It always amazes me how many people forget history when it comes to present news events.
Right now most folks are awash in the afterglow of the Egyptian uprising that led to the ouster of long-time dictator Mubarack. They have seen North African dictators topple like dominoes and have extrapolated the unrest exhibited by the protesters to other regimes including Libya’s. But people, and by people I mean those youngster Twitters, middle-age bloggers and other clueless Westerners who before last month couldn’t find Tunisia on a map, are being rudely introduced to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
Reports suggests more than 500 protesters have been killed in Libya and before all this is over that number is sure to rise. Because Gaddafi, with his penchant for safari-themed suits and pimp sunglasses, is no ordinary dictator. In fact he is a man who literally wrote the book on Muslim revolution, the modern originator of the secret police death squad, the sole sponsor of pretty much every terrorist group operating in the 70s and 80s (and like a familial benefactor to Carlos the Jackal) and even into the 90s. Revolution? Did it! He wrote the book on it and if people think he’s going to give up as the longest-serving ruler in modern history without a fight, well, they don’t know their history.
Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Roots
In the 1960s Gaddafi was a junior military officer with dreams of revolution. He had contempt for King Idris, a post-World War II Libyan leader who, in the 1950s, installed himself as King of a new united Libya backed by the support of the United Kingdom and the United States. The West showered Idris with gifts for his cooperation against Mussolini’s fascist regime. Like many budding revolutionaries of that time – Che, Castro, Ayers – Gaddafi had a socialist philosophy which presented a violent aversion to the hypocrisy of Western democratic regimes who came to power on the backs of colonialism and slavery. He wanted to create a socialist state, one that would eschew elite hierarchies in favor of true rule by the people. He also wanted to unite all the Arab states in a theocratic union that paid homage to Islam and used its vast oil reserves to beat back Western efforts to dominate the Arab world. He was the great unifier who was greeted by his people with shouts of ecstasy.
“With our spirit, our blood, our religion, we will fight at your side, O Gaddafi..” (Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,907040-6,00.html#ixzz1EdoUKESu)
But though Gaddafi was seen as a benevolent Arab leader, and Gaddafi’s coup was bloodless, his ascension to power was not.
Revolution Comes at a Price
Just like his brother revolutionaries Castro and Mao, Gaddafi came to power opposing oppression only to become the chief oppressor, arresting, imprisoning and even killing anyone who fought against him. Soon after his regime ascended to power, Gaddafi created “death squads,” small bands of hit squads who killed Libyan dissents around the world.
Fueled by his hatred for the West and his desire for a strong nationalist Arab, Islamic-state, Gaddafi also supported basically every terrorist group waging war against the imperialists of Britain and America. In the 1980s, the U.S. went after Gaddafi with a vengeance. President Ronald Regan called him the “mad dog of the Arab world.” In addition to sanctions against the North African country there were military strikes and no doubt some CIA assassination attempts (though that’s never been proven…)
But Gaddafi remained immune, and for more than 40 years he remained the revolutionary thorn that America couldn’t destroy kept aloft by his country’s vast oil reserves. (Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa, producing more than 1.8 billion barrels a day.)
Revolution Often Rides on the Back of Hunger
Rolling in dough, Gaddafi’s regime in Libya ($89 billion in GDP with just 6 million peeps) seemed impenetrable for dissenters seeking another choice besides Gaddafi. But alas, with the annual income just $35 a day, 1 and 3 people unemployed, Gaddafi’s Libya is being challenged not by some military invasion from the powerful West but by the hunger in the pit of his people’s stomachs. Those who celebrate Bastille Day well understand that hunger can be a big motivator to topple a regime and in the end the lack of economic progress in these countries which are being systematically raped by their leaders has led to mass demonstrations and for Libyans, a will to die in the streets.
It’s ironic that a man, once considered the most crusading revolutionary for Arab people, who said he fought for a nation ran by the people, a man who said, “There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet,” is now killing those who demand representative democracy.
But as an old-school revolutionary it is certain that he will not fade into the backdrop easily. Though Gaddafi is known now more for his flashy suits than his fighting spirit, he may yet have some fight left in him and Western governments will be just as clueless as how to deal with him now as they were back then.