In Qaddafi the Worst of Arab Tyrants is Epitomized
The Arab awakening that was begun by a non-descript Tunisian youth by immolating himself in a public square has, by now, within two months of his heroic sacrifice, set the Arab world ablaze, from Morocco to Oman. However, nowhere has it kindled the kind of intensity and fervour as has been unfolding in Libya.
Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya had been an oddity of sorts even in an Arab camp where weird regimes abounded aplenty. Absence of democracy, denial of basic human freedoms to their citizens taken for granted in much of the non-Arab world, and ruling elites composed of hereditary and tyrannical rulers ran like a common thread through almost all 22 member-states of the Arab League. However, even in this ‘hall of shame’ Qaddafi had carved for himself a niche that couldn’t be matched by anybody else among his peers and fellow autocrats.
He wasn’t only the longest-ruling of the Arab potentates, with nearly 42 years of power under his belt. On top of it, he fashioned a regime of such draconian dimensions that, not to mention casual observers of the Arab world, even seasoned pundits found it hard to detect any traces of opposition to his absolute rule over 6 million cowering Libyans crushed under his tyranny.
Therefore, it’s not only the swiftness and spontaneity of the Libyan people’s uprising that has caught the outside world by surprise. Equally baffling is the hard-nosed reaction and response of Qaddafi to the popular rebellion. Obviously caught at an awkward tangent, the tyrant is behaving with the temerity of a pugilist cornered beyond his belief but still unrelenting to concede defeat.
Not only that he’s absolutely adamant to not lay down the power he has amassed and hogged for so long, he seems to be actually prodding his countrymen to a civil war and threatening to turn Libya into “another Vietnam,” in his own boast.
One had only read in history books about Nero fiddling at his flute and singing with joy while Rome burnt. But here, in today’s Libya consumed by a gory crisis of epic proportions, one has seen with one’s own eyes, on the television-screen, Qaddafi making merry of the bloody crisis in his country-which has already seen more than a thousand Libyans killed-in an interview by western media. To add insult to injury, Qaddafi blithely insisted that his people ‘loved’ him and would die for him. Dying they are, indeed, but not for him, rather at his hands and those of his mercenaries, most of whom have been summoned from some African countries.
For once President Obama’s UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, who last week brazenly cast the Obama administration’s first veto in the UN Security Council to shield Israel against censure for its illegal settlement-building on Palestinian land, was right: Qaddafi is being “delusional.” Or is it a typical case of an attention-seeking Qaddafi strutting on the world stage in a manner that’d compel all and sundry to take notice of him?
It’s hard to recall, for any informed observer of his 40-plus years as benighted ‘leader’ of the Libyans, when wasn’t Qaddafi an attention-seeker of a devious kind and a maverick that defied all stereotypes.
Qaddafi had seized power in 1969, at a brash 27, and was hailed as a new ‘star’ on the Arab firmament. He cut a dashing figure in the military uniform with his movie-idol looks.. Gamal Abdel Nasir, of neighbouring Egypt was his role-model, or so the saying goes. But within a year of Qaddafi’s coup, Nasir passed away. Qaddafi thought he was a natural successor to Nasir’s Arab socialism and anti-western neo-imperialism. So he set about the task of putting his imprimatur on his claim that he was the logical successor to Nasir.
But Nasir was anything but shoddy or theatrical, while Qaddafi soon proved himself as being anything but serious or meaningful. The Libya he lorded over was a big country with few people-less than 3 million at that time-and huge mineral resources, topped by oil and gas.
He’d the option to turn his country into a utopia of blissful plenty for his people. But he didn’t mind letting his bemused citizens wallow in poverty and misery while he lavished Libya’s billions on fueling the IRA uprising against Britain in Northern Ireland, and arming the Moro Liberation Front, in southern Philippines, resisting Manila’s writ in their patch of land.
Qaddafi thought he was making a powerful statement on behalf of his being a mentor of the oppressed the world over, while denying to his own harassed people any of those same freedoms and rights that he was bankrolling for aliens.
What was it if not an act of sheer madness for him to blow the Pan Am flight in the sky, over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1987, and then, years later, not only accept responsibility for it but also pay billions in compensations to the families of the victims of his insanity? He made each one of the western recipient of his largesse a millionaire while Libyans groveled for food handouts.
As he entrenched himself into absolute power with the passage of years, he became proportionately absurd, arrogant and inane. Divorced from reality, he started living in a macabre cocoon of his make-believe world, and thought that was the real world.
I’ll never forget the weird experience of waiting for him, in the company of my elegantly-attired fellow ambassadors, at the Algiers airport. Protocol demanded our presence there because ‘Brother Qaddafi’ was coming on a state visit to Algeria. We waited for hours cooling our heels in the VIP Lounge before a Libyan special plane landed. We all rushed to the tarmac. But Qaddafi wasn’t there; only a handful of flunkies disembarked. Half an hour later another such flight landed; we rushed again. This time a bevy of smartly-attired damsels in military uniforms came out of the aircraft. We’re told they were the personal bodyguards of the ‘leader.’ We’re comforted by their dazzling sight and told that ‘Brother’ was going to be on the next airplane. Another hour later we’re informed, by the protocol, that Qaddafi would be arriving next morning but we didn’t need to turn up that early hour to greet him. Lucky break it was for us.
So he might still think the real world is how he perceives it, and not what 6 million Libyans, who have risen in arms against him, think or believe. They’re, in his demagogic rant, only worthless “rats” and “cockroaches.” And he seems to be hunting down his ‘rats and cockroaches’ with the enthusiasm of a school boy, oblivious to the pain and suffering in blood it’s causing to the Libyans now in full cry of revolt against him.
A harrowing, maddening disconnect between the leader and his people is what lies at the heart of the present turmoil, not only in Libya but much of the Arab world, from Morocco to Oman to Jordan to Bahrain to Iraq to Yemen.
Most Arab leaders, if not all, are caught up in that haze of mental exhaustion and fatigue that lulls senses, and renders them incapable of listening to reason. That alone explains Qaddafi, in dire straits according to the rest of the world, believing as a matter of conviction that his people still love and venerate him, while they are beseeching the world to help them get rid of this inanity styling himself as their patriarch and redeemer.
Some of these Arab rulers are very intelligent people like, for instance, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed, whom I’ve known so well for so many years. Both have quickly announced lavish packages of socio-economic sweeteners with the clear intent to pre-empt an uprising of the kind sweeping the Arab spectrum in varying degrees of intensity and force.
These sweeteners may well work for some but only up to a point, as they’ve, with obvious success, up until now, in the oil-wealthy and sparsely populated emirates and kingdoms of the Gulf where the citizens are well-fed and well-cared for, but only in strict economic and social senses.
But these packages alone may no longer be enough to keep their peoples in tow behind the rulers’ whims and fancies.
They’ll not work because bread-and-butter alone is no longer the only call of the Arab mainstream. The restive Arab youth, from Algeria to Iraq, is now demanding his piece of those universal values of freedoms of choice, voice and expression that have been denied to him for so long.
Oppression is not of physical freedom only. It’s worse when it muzzles the voice and seeks to suppress the soul. That’s the riddle Arab rulers seem incapable or disinclined from solving. A stark reality generally escaping the intellectual radar of Arab rulers is the generation-gap between them and their citizens, whom they have generally looked down upon with disdain as if they weren’t citizens but ‘subjects.’
The Arab tribal culture has a lot to do with this congenital antipathy of the ruling elite to the people’s instinctive hankering for basic human freedoms. The tribal cultural ethos anchors on the patriarch or the chieftain being the font of all wisdom and endowed with the sole right to decide what’s good or bad for his tribe.
Saddam Hussein insisted on this patriarchal prerogative in his famous interview with Diane Swayer, of NBC, recorded on the heels of his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Qaddafi has echoed the same morbid thought in his interview with Christiane Amanpour of ABC, among others, in Tripoli in the wake of much of his country lost to those demanding the freedoms he has usurped so callously over his years in power.
Qaddafi is beleaguered, there’s no gainsaying that. In his desperation, he sunk so low as to declare his people being slaves to Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda. In his befogged imagination, he wanted to touch sensitive chords in the west in his favour by conjuring up the chimera of Al Qaeda in Libya. It just shows how totally disconnected from reality he still is in the throes of a massive convulsion.
Qaddafi is in imminent danger of being swamped by the tidal wave of the people’s awakening. But there are several others on the danger list, too, such as the leaders of Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain et al, to mention just those few already on the ropes.
Qaddafi would go the way he’d come to power: by force, because he refuses to contemplate taking the course of the deposed Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.
It’s hard to say, given his lack of mental balance, if he’s conscious of it that in the process of defying the Libyan people’s collective call for him to go, Qaddafi is opening the door for those very neo-imperialist powers to help liberate his people that he ostensibly resisted with such élan all through his years in power.
But the American foot-dragging on the Libyan people’s call to shield them against Qaddafi’s punishing air power is a blessing in disguise to him.
Hillary Clinton waxed eloquent, initially, on U.S. lending a helping hand to the Libyans arrayed against Qaddafi’s tyranny. But she has quickly changed her tune and toned down. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is obfuscating with excuses of not having enough logistics to enforce a ‘no-fly’ zone over the Libyan air space. On cue from the Americans, NATO is singing the same tune and dithering, while it never showed any hesitation to follow the American flag to Afghanistan.
The Americans did exactly the same thing to the Iraqis of southern Iraq following the first Gulf War of 1991. In what should go down in history as a case of monumental and treacherous double-crossing of the Iraqi Shiias, Bush Sr., then president, coaxed them to rise in revolt against Saddam but also allowed Saddam to use his gun-ships against them. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiias were butchered in the process.
That’s what they are waiting Qaddafi to do to the Libyans who are striving, and paying for it with their blood, to get rid of him. Nicholas Burns, State Department’s top mandarin under George W. Bush, said it in so many words in his interview at Al Jazeera Television. He said the situation was still not that critical to warrant an international response to the Libyan people’s call for help.
In other words, U.S. and ‘allies’ would wait until thousands have been massacred by Qaddafi’s mercenaries before taking any action against him. Arab blood is cheap to them, has been so for a century since western imperialists took the European Zionists under their wings and then conspired to dismember the Ottoman Empire to enslave the Arabs.
To date-and more so in the wake of the Arab awakening-U.S. policy in the region is two-pronged: check Iran, and make sure Israel remains unchecked and unchallenged. Last week’s veto at the UN exposed this strategy in crystal clarity.
So U.S. stalling is encouraging Qaddafi to indulge in his blood-lust to his heart’s content. The predator in him is quite capable of doing to the Libyans what Stalin did to the Chechens and others in the Soviet Union in WWII. Qaddafi is a Stalinist psychopath in any case. He is also mad, which makes him all the more untrustworthy and dangerous.