Sunday, October 30, 2011

Col. Gaddafi’s Death – lessons for dictators?

Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi died on October 20 on the way to a hospital in Misrata. An autopsy determined that he had bullet wounds to his chest and head. Apparently, he was killed by a Libyan captor with the rebel forces that had toppled his regime. It was not the kind of death he imagined to embrace during the 42 years of his rule before the revolution. Surely, he was a marked man since the days of President Reagan. He had too many foes – mostly foreign – who hated him for a plethora of reasons. But never before the Libyan Revolution had he any inkling that one day his fellow countryman would be his executioner shooting the final bullet to end his life.

It was a sad demise of one of the most enduring rulers of our time who refused to call it quits. Gaddafi was captured alive hiding in a drainpipe outside his hometown of Sirte. He was roughed up, bruised, taunted and hounded before his death. It was not a pleasant picture, all captured by cell phone videos, to see him dragged out by his hair while he pleaded not to shoot him.

Like too many of his predecessors who had refused to read the writings on the walls, Gaddafi was defiant to his brutal end. When he fled Tripoli, he threatened to turn his country into a ‘volcano of lava and flame.’ He called the rebels ‘rats.’ Never did he know that he would end up hiding like a rat holed up in a drainpipe before being captured by the rebels.

When Gaddafi captured power in September of 1969 through a military coup by deposing King Idris – an ascetic, benevolent and reluctant ruler -- he promised deliverance. He had Allah’s gift, the sweet oil, the best quality crude oil containing the least amount of sulfur – buried under the sand, to honor that promise. He nationalized oil wealth and sent students abroad for higher education, and we are told that he provided -- free education, housing and healthcare to his people plus interest-free loans, free energy bills and $50,000 housing money for newly wed couples – benefits which are unheard of in our time in any country (including Saudi Arabia). In an age when the capitalist governments in Europe, North America and Israel were strengthening the dictatorial regimes and racist colonizing enterprises throughout the world, his was a dissenting voice. Actually, more than a voice! He was the greatest benefactor to Nelson Mandela’s ANC (in apartheid South Africa) and many such liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He supported the rights of the Native Americans, obviously causing much ire and tension with Washington. He wanted an Africa that is free from the tyranny of the West so that its people would attain self-sufficiency without western exploitation, interference and influence. He wanted an African Union that would be at least as strong economically as the EU, the USA and Canada are, away from the dictates and curses of the loans borrowed from the World Bank and the IMF.

And yet, something definitely went wrong. Vilification from the West was the least of Gaddafi’s troubles. He came to be seen by many within his own people, not just the dissident voices in the West, as a Utopian leader who had failed his people in meeting their true aspirations to live and prosper in a free Libya. They despised his (and his sons’) spendthrift attitude with national wealth, the lavish lifestyle of his children, the lavish parties where he (and his sons) gave away exotic gifts, jewelries and valuables worth millions of dollars to visiting dignitaries like Condi Rice while they felt such could have been spent wisely for more worthy causes within the country. In his long rule, in essence, they have become sorry spectators to their own destiny. To them the government handouts and free-this-and-that were not as important as some other unmet needs. They wanted a more participative and representative government of, by and for all people - democracy. They felt that he had hacked away the old social order (let alone the political order), annulled their rights to private property and, worst of all, had created a police state that was full of informers, cronies and sycophants. They felt terrorized by their own government. Libya, to them, had transformed itself into a big prison, where their ‘Brother Leader’ had become a dictator with dynastic aspirations for his sons. They wanted freedom of expression so that their unheard or muffled voices could be heard. They craved for freedom to organize and replacement of the imposed mumbo-jumbo system of government, or lack thereof, which was modeled after his Green Book.

While Gaddafi’s ill-spent money could flatter and shut the mouths of greedy western politicians and create a messiah persona in much of sub-Saharan Africa, his misfortune kicked in after the success of the revolution, the so-called Arab Spring, in the next-door Tunisia and Egypt. With the fall of those two tyrants, the Libyan people felt destiny was in their hands to change the course of history in their own country. They conquered fear and rose up in rebellion. The city of Ben Ghazi fell first and the rest is history!

It is said that the death of a democratic leader is a fanfare when he dies in power and a private matter long after his retirement, but the death of a tyrant is always a political act that reflects the character of his power. If a tyrant dies peacefully in his bed in the full resplendence of his rule, his death is a theater of that power; it is his greatest achievement. If a tyrant is executed while crying for mercy in the dust, then that, too, is a reflection of the nature of a fallen regime and the reaction of an oppressed people. To many of his victims inside Libya, Gaddafi was a tyrant, let alone a dictator, who deserved what he got and to many of his admirers outside, he was the last revolutionary who stood up against the bullies and exploits of the West and died a martyr.
Gaddafi should have resigned soon after the protests had begun. But like all dictators, instead of relenting power, he chose the barrels of rifles and guns to decide the fate of his regime. And in all likelihood, he could have survived like the murderous regime in Bahrain, if he had BIG friends in the West and the Arab League. He even used the bogeyman of Islam to neutralize his western foes that have been second-guessing the Arab Spring at every turn, including the on-going revolution in Syria, let alone the failed one in Bahrain. And sure enough, the Obama Administration was reluctant to get involved (at least in the early phase of the revolution). However, the Arab League was a different matter. It despised his personality and thus decried his threat of bloodbath and welcomed a military operation to protect the besieged people of Libya. The NATO forces, long viewed in that part of the world as morally bankrupt and utterly opportunistic, aided the rebel forces by dropping bombs after a measured calculation, and a right one, which I must add, that they have more to gain than lose by supporting the rebel forces.

As the regime crumbled and one city after another fell to the victorious rebel forces, including Tripoli, it was a question of time when and where Gaddafi would be found. After all, he had all the chances to negotiate his surrender or flee the country like Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia. But he refused to do either, and would rather die a ‘martyr.’ He chose his own fate knowingly! And that final curtain on Gaddafi was unceremoniously drawn when he was captured in his hometown and shot to death. He is now buried in an unmarked grave in the Sahara desert. What a gory and tragic end!

I wish the rebels who captured Gaddafi had acted like Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi (Saladin the Great) and not Julius Caesar. While Saladin (May Allah be pleased with him) showed magnanimity to his vanquished enemies – the Crusaders in 1187 CE when he had liberated Jerusalem, Caesar, conqueror of the Gauls in the Siege of Alesia, lost the moral benefit of his victory by humiliating his foe Vercingetorix by showing him off like a winning trophy before having him strangled in 46 BCE. The National Transitional Council, mindful of international outcry, has stated that any violation of human rights will be investigated and that whoever is responsible for Gaddafi's killing will be judged and given a fair trial.

As noted recently in the New York Times, the guns in Libya have barely quieted, but a new invasion force is already plotting its own landing on the shores of Libya. They are the western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities. They are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners. We should not be surprised! But Libyans should be smart enough to not let their hard earned revolution hijacked by these new invaders.

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