Same dictator (Moammar Gadhafi), different clothes
By Faisal Kutty – Some take longer than others do, but all boys eventually become men. The colourful colonel running Libya may be no different. Indeed, Moammar Gadhafi may be showing signs that he is slowly leaving behind his adolescent prankster years. Yet much remains the same.
Sept. 1 marked the 30th year of Colonel Gadhafi’s overthrow of King Idris and the establishment of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya — the state of the masses. Since then, the colonel has transformed traditional Libyan society — not all for the better — while harbouring hopes of one day becoming leader of the Arabs, Africans, or all of humanity depending on the weather that day. With his unique brand of “people power” — where all the power rests fully in his hands — and the policies set out in his “Green Book,” the colonel, with the aid of his tribe, has managed to maintain total control over Libya.
To this day, there are no private institutions, professional organizations, an impartial judiciary, or even an independent press. At one’ point, his reach even extended outside the country as a number of dissidents were killed abroad. Definitely an achievement.
Colonel Gadhafi has always been unpredictable. He has bankrolled revolutionaries and insurgents all over the world, particularly in Africa. Yet at the same time, he has acceded jurisdiction to, and abided by, the decisions of the International Court of Justice. In fact, Libya accepted the court’s decision on a sea dispute with Tunisia and Malta and even returned some Chadian territory captured in a war pursuant to a court order. How many other countries — including the U.S. — can make such a claim? Moreover, in July of this year, he even agreed to pay $31 million to France as compensation for relatives killed in the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Africa.
Over the past 20 years or so, a number of countries, including the U.S. and Britain, severed diplomatic relations and imposed sanctions on Libya. The ostracism only intensified after the Americans and British alleged that two Libyan intelligence agents masterminded the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bombing killed 270 people and resulted in UN sanctions against Libya.
In what many observers say is an attempt to end his ostracism, the colonel agreed to turn over the suspects for trial in the Netherlands under Scottish law earlier this year. This creative proposal helped both parties to save face, while allowing Libya to look after the interests of its citizens.
The combined effects of unilateral American sanctions and seven years of UN sanction were beginning to bite. Though the unilateral American sanctions continue, the UN sanctions, imposed in 1992 and widened in 1993, ceased the moment the Lockerbie suspects landed in the Netherlands. The sanctions had cut off air links, banned import of aircraft parts and weapons, put off development projects, disabled communication systems and interfered with oil production equipment.
Now all of this is set to change as foreign investors start swooping down. Foreign delegations from a number of countries have already descended looking for business opportunities. Italy alone has reportedly sent 30 delegations. The government has issued numerous new foreign contracts and has held talks with British Aerospace on a contract for new aircraft and airport-rebuilding worth billions.
No doubt that sanctions and isolation have to end. As former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark accurately points out, sanctions only hurt the poor — the rich can always buy or bribe their way to what they want. But we should not forget that today’s Gadhafi is still the same dictator that came to power thirty years ago.
In characteristic Gadhafi form, even as he tries to change his image, he still goes back to old ways. African heads of state gathered in Tripoli this past September for a special meeting of the Organization of African Unity to discuss Gadhafi’s vision of a United States of Africa under his leadership. Gadhafi told journalists last month of a conversation he had with the Nigerian president Olusegun Obsanjo. “The world knows Moammar Gadhafi as the leader of the world revolution, which is contributing to the liberation of peoples,” Obasanjo had told him. “And now that the liberation stage has ended, the world wants to know Moammar Gadhafi as the leader of peace and development in Africa and other countries.”
This is all he needs to egg him on as he continues his reign of terror. The brunt of his wrath appears to be aimed at political opponents. One only has to scan reports from human rights groups to see the extent of the problem. In fact, in a 1998 Amnesty International statement entitled “Libya: No Chance for Dissenting Voices,” the group pressed Libyan authorities to reveal the whereabouts of 100 professionals arrested without charges. The statement read in part: “This is yet another example of the culture of secrecy that cloaks the treatment of those who dare express dissent in Libya.” The mere whiff of opposition is enough to cost you your life.
In the rush to normalize relations, the international community — Canada included — must not forget that Gadhafi is a dictator even as he claims the masses freely obey him. Gadhafi should be allowed into the adult club on a probationary basis only, until he has matured enough to treat the masses responsibly and humanely.
Note: First Published: Catholic New Times, Oct 17, 1999 v23 i15 p5
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