However, Gaddafi’s story is like most post-colonial rulers, who are initially hailed as liberators but in the end turn out to be worse that the colonial masters or the Kingdoms following the end of Western colonialism, as was the case in Libya. As years and decades pass, such rulers assume upon themselves a sort of a divine mandate to govern. Even if the Green Book was a revolutionary treatise with secular ideals, it endowed Gaddafi with the self-assumed role of a Brother Leader for the Libyans. Libya became synonymous with Gaddafi, and vice versa—with the people of Libya and their inherent aspirations of life taking a secondary position. His sons, friends, and tribesmen were the ones who actually enjoyed his long rule. S much so that Seif al-Islam was able to virtually buy a doctoral degree from the London School of Economics, and would throw parties with pop singers such as Beyoncé performing for him and the Gaddafi henchmen in private concerns. All of this life of luxury led with Libyan wealth.
In place of an inspiring, charismatic person, which is what Gaddafi was back in the initial years of his rule—merely 27 years old when he took over in 1969—the world eventually saw an erratic, eccentric and unpredictable personality, ridiculing his Arab or Muslim compatriots each time the Arab League or the OIC met. That is why he was gradually ostracised by one Arab and Muslim ruler and regime after another. He turned to Africa for support, even recruiting mercenaries from Chad and elsewhere for suppressing the Libyan population.
Gaddafi never had good relationship with the Western world, except the last phase of his rule, especially after South Africa’s Nelson Mandela helped sort out the Lockerbie issue, whereby Libya officially accepted responsibility for the 1998 terrorist bombing of Pan-Am flight in Scotland and handed over Abdel Bsasit el-Megrahi for trial in the Netherlands. He was also opportunistic enough to take a lesson from Saddam Hussain’s humiliating capture ad agree soon afterwards to shipload the entire Libyan nuclear programme to the United States. For the sake of saving his skin, he did not care for the interest of a country like Pakistan where Gaddafi, despite all of his foolhardy conduct, has enjoyed tremendous respect.
As we know now, America and its European allies neither seemed to have forgotten nor forgiven what Gaddafi’s Libya did to them especially in the 70s and 80s. A couple of notable instances involving Libya’s active campaign to directly target Western interests, besides the Lockerbie disaster, include the arming of the IRA and the bombing of a Berlin night club bombing, which compelled Ronald Reagan to call him as a Mad Dog of Africa and launch a strike against his compound in 1989.
February of this year presented the greatest opportunity for the West to take its own revenge against Gaddafi’s Libya: the process began as soon as the people in Benghazi started to revolt, the UN Security Council was taken on broad with two consecutive resolutions, including the resolution 1973 that paved the way for the imposition of a non fly zone by NATO apparently to protect civilians from Gaddafi regime’s air and ground assault. Actually, the Western alliance provided cover for the armed rebels, paving the way for the consistent military successes against Gaddafi’s army in the last six months—until the fall of Tripoli as the Gaddafi regime last stronghold.
It can be reasonably argued that in the absence of the crucial military support from NATO, the public rebellion that began revolted against the Gaddafi regime six months ago might have continued for many more months or even years. Libya’s case might have been the same as that of Syria’ Bashr al-Asad regime, where the military arsenal at the disposal of state forces is so vast and massive that, without external intervention supporting an internal armed revolt, the ability of a sea of people that we see almost daily protesting non-violently in city streets and squares to depose the despotic ruler and regime may have been extremely limited.
NATO’s role in liberating Libya from Gaddafi is no doubt questionable: for the mandate it acquired from the Security Council was only to protect civilians and not to shield armed rebels. In terms of the way international law has historically evolved and operated, and the provisions of inter-state conduct enshrined in the UN Charter, NATO’s conduct in Libya has indeed introduced new complexities. The duality of the Western conduct is also clear from NATO’s active engagement in Libya’s case, the West’s cautious stand vis-à-vis Syria and the covert support to Saudi Arabia to subvert non-violent populist revolts in Yemen and Bahrain.
The West also courted Gaddafi in recent years, despite charges of terrorism against him in he past—with Tony Blair spending time in Tripoli negotiating favourable trade terms, a reason often cited as responsible for the release of el-Megrahi. Berlusconi became his personal friend. Sarkozy made sure the Libyan dictator during his visit to France was housed in a Bedouin tent set up inside the Elysee palace. So, when amid the popular upsurge, Moussa Ibrahim, the Gaddafi regime’s spokesman and most visible face in the last six months, would cite instances of duality on the part of Western regimes, he was hardly off the mark. So was the case when Seif al-Islam protested the freezing of Libyan assets by Western governments, exposing them as having no qualms is dealing with Gaddafi when he was powerful, and destroying him when he became weak.
That America and Europe has acted above and beyond the confines of the prevailing norms of international diplomacy specifically in Libya’s case may be because of the lucrative commercial interests associated with the North African nation’s vast oil reserves. That is why we see US-British, Italian, French and Qatari oil giants rushing to win contracts from NTC as soon as Gaddafi’s rule started crumble with the last NATO-backed rebel military push into the Libyan capital.
All of these charges of duality in practicing diplomacy and intervening for the sake of sheer commercial interests on the part of the West, however, cannot overshadow the grand reality of a regime that retained power for full 42 years. The road to new political transformation in Libya, just as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt—and probably in Syria and beyond in the Arab Muslim world—may not be steady.
However questionable its initial phase might be, especially in terms of the controversial role played by the West—in Libya’s case, that of NATO—it is a welcome change. All of the faces that historically epitomise Muslim world stagnation must disappear from the scene. It is only then that we can expect the beginning of a credible political, social and economic transformation of world where only a few families and their friend and cronies have dominated political scene for decades, without any legitimacy and morality.