30 years of Gaddafi: Same man, different clothes
"The guy has grown up," a diplomat is quoted in the New York Times. Some take longer than others do, but all boys eventually become men. The colorful Colonel running Libya may be no different. Indeed, Muammar Gaddafi may be showing signs that he is slowly leaving behind his adolescent prankster years. Yet much remains the same.
September 1st marked the 30th year of Colonel Gaddafi'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, while harboring hopes of one day becoming the 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 Islamic 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 dissident where killed abroad. Definitely, an achievement.
Col. Gaddafi 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 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 of 170 people killed in the 1989 bombing of a French airliner over Africa.
Over the past twenty-years or so, a number of countries including the U.S. and Britain had 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 United Nations sanctions.
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 interest of its citizens.
The combined effects of unilateral American sanctions and seven years of U.N. sanctions was beginning to bite. Though many of the unilateral American sanctions continue, the U.N. 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, weapons, put off development projects, disabled its communication system 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 thirty 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.
In characteristic Gaddafi form, even as he tries to change his image, he still goes back to old ways. African heads of state gathered in Tripoli this week for a special meeting of the Organization of African Unity to discuss Gaddafi's vision of a United States of Africa under his leadership. In fact, he told journalists last month of a conversation he had with the Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. "The world knows Muammar Gaddafi 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 Muammar Gaddafi as the leader of peace and development in Africa and other countries."
This appears to have gotten to his head.
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.
Even as he tries to put out a new image, his reign of fear continues. 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 titled 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 to express dissent in Libya.These people appear to have been arrested simply because they were suspected of supporting or sympathizing with the Libyan Islamic Group - an underground Islamist movement which is not known to have used or advocated violence."
In the rush to normalize relations, the international community must not forget that Gaddafi is still a dictator even as he claims the masses obey him freely. Sure, Gaddafi should be allowed into the adult club, but only on a probationary basis until he is man enough to treat the masses responsibly.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Foreign Policy, Libya, Muammar Gaddafi