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Gaddafi’s final metamorphosis

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By Andrei Fedyashin

Of the four autocrats who ruled North Africa for decades, only two remain in power: Col. Gaddafi and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. President of Tunisia Ben Ali and President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak were overthrown before anyone even had time to predict their downfall. Muammar Gaddafi, who has led Libya since the coup of 1969, has been in power the longest of the four. But will he be able to stay in power until September, the 42nd anniversary of the start of his incredible experiment in Libya?

A matter of time and bloodshed

All signs point to Gaddafi’s imminent departure. An emergency session of the UN Security Council will be held today on the request Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, who renounced Gaddafi at a press conference yesterday. The Libyan ambassadors to India and Bangladesh have also resigned, and more are expected to follow. The justice minister has resigned in protest of the violence unleashed against the protestors. Pilots in the Libyan air force have refused to bomb Benghazi, the stronghold of the uprising. Two pilots defected to Malta rather than kill their fellow Libyans. A group of army officers has announced its support for the protestors.

The regime is falling apart piece by piece. Yesterday’s allies are today’s enemies. Gaddafi’s departure is only a matter of time and bloodshed.

Some maintain that Gaddafi will not resign like Mubarak, and that he will fight to the death. But the same was said about Saddam Hussein, whose regime lasted for about two weeks after the start of the U.S. invasion, and about Mubarak himself.

The irony is that Gaddafi began his career in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, where the uprising began. It was the first city to catch the revolutionary bug from Egypt. Now it has spread to the capital, Tripoli.

The Middle East and North Africa have become utterly unpredictable. Literally anything could happen at this point. It remains unclear who will fill the void left by the ousted leaders. Instability will breed further instability. The situation is reminiscent of the Balkans on the eve of World War I. We are on very dangerous ground, indeed.

The former Gaddafi

Muammar Abu Minyar Abdel Alam ben Hamid al-Gaddafi (his family name originates from the Bedouin tribe of al-Gaddafi) wrote himself into the pages of history in September 1969, when he helped overthrow King Idris in a military coup. At the time, the Middle East was a battleground in the proxy war fought between the Soviet Union and the United States. This was the time of Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev, and Egyptian President Abdel Nasser (who was an inspiration to the 27 year-old Captain Gaddafi).

After taking power, Gaddafi introduced sweeping changes in Libya. It was a fresh breeze of colonial liberation, social justice, battles against corruption and red tape, and freedom for the people, not to mention Islamic morals and Sharia law. It was the Arab Muslim version of people’s power.

All the “adult” nations – America, the USSR, Egypt, the UK, France, Italy – watched in amazement as the young and charismatic captain eliminated all foreign military bases and nationalized the oil industry as well as all foreign companies and banks. The Soviet Union would have been pleased by this turn of events, except that Gaddafi also started clearing the political playing field of all communists, left-wing and rampant right-wing forces and Muslim radicals. The political harmony he created was both anti-imperialist and anti-Soviet. However, this did not prevent Moscow and Tripoli from working together as a counterweight to Anwar Sadat’s pro-U.S. Egypt.

Gaddafi tried to strike up alliances with his Arab neighbors in a very strange way – by claiming the role of pan-Arab leader for himself. Gaddafi wanted to be first among equals. His megalomania became more pronounced with time. Gaddafi failed to unite Libya with Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. His union with Morocco fell apart, and his alliance with Iran proved short-lived.

He did away with the presidency, the government, the office of prime minister, parliament and local bodies of state authority and replaced them all with Jamahiriya – a state of the masses ruled by various levels of people’s committees.

He ultimately turned his back on nationalization, and again opened Libya’s doors to foreign companies. Once a total outcast following a series of Libyan-backed terrorist attacks in Germany and the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 that killed 270 people, he turned himself into an acceptable if not a respectable politician in Europe. It’s hard not to accept a politician whose country ranks fifth in oil reserves in Africa. Italy was particularly accepting, as it receives almost 60% of its oil and gas from Libya. Everyone seemed to have forgotten that Gaddafi armed IRA and ETA terrorists. Russia even forgot that Gaddafi immediately supported the State Committee for the State of Emergency that attempted a coup against Gorbachev in 1991.

From hero to a vaudeville villain

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is hard to believe that Captain Gaddafi, the leader of the 1969 coup, is the same person as Col. Gaddafi today – an almost vaudevillian dictator in showy uniforms adorned in gold. Today he is an actor in a show. He looks like a 69-year-old Michael Jackson. But there was a time when he was called “brother-leader” and hailed as the liberator of Libya. Some even believed he was the savior of the entire Arab world.

But now the signs of decay are everywhere. Gaddafi has claimed Shakespeare was an Arab emigre and that Libya is the birthplace of Coca Cola. He has denounced the UN Security Council as a sponsor of terrorism, and he wanted to declare jihad on Switzerland for its ban on the construction of new minarets. What used to seem funny now has an ominous ring.

The Gaddafi regime today reeks of desperate fear. It is armed to the teeth against its own people and will stop at nothing to hold on to power.

History has many examples of fallen heroes. Gaddafi is just one more example, and far from the last. He has passed through all the stages on his way to the bottom – liberator, hero, reformer, moderate dictator, megalomaniac, suspicious autocrat, paranoid satrap, dodgy despot and laughing stock to the entire world. Now he risks going down in history as a butcher of his own people.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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Ria Novosti

RIA Novosti was Russia's leading news agency in terms of multimedia technologies, website audience reach and quoting by the Russian media.

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