The words of the human rights lawyer and spokesman for the National Transitional Council, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, were stated with chilling effect and certainty. ‘Our revolutionaries managed to get the head of the tyrant, who has met his fate and destiny like all dictators and tyrants.’ In the end, any talk about human rights or preserving the life of a leader wanted by the International Criminal Court, was just that. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi is, at least from what can be gathered, dead. He was found in a drain pipe and, after pleading for mercy, shot. There was no grand theatrical exit from one of the modern world’s great thespian dictators.
The colonel was the son of a Bedouin farmer, born in a tent near Sirte, and becoming a firebrand who soon began plotting the overthrow of King Idris I. Islam tempered by socialism – his ‘third universal theory’ – was ushered in from 1974, as detailed in The Green Book, seeing mass nationalisation of industries and the entrenchment of labour councils.
The West, broadly speaking, has seen in Gaddafi varying degrees of orientalised fear and admiration. He has been deemed everything from being a ‘mad dog’ to being wily, a cunning leader who knew the pulse of his people. The words of US Senator Lindsey Graham on Gaddafi’s demise, recorded on his website, provide an extreme variant of it. ‘The Mad Dog of the Middle East is dead and the Libyan people can breathe a sigh of relief.’
The remarkable ‘mad dog’ also, it seemed, induced madness in other countries, notably the United States. An idea was spread in the early 1980s that Libyan crack forces would infiltrate the United States to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, naturally filtered through that unreliable ‘friend’ to the north, Canada.
Press outlets such as Al-Jazeera have reported an incessant stream of celebratory scenes. Catharsis has followed in the wake of brutality. But these are celebrations that are marked by trauma and merely create a false unity in a country that is deeply divided. There are also broader regional implications. As Mahmood Mamdani, director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University at Kampala, Uganda, the demise of Gaddafi and the manner of his ousting will usher in a period of greater interventions.
The sovereignty of African states, eliminated altogether during the age of imperialism in the nineteenth century, mediated, controlled and modified during the twentieth, will further be circumvented during the twenty first. Vast economic interests are being carved up by such emerging powers as China and India. The focus of Western interests has also been intense, though very much a military one.
The Arab Spring, given the Libyan example, is not without its external, Western driven motor, and this is where citizens in the Middle East and parts of Africa have reason to worry. ‘Whereas the fall of Mubarak and Ben Ali directed our attention to internal social forces,’ writes Mamdani, ‘the fall of Gaddafi has brought a new equation to the forefront: the connection between internal opposition and external governments’ (Al-Jazeera, Aug 30).
Gaddafi’s death will provide the litmus test for the NTC. The militias that roam Tripoli have loyalties to specific towns and areas, a situation that will become more acute now that the target of their vengeance is dead. The Tripoli Military Council, which controls the city, is said to be backed by Qatar and factions loyal to the interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. As has been evidenced recently in Egypt, a spring can reverse as quickly as it came. The voice of revolution in such countries remains very much the voice of the man in uniform.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org