

Network of Democrats in the Arab World

Fakhry Abu Shakra

Arab Center for Democracy and Peace Studies

Najah Kadhim

Executive Director-International Forum for Islamic Dialogue

Boudjema Ghechir

Algerian League for Human Rights

Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi

The Britslam Partnership

Abdelkader Amara

Justice and Development Party – Morocco

Hikmat Bushnaq-Josting

Ibn Rushd Fund


Sign Open Letter here