Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Libyan Lesson

Daily Sun
September 4, 2011
M. Serajul Islam

The most telling message about the fall of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi came from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a news item covered on local TV channels, she said that when she was in power last time, the former dictator had written to her to forgive the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman whom he had given sanctuary and hospitality. What was ghastly was the fact that he quoted from the Holy Quran to plead for the killers.

The Prime Minister rejected his plea. She quoted another verse from the Quran to reject it with contempt. The Prime Minister portrayed the nature of Gaddafi’s term in a manner that hit the right chord in most people who know the nature of the regime of the Libyan dictator. In his 40 years’ stranglehold over his country, Gaddafi projected himself as the savior of the down trodden and the oppressed across the world. Yet he has been responsible for most ghastly acts against humanity at home and abroad.

He squandered his country’s wealth supporting revolution and terror everywhere. His support abroad is a mixed bag. He supported the Palestinian cause; he also supported a fellow dictator Idi Amin of Uganda whose name was repulsive to the civilized world. He boasted sending weapons to the Provisional IRA to attack the British for their past historical misdeeds. He was responsible for a number of bombings of civilian aircrafts that ended doing nothing for any worthwhile cause but in deaths of hundreds of innocent men, women and children. A survey of the causes to which he gave money and support abroad reveals a mentality that was close to derangement.

Yet, till the Arab Spring caught up with him and led to his downfall, very few outside Libya knew as they do today that he was as evil inside the country as he was abroad. He ruthlessly put down even the faintest opposition to his regime. In fact, his only success in his 40 years of ruthless dictatorship was building a system of spies for control and oppression that ended employing more people than the formal structure of the Government. Thus Libyans were even afraid to think aloud for fear of their lives.

Libya was banished from the international community for almost a decade in the 1990s for Gaddafi’s support of terror and terrorists. The megalomaniac dictator then undertook a series of initiatives to get back to the international community starting with handing over the Libyans accused for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 also known as the Lockerbie bombing. UK took the case of Gadaffi supported by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and words of recommendation from Nelson Mandela. In retrospect, Gaddafi cleverly fooled the international community by these initiatives by lures of Libya’s oil. At heart; he was always the same evil dictator and was just putting on a show with his initiatives.

The result of Gaddafi’s initiatives led to the withdrawal of 27 years of US sanctions in 2004. As an icing on the cake of Libya’s return from the cold and Ghaddafi’s acceptance from his hitherto pariah status, Libya occupied a seat in the UN Security Council for 2008-2009. In fact, unbelievable as it may seem now, the western powers that had once banished him from the international community were referring to the dictator’s efforts in using diplomacy to resolve international problems as the “Libya model.”

Now that the evil dictator has become history, it is time to take a stock of his era. Gaddafi did not fall because of the rebels and rebellion against him. The Libyan uprising was not in the same class as uprisings in Egypt or Tunisia. It was NATO’s direct involvement in assistance of the rebels that felled the Gaddafi regime. The NATO powers backed by the UN now have a greater responsibility to establish a democratic and responsible regime in Libya. It must not be forgotten that many of those who are leading the National Transitional Council are former cohorts of the former dictator and little is known about others with them.

More importantly, the western powers must also review their own roles in Libya over the years. They have in the past allowed their material interests to compromise in favour of the Libyan dictator. In fact, western powers have done this not just in the Libyan instance but also with many other dictators in the region. The case of Saddam Hossein is a case in point. He became a monster at the direct encouragement of the United States that turned a blind eye to his ruthless ways because it wanted to use his regime to end Iran.

The fall of Gaddafi has given the western powers a historic opportunity to correct many of the injustices in the Middle East and North Africa that owe their origin from their role as colonial masters. Gadaffi was not wrong when he said that arming the Provisional IRA was the right thing to do to fight the British for the injustices they committed when they had colonized the region.

It is because of the policies of the colonial powers that the region has seen so many dictators of both the so-called elected and hereditary types. After many decades, the people in the Arab streets have successfully risen to overthrow many of these hated regimes. Ghaddafi’s fall leaves just Bashir Asad in Syria among the so-called elected dictators l to hang on to power against the tsunami that started in Tunisia early this year.

The message from the Arab streets is loud and clear; that the age of dictatorship is over. It is now the responsibility of the western powers to back the popular movements in the region to give democracy the chance for sustainable roots. These powers must see that the dictatorships that have fallen are replaced by genuinely elected governments. In the countries, where hereditary monarchs have absolute powers, the western powers must work with them to encourage them share of political power.

The western powers must now focus on the Palestine problem that remains as the “mother of all problems” with urgency because it is now uniting Arabs in the streets. The Israelis are already feeling the effect of the Arab Spring with the cushion provided by President Mubarak now no longer there and Jordan and Turkey distancing themselves. The recent unprecedented regret by Israel to Egypt for killing 3 Egyptian soldiers caught in crossfire suggests a Israel acknowledging the new realities. The western powers could use these developments in the region to encourage them to resolve the Palestinian problem without further delay.

The fall of Gaddafi is thus an opportunity for western powers to correct historical mistakes of the past. If they can put an elected government in Libya, imagine what impact it would have on world oil prices under which we are all reeling. A democratic Libya could put enough oil in the market to bring down oil prices by US$ US$ 20- 30 a barrel not to speak of all the other possibilities for peace!

The writer is a former Ambassador to Egypt.

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