The Libyan Tragedy

By Mohamed El Mokhtar

Given the peculiarity of Ghaddafi’s persona and political regime, the tribal structure of Libyan society, the very configuration of the country itself, regional as well as geographical, it was quite foreseeable that the turn of events would ultimately take a path somewhat different from that of Egypt or Tunisia. Although, an uprising a la Egypt was an unlikely scenario, the current mayhem wasn’t something that was naturally predictable either. Decades of Ghadaffi’s strange misrule have sown the seeds of an end resembling, in many ways, the very nature of the character: awkwardly unpredictable and uniquely irrational.

The deployment of foreign mercenaries in the first days of uprising, in addition to the indiscriminate use of live ammunition against civilian protesters, initiated a series of blunders, in the part of the Libyan regime, the apex of which was perhaps the televised intervention of Saif El Islam. The rabid nature of the weirdly improvised speech of the latter, instead of soothing the simmering tensions, further inflamed an already critical situation; hence the quick development of a partially violent insurrection into a full-blown rebellion. This sudden transformation was, in part, the consequence of a personal miscalculation; such fatal missteps can only results from one thing: a profound lack of intelligence. In this sense the absence of political acumen seems alas, besides the lack of moral wisdom, the best genetically shared trait of the Ghadaffis.

Had it not been, therefore, the successive blunders of the father and his son, the situation could have very well been better controlled from the beginning if not wisely managed to the end. Thus, part of the problem lies undoubtedly within Ghaffafi’s own eerie character. His legendary figure historically epitomizes this idiosyncratic signature.

Consequently, the unfolding Kafkaesque drama reveals some of the most Shakespearian features of the Libyan leader. Like a Greek god fallen from his pedestal, he appears increasingly isolated. But faithful to himself, he would play the hero to the end, be it solo and in the last Act of a Bedouin version of Inferno. Blindly shielded from the reality of this world by his own inherent limitations and numerous shortcomings, he couldn’t have weathered the storm intelligently or anticipated the consequences of his actions without some intervention from a caring mentor or help from a close outsider. That chance was lost in the first weeks when some premature, and not well thought-out, decisions were hurriedly made by some of his heretofore Western friends. Instead of maintaining the channels of communications for exercising pressure or keeping a level of indispensable influence, two Western capitals, namely Paris and London, decided to completely sideline and irrevocably shun the regime in favor of some heretofore unknown rebels.

The main reason: these new revolutionary insurgents had purportedly appeared enjoying an easy military advance in the first weeks of the confrontation. Unwilling to carefully ponder the situation, the said Western powers started, without giving it a second thought, to entice defections and encourage the utmost intransigence among the armed rebels. That was another major blunder, for their mistakes have transformed a volatile but still controllable situation into a state of chaotic civil war.

The ease with which some Westerners, French precisely, change sides is very revealing of their utter political opportunism and lack of moral principles. In this case only their snooty arrogance seems to match their (legendary) hypocrisy.

The idea of daring to declare, for instance, someone else’s ruler as illegitimate is not only a very condescending act but also an inherently racist attitude. It smacks of orientalist paternalism and old colonial clichés. It is not our personal liking or disliking of Ghaddafi, that will make him politically legitimate or not; this is an internal Libyan matter to be decided by the people of Libya; and it alone. Yes Gaddafi has used live ammunition and foreign mercenaries against ”peaceful” protesters but since when does that type of criminal behavior, in the part of an autocratic regime, constitute an immediate threat to international security or a clear prelude to a crime against humanity of the magnitude of genocide as to warrant an important foreign military intervention of this sort? Does a limited mandate of the UNSC to impose a no-fly zone only for the protection of civilians give France or Great Britain or Italy or the US the legal right to destroy, at will, the physical infrastructures of the Libyan state or encourage civil strife by openly siding with one side against the other?

Is an international mandate to open a humanitarian corridor synonymous with the right to depose the sovereign government of an independent nation and install a puppet regime of one’s own choosing? Isn’t the leadership of these so-called revolutionary insurgents essentially composed of the same discredited elements who, just few weeks ago, were fervently working for Kaddafi and extolling his praises everywhere? Why aren’t these powers encouraging dialogue between the belligerents or pressuring them to find a peaceful settlement for the crisis? Since when has the military interventionism of Nato been solely motivated by humanitarian benevolence or the ideals of Enlightenment?

Which country in the world would not use raw power when confronted with the imminent danger posed by an armed rebellion? Why were the efforts of the AU, Turkey and Venezuela systematically laughed at or sabotaged by the besieged rebels and their sponsors? And the role of the oil rich Gulf states in all of this frenzy to unseat Ghaddafi by all means? Aren’t these states the least democratic ones in the whole region?  What precisely are these politically backward and socially reactionary sheikdoms going after by ardently wanting the uprising to succeed in Libya and not anywhere else?

Because of all these unanswered and yet legitimate questions one cannot but express doubts about the true motivations behind this obsession to at any cost dislodge Kaddafi. 

The man may indeed be very erratic and eerie. As a matter of fact he is all of that and even more! But that is not the main issue at stake here, for Ghadaffi, despite all his evil, is not a leader devoid of popular support. This may be regional or tribal but it is nevertheless one; hence the importance of not trying to systematically humiliate him in his country. He is no less rooted in Bedouin culture and deserving of an “honorable” exit that Saleh of Yemen for example; and he certainly doesn’t enjoy less political legitimacy than the Bahreini Emir currently busy importing droves of Sunni settlers to subdue his own Shiaa majority subjects: An illegal and potentially dangerous maneuver of sectarian cleansing being accomplished right under the nose of the (Jeffersonian) Americans and their 5th Navy fleet with the full support of the (radical) Saudis.

Moreover, the large scale massacres of civilians in Tripoli and Benghazi that were announced in the first days of the uprising turned out to be another false propaganda just like those of Timisiora in 1989 in Romania. The regime of Kaddafi is already bad enough; no need to inflate its crimes. It does not serve the purpose of a popular revolution to excessively lie about facts or unrealistically exaggerate an already bitter reality. The Libyans deserve no less freedom or democracy that the Tunisians or Egyptians but they should also be held to the same standards of moral responsibility and rigor.

In fact, what the Saudis leaders and their auxiliary princely allies in the Arabian Peninsula fear the most isn’t so much the intermingling of Iran in the region than the installation of an institutional monarchy at their doorsteps. That occurrence, more than anything else, will upset the current status quo where royal autocracy of divine inspiration is the rule. Our Arab emirs are for the time being clumsily betting on the lethargy of their heretofore extremely docile subjects, for their purse allows them to fill up their stomachs with plenty of junk food and deaden their brains with an overdose of soccer games day and night.

As for the Sarkozys, Cameroons and Berlusconis of this world all they are doing, despite their loud bluster about democracy and freedom, is essentially sniffing for the smelly charred trail of that precious substance: Black Gold. Obama is in the same category. No moral ascendency to speak of here.

Ghadaffi is now haunted by the shadowy ghosts of an old past. A Shakespearian character, tug between his overbearing murderous ego and increasingly hostile surroundings, contemplates the end of an uncommon destiny. Dante it is!

– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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