Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gaddafi: The end

I will die as a martyr at the end.
--Muammar Gaddafi, February 2011

It was just a matter of time. Mad dogs and flamboyant despots with a taste for blood run free for only just so long. The law of averages, fortified by the events of the Arab Spring, caught up with Brotherly Leader Muammar Gaddafi, the north African tyrant who ruled Libya with fists of iron and ham for 42 years.

The world leader pretend; the man who parlayed his nation’s vast oil reserves into a country that was ultimately a monument to himself; the brutal tinpot cartoon whose wardrobe borrowed equally from Bedouin tradition, Liberace and Chuck Jones died on Thursday, killed by rebel forces in or near Misrata, in circumstances as mysterious as his whereabouts for the last two months, after being pulled from a storm drain under a street in Sirte, his hometown.

Videos from the scene of his capture show Gaddafi still alive but clearly not long for this world, bruised and bloody after being dragged from a drainpipe while begging for his life, the former maximum leader beaten and stomped by forces of the National Transitional Council, the seed of the next Libyan government. The so-called King of Kings now rests wrapped in plastic in a meat locker at a shopping center in Misrata.

“By last week, the empire of the self-proclaimed "emperor of Africa" had shrunk to the size of a drainpipe,” writes Andrew Gilligan of The Telegraph (UK). “Gaddafi's demise was as box-office as his 42-year rule.”

"We could not even say his name without fear," said Ali Barzani, a car dealer, to The telegraph. "Now we are watching his body on television. This is a great day."

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Gilligan observed that “[u]nlike Egypt or Tunisia, where the leader went but the system stayed, Gaddafi's great bequest is that he was the system. Gaddafi's end leaves Libya with a cleaner sheet than any other Arab country.”

But that clean slate that is Libya has a definite downside as well. Since Gaddafi was the system, his exit from the scene makes Libya subject to a vacuum of leadership, effectively means the oil-rich country is yet to become an oil-rich nation. With its gathering of competing autonomous militias, some of them already chafing at the contours of government defined by the NTC, the potential exists for more of the same fighting, or a variation of it, that has dominated Libyan life since Gaddafi’s decline began.

Elections are to be held in eight months, more than enough time for those warring factions to deepen their own regional and tribal animosities. Gilligan reports that “[m]ost of the militias, despite appeals, have refused to leave Tripoli, where each controls its little area of the city.” The celebration of Gaddafi’s death may already be leading to the kind of fractious urban partitioning that subdivided Berlin in 1945.

There’s some reason for hope. Libyan oil production is set to start climbing again. Now about 390,000 barrels a day, it’s expected to return to pre-war levels — about 1.6 million barrels a day — sometime next year. Analysts say that could mean lower prices at the pump, due to the increase in supply.

And the relentless bombing of Libya by NATO forces, aided by drones and missile launches from the United States, has left Libyan cities and towns in ruins. The way’s open, or soon will be, for construction and infrastructure repair on a mass scale, presumably with the blessings of the next (and presumably) democratic government, and the participation of global businesses set to exploit a potential market of almost 6.5 million people.

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That hope for hope is a regional thing. On Sunday, Tunisia holds its elections, the first since the dawn of Arab Spring. In the election of a new assembly, perhaps as many as 7.5 million voters will take the first steps towards establishing a new government with a new constitution, rebuilding the country ruled for 23 years by Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in January.

Egyptian elections are dead ahead. The country’s military rulers announced that the first phase of parliamentary elections would start on Nov. 28, CNN reported. “The results will be announced on January 10. Then the writing of the constitution will begin immediately,” Major Alaa Al Iraqi, a military spokesman told CNN. “Parliament's first session should be in March. Then the presidential elections will come next.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that “international agencies and NGOs are welcome to observe the elections.”

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Since Gaddafi was checked out, there’s been a call for investigations into how he died from Amnesty International, the United Nations and others.

“"In order to turn the page on the legacy of decades of systematic violations of human rights, it will be essential for alleged perpetrators to be brought before trials, which adhere to international standards for fair trial, and for victims to see that accountability has been achieved," the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Friday.

But while the position is noble and high-minded, and certainly consistent with UN principles, it flies in the face of the sentiments expressed wholesale by the Libyan people, as well as certain demographic realities on the ground in Libya, and their consequences.

Muammar Gaddafi ruled his country for 42 years. According to the CIA Factbook and education marketing specialist Hobsons, the average age of Libyans is 24 years old. About 10 percent of the country’s inhabitants are between 20 and 29 years old, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. About 33 percent of Libyans are between one and 14 years old.

Put simply, there’s no pre-Gaddafi frame of reference for much of the Libyan population. They’ve never known a world without Muammar Gaddafi in it; his style of rule, his approach to problem solving, his heavy hand in every facet of life is all they’ve ever experienced.

To be expected to behave in accordance with international law when the Libyan people have never encountered the permissions and latitudes of international law in their own lives is to ask the impossible. The laws of international community are no less powerful than the law of self-preservation.

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Gaddafi lived and ruled by the gun and imposed his will at the end of one; in a time of war, when he turned against his people, they could hardly be expected to do anything else.

We saw this on Thursday. A young man, Mohammed al-Bibi, has  received the early credit, and praise, for actually delivering the Gaddafi killshot, brandishing in a jubilant crowd the dictator’s own golden Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol, the gun al-Bibi may have killed Gaddafi with. Al-Bibi is 20 years old.

If The Hague does come calling, al-Bibi could mount a credible defense: that the steward of two generations of plunder, an autocratic style that squandered the nation’s vast wealth and brutally suppressed its people, and a ruinous unemployment rate that over those two generations damaged the national life expectancy and the prospects for personal achievement had effectively declared war on his own people.

Which would now make Brotherly Leader Muammar Gaddafi nothing more or less than a casualty of that war, that war of his own invention.

Image credits: Gaddafi top: Getty Images. Libyan oil fields map (2009) Hassan S. Hassan, via Tomahawk missile strike on Libya, March 2011: Interior Communications Electrician Fireman Roderick Eubanks, USN (public domain). Al-Bibi: EPA/AFP/Getty Images.

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