Controversial Italian ex-PM Berlusconi took pride in ties with Arab world

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Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian former prime minister who died on Monday at the age of 86, took pride in his personal connections with the Arab world and its leaders, however controversial they might have proven to be in the West.

He never hid his friendship with Muammar Gaddafi, for example, visiting the late Libyan leader at his headquarters near Tripoli a number of times.

In 2008, he signed an important political agreement with Gaddafi to “compensate” Libya for Italian colonial occupation between 1911 and 1943.
Italy pledged to pay Libya $5 million and fund construction of a highway between the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
In exchange, the Libyan government agreed to invest in Italy and provide Rome with an important supply of gas and oil.

It was Berlusconi who invited Gaddafi to attend the G8 Summit in Italy in July 2009, during which a historic handshake between the Libyan leader and US President Barack Obama took place.

When Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in October 2011, Berlusconi did not express an official position.
However, one of his closest aides told Arab News: “In a private meeting a few days later, he said he was sorry and added that from that moment things would go differently in North Africa, with difficult consequences for Italy as well.”

Berlusconi also enjoyed a very close relationship with Egypt’s late President Hosni Mubarak, visiting him several times in Cairo while prime minister, and their countries signed a number of agreements on economic and military cooperation.

He also enjoyed a good friendship with Tunisia’s late President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Berlusconi held personal financial interests in the country, especially in the film industry, and one of his oldest and most trusted business associates was Tunisian film producer and businessman Tarek Ben Ammar

Through a complex web of personal and business relationships, Berlusconi was also a personal friend of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even serving as best man at the wedding of one of the Turkish president’s sons.

Berlusconi was one of the most vocal supporters of Turkiye’s entry to the EU, so much so that some Turkish newspapers described him as “Ankara’s lawyer.”

He said during an interview with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera: “I am convinced that it is in the interests of the European people and of the West to have Turkey in the European Union to foster dialogue between the Western world and Muslim cultures in order to avoid conflicts in the future.”

Berlusconi also had personal links with Rafik Hariri, the billionaire and five-time prime minister of Lebanon who was killed, along with 21 other people, in February 2005 when his motorcade was targeted by a bomb hidden in a van.

During a meeting in Beirut with Hariri’s son Saad, who subsequently also served as prime minister of Lebanon, Berlusconi reportedly said he felt “honored” to call himself a friend of his father and praised his efforts to modernize his country.

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