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The final chapter of Muammar Gaddafi’s rule?

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Tue, Aug 23. 2011

As we go to press, the final stages in the six-month battle for the control of Libya are being enacted, with the 42-year old regime of Muammar Gaddafi all but ended. Rebel troops have taken over all but a few pockets of the capital, Tripoli, and though the Gaddafi loyalists are resisting fiercely, the end is clearly in sight.{{more}} Just how bloody the last battles will be seems to depend on the whereabouts and state of mind of the embattled Libyan leader, who has suffered the capture of two of his sons, including his apparent successor, the hated Seif al Islam el Gaddafi.

The end of the road for Gaddafi always seemed to be on the cards, following the decision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to impose a no-fly zone and conduct bombing of Libyan targets since March. This was ostensibly to “protect civilians” after both Gaddafi and his son, Seif, had taken a hard line on protesters demanding greater freedom and fundamental political reforms in Libya. Over the past five months, NATO’s planes and warships fired salvo after salvo on Libyan targets, more than 7,500 bombing raids having been carried out in the period.

The rebellion which started in the eastern city of Benghazi in February followed similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia where right-wing governments, allied with the west, were toppled. Protesters were killed in both countries too, and worse has happened in Yemen and Syria. None of them have caused NATO to act to “protect civilians”. It is now left to be seen what will be the reaction to Syria, where the government’s repression has by far surpassed anything that Gaddafi or Egypt’s Mubarak did.

The situation in the Middle East is a most intriguing one. Blinded by unconditional support for Israel and Judaeo-Christian bias against Islam, the Middle East has long been approached by the west from two strategic angles. One is the greed for the oil wealth of the region, and, emerging out of it and the Israeli connection, a geo-political concern. The interests of the people of the Middle East have always been, in western eyes, subservient to these wider strategic concerns, and feudal monarchs, military dictators and eccentric undemocratic rulers were left to lord it over their subjects, as long as they did not threaten western interests.

In Gaddafi’s case, his full support for the African liberation movement, his consistent advocacy for a united Africa and opposition to Israeli occupation of Palestine did not endear him to western leaders. Those and his occasional near-lunatic acts of international terrorism only heightened the antagonism arising from his nationalisation of Libya’s oil wealth. That is the basis of the NATO decision, not any genuine concern for civilian safety or human rights, concerns certainly not manifested in the cases of Saudi Arabia, Yemen or the other kingdoms of the Middle East, nor expressed when Sadat and then Mubarak ruled Egypt with iron fists.

In the final analysis, it is interesting to note the responses of those so entrenched in power with challenges to their rule. Gaddafi had the experiences of his neighbours in Egypt and Tunisia from which he could learn. Yet, rather than embrace reform, he took the path of so many rulers before him, to resist changes. True, the external forces were yearning to put their hands on Libya’s wealth, but his own people were also yearning-for a real say in the governance of their affairs. In the long run, the stubborn refusal to yield to popular demands caused his downfall.

While the victory for People Power must be lauded, the fall of Gaddafi will weaken the African Union, the support for Palestinian sovereignty and the Non-Aligned Movement, for sure. What will happen in Libya itself, in the eclectic mish-mash of the rebel camp, is left to be seen. But the underlying lesson for all leaders who do not heed the will of the people has been once more underlined.

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