Gaddafi’s pitiful death, the celebration of it, Obama’s speech and the looming tragedy of post “liberation” Libya
Fate is a great joker, it always laughs last. And it did last week at former Libyan ruler Muammar El Gaddafi. He suffered a gruesome death at the hands of the very people he had called rats and cockroaches and promised to annihilate. They picked him from a rat-hole with only one bodyguard and killed him like a petty thief.
I sat for hours glued on television that day watching this once all-powerful man with power over life and death being slapped, kicked and insulted by a band of unruly youths all of whom had been born and grown under his rule. His hair was disheveled, his face bleeding, his clothes soaked in blood, his dignity trampled upon and the aura around him gone. In life I despised Gaddafi, possibly more than any other ruler. As I watched his last minutes, being kicked around on the bonnet of a car, I felt sympathy for him – I almost cried. What had happened to this king of African kings?
Like many of his ilk, Gaddafi got the same death (or worse) than he had inflicted on myriads of his victims. Although he suffered the death he deserved, I wanted him to face the death he did not deserve – to die quietly in his bed. The irony is that in his death Gaddafi triumphed over those in Libya and their allies in the West who fought him. He had been a brutal and unforgiving tyrant who always scorned the rule of law, disregarded due process and always ran roughshod over his citizens’ rights. This was the reason many Libyans fought him and the justification NATO used to push for regime change.
In his death, Gaddafi succeeded in showing the world that the Libyans who fought him and their NATO allies who supported them are not any different from him – in fact they are worse. By killing him through mob justice, denying him the due process of the law, by humiliating him in public, stripping his corpse naked, then displaying it and kicking it, Gaddafi’s enemies exhibited the very trait that has sustained mass suffering and misery in the Arab world. It is sad that anywhere in the world that the West has had a hand, especially the Middle East, it has left behind a legacy of impunity.
Cognizant of this past, and wrongly thinking that US President Barack Obama has some basic values – or would at least pretend to – I hoped against hope that in his speech, he would condemn the way Gaddafi was treated after his capture. I had hoped Obama would rise above the prevailing popular mood, avoid pandering to public sentiment and state those values of fairness, justice, rule of law, respect for human dignity and decency that would have made people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela proud of him.
I hoped that Obama would say that although Gaddafi was an evil man, he should not have been killed the way he was: That upon his capture he should have been treated humanely precisely because he treated his opponents inhumanely; that he should have been taken to a court of law because he did not take his victims to one. Gaddafi needed to be shown the gentler and humane world which he had denied his victims. Instead, by acting like him, his opponents showed him the world as he knew it.
So I sat there, before the television set, watching Obama give his speech. Not once did he refer to the gruesome death at the hands of the mob that Gaddafi suffered. Instead, he acted as if everything was okay and congratulated “the people of Libya” for their “victory” which had closed a “dark chapter’ in their troubled history. He ignored the fact that they had treated a former head of state with utmost injustice. It was apparent that Obama, like David Cameron earlier in the day and the NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was giving a blind eye to the seeds of impunity in post-Gaddafi Libya.
If these so-called “pro-democracy” fighters in Libya can treat a former head of state the way they did to Gaddafi, how then have they been treating his underlings whom they have been capturing as they advanced from Benghazi to Misrata, from Tripoli to Sirte? Initially they lied that Gaddafi had been killed during a fire exchange between his defenders and their fighters. Then video pictures came of him alive in the hands of his captors. The NTC later claimed he had died of wounds inflicted on him before his capture. Then it turns out that he was captured uninjured.
The string of lies from the NTC aside, it was clear from the start that danger was looming in post-Gaddafi Libya. The so-called pro-democracy fighters do not have centralised command and control. There is no authority imposing discipline on their conduct. The NTC is a hastily organised assembly of Libyan dissidents and former Gaddafi loyalists i.e. a marriage of convenience. It sits in Benghazi talking democracy, the rule of law, due process - all the phrases the West loves to hear from its proxies. But without effective control over its troops, the NTC is sitting on a tinderbox.
That motley crowd of Kalashnikov-wielding unruly youths high on dope cannot be trusted to create a foundation for a stable democracy. Democracy cannot exist in anarchy; its first precondition is a stable political order; itself a product of the centralisation of the exercise of violence and coercion in the state. This is lacking in post-Gaddafi Libya.
The worst days for Libya are not behind it, but ahead. That country’s already fragile institutions are going to be undermined by the mindless call for democracy i.e. elections, multiparty politics, etc, even before a stable political dispensation has been established. Democracy is not a religion that can be taken anywhere and everywhere and work as Christianity or Islam would. On the contrary, it can be an extremely dangerous system of government when attempted in a situation where the state does not have monopoly over violence; where the army, police, prisons, judicial institutions and the bureaucracy are still fragile, weak or even nonexistent.