Wednesday, 23 February 2011

No Exit for Gaddafi?

 Mad Dog in Free-Fall.

At an alarming pace - alarming for Western leaders, ultra-nationalists in Tel Aviv and neocons everywhere - the revolutionary contagion has spread across North Africa and the Middle East. First taking down Ben Ali and then Mubarak, as demonstrations popped up in Jordan, Iran, Algeria, Yemen and Syria among other places. To compare this to the breakdown of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 would not be outlandish, though there is no Gorbachev and the West has only an old principle to cling to. The principle which holds that democracy is only favourable when it conforms to objectives of the socio-economic and strategic kind. Thus, the "fear" that the Muslim Brothers might rush to power if Mubarak was to be removed and free elections held in Egypt immediately. Really there is no chance of an Islamist state emerging in Egypt from the democratic process as the base of the Brotherhood accounts for 20% of the population at most. The real fear is that the Egyptian people will pursue independence, as Nasser had in the 1950s and 60s. It looks like the revolution has hit Libya and the regime led by the Colonel has been significantly weakened by it.

Oh the irony as it was the shamelessly extravagant Colonel who was so eager to condemn the uprising in Tunisia. It is even more ironic considering that Colonel Gaddafi had once dreamed of a pan-Arab state consisting of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. The state could not rely on the police and the military to crush protesters, instead opting to deploy the most vicious forms of counter-revolution. The internet, landlines were cut-off and foreign journalists banned to try and keep the slaughter a secret. The death squads have led hundreds slaughtered, including women and children. Nevertheless Benghazi was lost to demonstrators who quickly began flying the flag of pre-Gaddafi Libya, the country's second city had fallen as government officials defected. Pilots sent to carry out air-strikes to suppress the revolt have refused and some have landed in Malta. At a protest outside the Libyan embassy in London, the staff of the embassy joined the protesters. It would appear that the regime is in free-fall and the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" will be the first to hit the ground.

Soon police stations in Tripoli were burning and the Colonel had fled to a military base in the South of Libya. The dictator's son Saif al-Islam, a friend of Prince Andrew and Lord Mandelson, issued threats through the media and warned of a "civil war" if the protesters did not hault. There were rumours that Gaddafi had fled to Venezuela or even France, so in an appearance lasting less than 30 seconds the "Mad Dog of the Middle East" assured everyone that he was still in Tripoli. The move was as impotent as all the anti-imperialist rhetoric he has pumped out in recent years. Just as the use of death squads, referred to as "militias" in the press, is in part a sign of desperation. These squads are made up of armed killers contracted from places like Niger, Chad and even Serbia. As the military is not totally reliable anymore, Gaddafi has had to hire "foreign help" whilst still calling on the cops and the soldiers to crush the revolt. It is notable that Mubarak spent 3.12% of GDP on the Egyptian army and in Libya the military receives just 1.2% of GDP. Most of the weapons being used against the people of Libya have been gained through arms deals with the US and Britain.

 A Reformed Revolutionary.

The rise to power of Gaddafi is reminiscent of the Egyptian revolution in 1952 in which a group of Free Officers seized the state from King Farouk. Similarly Gaddafi was a member of a similar coterie of military officials who removed a pro-American monarchy in a bloodless coup in 1969. Muammar al-Gaddafi quickly began to rail against the European colonial powers, the United States and Israel. The young Colonel, at the time he was only 27, acted to craft his regime on the Egyptian model of pan-Arabism and secular nationalism. With the slogan "socialism, freedom and unity" one chapter ended and another began for the people of Libya. Before his death in 1970 Nasser said "I rather like Gaddafi. He reminds me of myself when I was that age." Gaddafi had admired General Nasser since childhood, he would try to fill Nasser's shoes and converted Tripoli's Cathedral into the Gamel Abdel Nasser Mosque. In 1975 Anwar al-Sadat, the man who succeeded Nasser, would later describe Muammar al-Gaddafi as "100 percent sick and possessed by the devil." Thanks to Sadat and Gaddafi, Egypt and Libya are both corrupt autocracies.

In 1970 the new regime had expelled somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 Italians who had settled there during the colonial decades from 1911-1941. Military bases for the US and Britain were closed and sent home. Gaddafi led the country into an abortive invasion with Chad in 1972, which he would later "re-attempt" in 1980 only to abort once more. During the oil crisis of 1973, as OPEC cut production and raised prices Gaddafi supported the oil embargo on the US. Throughout the 1970s Gaddafi would propel himself forward with anti-imperialism and welfarism which he claimed was part of a system of Islamic socialism. With the use of Libyan oil reserves to construct a welfare state to provide free education, health-care and affordable housing as part of a "cultural revolution". All the while the Gaddafi regime supported radical Palestinian groups, the IRA and Muslim secessionists in the Philippines. Libya soon became a pariah state as the US led the way in implementing economic sanctions against the state, which would be intensified over the years.

Not long after Ronald Reagan came to power in 1981 the "War on Terror" was declared and Libya became a "punching bag" for the US. In that same year, Libyan fighter-jets were shot down in disputed waters by the US military. Before the year was out the Reaganites led the American people to believe that the Colonel's killers were in Washington looking to whack the President as well as George HW Bush. Not that the regime was not responsible for real crimes, the 1984 shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher by a gunman in the Libyan embassy immediately comes to mind but Gaddafi has also had Libyan dissidents murdered. A climate of jingoism was mobilised by the US government to justify an aggressive foreign policy. For Libya it culminated in 1986, when the bombing of a West Berlin disco packed with American servicemen was "linked" to Gaddafi. The chickenhawks at the Pentagon leapt on the opportunity to bomb Libya and the poodles of Whitehall quickly gave Washington permission to launch the attack from British military bases.

Since then it looks like it was Iran or Syria that was behind the regime, not that it would have justified an air-strike on either of those countries. In the case of the Lockerbie Bombing of 1988 it also looks as though the bombing was retaliation by Iran for the "accident" earlier that year, in which the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 665 over the Persian Gulf and killed 290 passengers. It would be an "accident" which President Bush rewarded the ship's captain for in 1990. It has been theorised that the real culprits were not al-Megrahi but a free-lance Palestinian group contracted by Tehran. If the Colonel falls and the regime caves in we could see the Libyan side of this story and compare it to the accepted version prevalent in the Western media. A collapse of the Libyan regime is not a "welcome" result of the Tunisia Effect in the West. For as Gaddafi has become a "reformed" figure in recent years and increasingly friendly to the powers, which he still lambasts from time to time as imperialists. Thus, the black and white picture of Omar Mukhtar with the Fascists who caught him appeared on Gaddafi's military garb in Italy not too long ago.

 Escape to Hell.

Around the same time that Bush was rewarding murderers, with the Medal of Legion, the Eastern bloc fell apart and soon the Soviet Union also fell. A major source of support that Gaddafi had fallen back on in the 80s was gone as Egypt became a client state for the US. In the 1990s Gaddafi's Libya became isolated and an easy target for economic sanctions. Eventually relations with the West began to "thaw" as Gaddafi jumped to condemn al-Qaeda after 9/11 and urged Libyans to give blood for the victims of the atrocity. Gaddafi was soon on board with the redeclared "War on Terrorism", which he used to crush the threat of Islamism to his regime. The Colonel was soon rehabilitated in the Western media as al-Megrahi was put on trial and billions in compensation was paid out to the families of the victims of the Lockerbie Bombing, large-scale arms contracts and oil deals worth billions would follow. Tripoli was soon flooded with European capital as the state imposed neoliberal structural reforms whilst hanging "radical Islamists" in public.

Over the years the Colonel has become increasingly excessively ostentatious to the point of farcical displays of anti-imperialist rhetoric and impotent spectacles, let alone the ridiculous costumes and titles. This narcissist is not only the "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution" but also the King of Kings in Africa and Imam to all Muslims apparently. The oppression and brutality on which Gaddafi has sustained his megalomania over the years has gone on long enough for the Libyan people. The erratic behaviour of the "Mad Dog" does not have many allies left in the world, he won't be joining Ben Ali in Saudi Arabia any time soon. The Libyan elite has been split over the recent massacres, which is the reason that some military personnel, government officials and even important tribes have abandoned Gaddafi. As the isolation of the Colonel increases and his options continue to dwindle, one cannot help but feel this man is most deserving. After all he has killed around 700 people in recent days to stop the movement from seizing the East and liberating Benghazi.

Libya has a per capita income of $12,000 which is the highest in Africa, though the regime favours the West of the country where the majority of capital is concentrated. The revenue from the 1.7 million barrels of oil exported every day accumulate in Western Libya, while a third of Libyans live in poverty. Tripoli has yet to fall to the movement for a free Libya, but a nearby city has reportedly fallen. Days ago at the Presidential Palace, Muammar al-Gaddafi blurted out "I am the one who created Libya, and I will be the one to destroy it." In his most recent speech he has talked of martyrdom. Hopefully this means he is up for being fired out of a cannon aimed at Silvio Berlusconi, especially as he evoked the resistance of the Libyan martyrs to the Italians. From where Gaddafi stands, with nowhere to flee, would it be better to burn out than fade away? A nihilistic stand-off by the Colonel would look more like a parody of the last days Hitler spent in the F├╝hrerbunker determined to take Germany with him. As Libyans are being killed in the streets of Tripoli and elsewhere.


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