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Neo-Tarzanism: Gaddafi’s legendary petulance

ABDUL-QADER SHAREEF / 10 December 2006

LIBYAN leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is once again a source of intense speculation and media hype. Last month, he was caught up in a diplomatic incident as he arrived in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for a summit. He was actually travelling with his two hundred heavily armed Libyan female bodyguards.

When Nigerian security officers refused to let the bodyguards keep their arsenal, a heated discussion followed and Gaddafi flew into a rage. He then furiously hit the road both literally and figuratively. He meant to walk the forty kilometres to the capital, before Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo intervened and persuaded him to return to the airport lounge.

This was in November. In September he took legal action against an Algerian daily. He claims the Algerian Arabic newspaper Eshourouk has “offended” him and “imperilled Libya’s internal security”. In August 2006, Eshourouk, quoting anonymous Touareg sources, reported the existence of “a plan concocted by Colonel Gaddafi to drive a wedge between the Touaregs and destabilise Algeria”. Gaddafi asked for a public apology but his lawyers claim he might demand financial compensation also. This is a weird demand from a leader immersed in the depth of oil and with no sense of freedom of the Press.

But one might venture to ask how this eccentric came to power? Well, on September 1, 1969 Gaddafi — who was at the time 27 years old — and a group of military “Unionist Officers” overthrew King Idriss as-Sanussi and instituted what they termed “The Al Fateh Revolution”. The agenda of these young officers was similar to former Egyptian President Nasser’s. In 1970 they nationalised American and British oil companies and the American air base — Wheelus Air Field, which has been renamed after one of the most important Arab conqueror, Uqbah Ibn Nafeh.

Amongst the twelve officers who took part in the 1969 coup, only three are still with the leader. The others have either been done away with or fled from Libya or they are living under ‘soft house-arrest’, such as the former commander-in-chief Abdessalam Jalloud. So, in 37 years of erratic and absolutist power, the self-proclaimed sentinel of Arab unity has also been one of the grave-diggers of Arab nationalism. He has feverishly tried all sorts of unions with his neighbouring states. He first failed in his confederation project with the States of the Nile valley (Egypt-Sudan) in 1970. He was also unsuccessful in his federation attempt with the pro-Soviet military bureaucracy (Syria) in 1971.

His unification attempts with Egypt, before turning in 1980, to Tunisia then to Algeria, were vain. Last but not least, he turned to Sub-Saharan Africa. Since the beginning of this century, he endeavours to lay the foundations of a Transcontinental-State, thus causing a mess while trying to federate all the Touaregs who, by definition, have no notion of “state” as a political concept. They have always moved freely between states and Gaddafi’s run of the mill plan is but a neo-colonial snag.

He has abusively detained some of the most emblematic figures of the Arab opposition movement. Ruthlessly, and in total violation of the elementary rights of political asylum, Gaddafi ordered the arrest in July 1971 of the leader of the Sudanese Communist Party, Abdel Khaleq Mahjoub, and the instigators of an aborted coup who had unfortunately taken refuge in Libya, and handed them over to his Sudanese acolyte, General Gaafar Al Numeiry. The charismatic spiritual leader of the Lebanese Shia community, Imam Moussa Sadr, was also abducted in 1978 while visiting Libya.

The man transformed Libya into a huge worthless armoury. He thus enriched several European armament companies such as French company Dassault and at the same time ruined his own country. The impressive military arsenal he had acquired ever since he came to power and which maxed out with the acquisition of 75 Mirage fighters for approximately 2.3 billion Euros, ended up in smoke when his own French supplier crushed Libyan troops in neighbouring Chad in 1985 and 1986.

It is worth mentioning that the only war he has truly carried out is a verbal war. The “Leader” has indeed developed an outrageous polemical discourse to convey the idea that he is at the avant-garde of the combat against “American imperialism”. To pull the wool over his incredulous audience’s eyes, “The Supreme Leader of the Libyan Revolution” came out with his Green Book, a condensed pamphlet of contradictory theories, which he put forward as a kind of “Third Universal Theory”, that is, the third universal theory after Capitalism and Marxism. As a result, the “people-cracy” or “Jamahiriya” that he established has generated bureaucracy as a system of government and parasitism as a way of life. In fact, social peace is guaranteed by a repressive system which is similar to the ones prevailing in the other Maghrebi (North-African) states.

In 1980, without any regard for the tragic consequences of his decision, Gaddafi ordered the eviction of 200,000 Egyptian workers in order to make President Anwar el-Sadat pay for his negotiations of a peace settlement with Israel. And in 1984, he ordered the removal of almost a million African workers.

Paradoxically, and in the name of the noble cause he said he was defending, he ordered in 1988 the crash of a Pan-Am airliner over Lockerbie (Scotland) which claimed the lives of 270 passengers. He was also held responsible for the crash of the French company ATU jet, above the Chadian desert, as well as an attack against a nightclub in Berlin. After a ten year Draconian embargo (1992-2002), Gaddafi relinquished to the International Tribunal his closest collaborator as an expiatory victim of the Lockerbie attack and agreed to the compensation of the Lockerbie victims ($10 million per victim for the two exploded planes). Months later, the Gaddafi himself became a devout convert to the US neocon ideology, too happy to escape the doomed fate of the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In December 2003, in a manoeuvre which is more than a capitulation in open country, Gaddafi renounced the entire Libyan nuclear programme. He thus divulged Arab and Muslim countries’ cooperation (Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, Syria) in the field of nuclear energy. Two years after this unconditional capitulation and during the Algiers Arab summit, he criticised both Palestinians and Israelis and called them “idiots” for failing to create a homeland called “Isratine”, a neologism forged by the contraction of Israel and Palestine. Does he intend to patch up the Middle-East crisis through a linguistic neo-Tarzanism? The answer is crystal clear.

Abdul-Qader Shareef is a humanities lecturer at Ajman University of Science and Technology

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