Libya’s falling tyrant

Gaddafi reaps what he has sown during his four-decade rule: terror, nepotism, tribal politics and abuse of power.

by Larbi Sadiki: 21 Feb 2011
Al Jazeera

Libya cannot escape the infection of democratic revolutionary wind blowing through the Middle East and North Africa. If longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi falls, it will be a sweet victory for the heirs of Omar al-Mokhtar, the legendary anti-fascist and anti-colonial hero. But a lot of blood will spill before the Libyan colonel abandons ship.

After Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Gaddafi is the worst of the Arabs’ surviving illegitimate rulers. He is now reaping what he has sown: terror, nepotism, tribal politics, and abuse of power.

In Gaddafi’s Libya, the so-called People’s Congress, universities and other regime-affiliated organisations have had to toe the official line: worship of the “brother leader”, read his Green Book, and the brand of Pan-Africanism that no Libyan except Gaddafi and his henchmen believed in.

While visiting the country with a group of students from Exeter University, the hollow slogans of Gaddafi’s “Great Revolution” covered all public space. “Partners not salaried” one says. Another declares “People’s rule” (sultat al-sha’ab). Nothing could be further from the truth.

Gaddafi has ruled the country with the delusion of grandeur of a man who rose to power in a 1969 coup with fairly acceptable political ideals that got corrupted and abandoned. Gaddafi’s much vaunted socialism turned into distribution in favour of the Colonel’s clansmen.Inner circle

An inner circle of Gaddafi’s confidants and close relatives decided and executed the hangings of the 1970s, relying on the fearsome and murderous “revolutionary committees”.

No recourse to the people was taken when decisions were made and carried out about war such as in Chad and elsewhere in Africa. The people could not openly complain about the money lavishly disbursed in the pursuit of Gaddafi’s foreign adventurism, including the sponsoring of terrorist organisations.

Gaddafi’s regime has been linked to the 1972 Black September killings of Israeli athletes in Germany , the 1978 disappearance in Libya of Shia Imam Musa Al-Sadr, the 1984 murder of British police officer Yvonne Fletcher, the 1986 bombing of Berlin’s La Belle Discotheque, the 1987 arms vessel destined to the Irish Republican Army, and to the hijacking of Pan Am flight 73 in 1986 and the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing. This does not exhaust the list.

The US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 or the large amounts of monies paid by Gaddafi to compensate all kinds of claims against Libya have been some of the prices paid by Libyans for their leader’s miscalculation.

The sanctions and pariah status have only been eased only in the past 10 years. Carrying the green Libyan passport has made Libyan citizens persona non grata in many parts of the world.

Gaddafi’s narcissism was such that very few of his comrades in arms from the original Free Officers cohort that executed the 1969 coup against King Idris have survived his brutality.

A few died in mysterious circumstances (Omar Limheshi; Imhammad al-Muqrif). Others withdrew from public life voluntarily (Abd al-Salam Jelloud).

Act of public disavowal

Like Egypt, the uprising in Libya qualifies as an act of public disavowal of an existing regime. These are countries which had military revolutions and today are experiencing civil revolutions.

Like Tunisia, but in a worse fashion, Libya has invested very little in social capital or civic capacity building. All organisations are committed to, and affiliated with, Gaddafi’s Great Revolution. Literally, these are cells that spy on the people or militias bribed to defend the regime. When protesters wave flags, chant pro-Gaddafi or anti-Western slogans, they do so on regime orders.

Regardless, Libyans have not been passive. For instance, the Libyan League for Human Rights, the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO), and the banned Islamists all have used the internet to express their anger. In some cases, Libyan dissidents used the Internet as a political tool before activists in other part of the Middle East.

The NCLO met in London in 2006 and it may plan a role in reforming post-Gaddafi Libya.

Attempts at removing Gaddafi began in the mid-1980s. The most famous was the May 1984 Bab Al-Aziziya Barracks coup when the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, made up of military and civilian dissidents, played a leading role.

The most serious challenge against Gaddafi’s authority came from the most populous and powerful Libyan tribe, the Warfallah, in October 1993. The rebellion led to kangaroo trials in 1995. Many tribesmen were executed in 1997.

The eastern region, Benghazi, has always been a source of dissidence against the regime. Dozens died in protests in 2006.The map of the current mutiny is both tribal and regional. Two tribes have withdrawn allegiance to Gaddafi’s regime, thus settling old scores. Gaddafi is now paying the price for humiliating the Wirfallah tribe, which he has excluded from his favours since the mid-1990s. Similarly, the Tabu tribe in the country’s southeast has suffered appalling discrimination.

The misery belts of Libya are now leading the rebellion. Cities like Al-Baida, Derna, Ijdadia are all marginalised and are not beholden to Gaddafi, as they have not gained from his rule. Tripoli’s poorest suburbs, Zintan and Zawiya, which have come under heavy fire, are leading the rebellion in the capital.

Why is the revolution that ousted Tunisia’s Ben Ali proving to be infectious? The reasons can be summed up by the following factors: the presence of a Ben Ali-type hegemon; dynastic and nepotistic rot; monarchical republicanism; rampant corruption; the marginalisation of young people; human rights violations; information control and a police state.
All of these conditions apply to Libya. The only good in Gaddafi’s Libya is the absence of elections, which spared the Gaddafi’s revolutionary committees the additional misdemeanour of rigging them.

In addition to these factors, the eastern region, namely Benghazi, has been deprived of the dividends of petroleum. In a country with one of the longest stretches of coastline and high oil production, income and opportunity should be available to citizens. But this is has not been the case. Now, Gaddafi is reaping what he has sown.

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).

  1. #1 by undertaker888 on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 8:00 am

    and numbskull yasin says Malaysia is not like middle east. it is exactly like middle east. tick tock tick tock tick tock……

  2. #2 by dagen on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 8:45 am

    Read the article again. Read it very carefully. And remember these two important points.

    First, the word “libya” is to be read “malaysia”. No. Not rambutan. You idiot. “Malaysia” and second, the word “gaddafi” is to be read “jib” or “he-who-has-tower-power”.

    Now go. Read it once again. The article.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 9:47 am

    End of the road for a tyrant!

  4. #4 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:02 am

    dagen :
    Read the article again. Read it very carefully. And remember these two important points.
    First, the word “libya” is to be read “malaysia”. No. Not rambutan. You idiot. “Malaysia” and second, the word “gaddafi” is to be read “jib” or “he-who-has-tower-power”.
    Now go. Read it once again. The article.

    /// Gaddafi is the worst of the Arabs’ surviving illegitimate rulers. ///

    I can already see Rambutan protesting that jib is not an Arab.

  5. #5 by undertaker888 on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 10:58 am

    does the muslim god protect or shown kindness to people like ben ali, mobarak, gaddhafi and all the tyrants there? probably they are supposed to do good in the beginning but they became corrupted like the umno goons here. the similarity is striking.

    soon, the muslim god will be turning his eyes on this country. watch out tyrants of malaysia. u think you are invincible like what moohidin is saying. mobarak was saying the same thing 2 weeks ago.

    seems people like cow head din never learnt. still pompous and arrogant. soon his god will humble him like the rest of the tyrants in mid east.

    it just shows that no emergency law, police state, police brutality can keep people silent. in the end it will just blow up on their faces.

  6. #6 by sotong on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 11:00 am

    Like all dictators, they must go!

    China is OK for the time being… long as the economy continue to grow.

    But economy is not everything. People want individual and political freedom.

  7. #7 by dirt road rider on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 12:32 pm

    Abuse of power and corruption are the main ingredients that will eventually bring down a government. The catalysts for the citizenry to stage protests are unemployment, rising food prices and perhaps persecution.

    But in order to have a spontaneous uprising, the people, by all accounts, need to be from the same ethnic group. It’s not to say different people cannot join together to oppose a dictatorship. It can happen and has happened before in history.

    It’s more likely to happen when the same ethnicity is involved. It has nothing to do with religion or any ideology as can be seen in the examples of Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya. The people are just fed up with those dictatorial regimes where the so-called elites abuse their powers.

    The recent protests in Albania is another example of the people or opposition against a corrupted government led by Berisha. It is not surprising that we start to see the same protests coming out of countries like Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Iran and some other countries in the Arab world where despotic rulers abound.

    Now the worse situation can be seen in Libya where Gaddafi has no qiualms to order the killings of its citizens.

    Assuming Japan is ruled by a dictator who drained the country dry and leave the Japanese people with no jobs and high food prices and the country close to economic ruins, would the homogenous Japanese not rise against the government eventually once they reached the breaking point? That’s a hypothetical question.

    Again, it’s not easy to evoke a change unless a society is educated and intelligent enough to discern what has gone wrong within a country. If a large portion of the society is indoctrinated for ages that everything for them is still hunky dory, then the corrupt will continue to hold sway.

    In a multi-racial society as can be found in some Asian countries, it may not be so easy to see the sparks fly unless they can all come together with the same dream and a common cause. But we never can tell.

    How would we to know that Gobachev would start the ball rolling with Perestoika and Glasnost resulting in the breakup of the Soviet Union? And the fall of the Berlin Wall?

    South Africa president Frederik William de Klerk also set the ball rolling with the release of Nelson Mandela and bringing about the end of apartheid.

    In this region, Malaysia seems to be the closest example of those hegemonic states that are now facing a sweeping uprising that is unprecedented in their history. The ingredients: Rising prices, wastages, corruption, power abuse, imcompetency among the ruling elites and a fetish for grandeur projects that takes the money from taxpayers.

    People are disenchanted – they need food on the table, they can never buy a Chanel handbag that costs RM10,000 not to mention having enough money for their daily needs (check it out with the kampung folk), they can’t have proper education without facing prejudice in schools, in social life they have been talked down and are confronted with many barriers such as racism and religious bigotry. For some races there is a glass ceiling of which they can’t break through. For another, any dimwit can rise to the top.

    In the Asia-Pacific region, it has happened in The Philippines when they ousted Marcos and his extravagant wife Imelda. So was Ben Ali’s wife. And Mubarak. And probably the next one is Gaddafi. As you can see here, there’s so much similarities among creatures with an insatiable taste for luxury, greed and power.

    All this goes to show that nothing lasts forever. There’s a time and place for everything. When change comes, a new era will begin. Sometimes, it takes a little bit more time for the apple to become rotten, totally rotten before it’s thrown away for good. Only then can people see Liberty and Justice.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 1:08 pm

  9. #9 by dagen on Friday, 25 February 2011 - 1:17 pm

    Dear Sotong, I think china will be alright. The system put in place by deng does not permit a leader to stay beyond two terms. This at least will prevent overstaying. An overstayer is very likely to get too comfortable with his position and status – the important pre-requisites for abuse of power and position to take root.

  10. #10 by sotong on Saturday, 26 February 2011 - 5:57 am

    dagen, more than half the repressed people in the world are in China……that’s why China is comfortable with the Middle East regimes.

  11. #11 by Loh on Saturday, 26 February 2011 - 2:44 pm

    sotong :
    dagen, more than half the repressed people in the world are in China……that’s why China is comfortable with the Middle East regimes.

    Have the Chinese leaders expressed that they are comfortable with the Middle East regimes, or was it a case of non-interference in other’s internal affairs? What percentage of the people in Chinese are repressed? (A dictionary defines repress as 1, bring under control by force, 2, restrain or suppress a thought or feeling, and 3tending to keep your feelings and desire hidden.) By definition 3, a huge percentage of Chinese are free to voice their opinion in internet, and they are active by any standard. Interestingly how do you come out with the statistics to suggest that there are more repressed people in China than anywhere else summed up? Also how do you make the link between the population of oppressed people and China being comfortable with the Middle East regimes. Would like to be enlightened.

  12. #12 by monsterball on Saturday, 26 February 2011 - 2:56 pm

    The good ..bad and ugly are friends to China government….showing China top guns are smart lot.
    You can say as much as you like…but China has a good reputation not to interfere with other countries problems…as they have enough of their own.
    However…China seems to attract a lot of attentions and unfair judgments.
    Previously was a Satanic country…that do not believe in a God..nor have religions.
    Since China do allowed religions to be in….that shuts people’s mouth. is about Dictatorship and corruptions….and “degan 1.17 pm” have said it all.
    China is such a far far advanced cultural country…that knows evils dominates…why should China not be friends will the good…bad and ugly?
    I think China have great diplomacy political tactics.
    Right now…Taiwan is call ..”Chinese Taipei” instead of “Taiwan” by US Govt. is some sort of victory for China.
    I only know…China can be very tough and stubborn…if pushed to the limit..which USA and Britain…dare not do it now…as they owe China lots of money.
    This is a money world…and you never hear Chinese complaint massive corruptions or unbearable dictatorship …as leaders are to stay two terms only.
    Read the past history of China…around 101 years and then remember how Mao free China and Teng’s wise words…on the black and white cats.

  13. #13 by sotong on Sunday, 27 February 2011 - 6:28 am

    If one’s human rights record is as bad or worst than others, how could you lecture them on the subject?

    Non interference = I don’t care…..this should not be the attitude of any responsible country, in particular in potential super power.

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