I do not know what feelings haunt those leaders who have fallen from power and are watching the people celebrate their departure; tearing apart their portraits, chanting against their regime, and generally witnessing the extent of the people’s hatred for their regime. I would imagine that they cannot believe the images that they are witnessing with their own eyes, because they were blinded by power, and their policies of oppression and suppression ensured that they only heard the voices of those closest to them, the climbers and opportunists who said that their people loved them and were willing to die for them. This is why they fail to understand the message their people are trying to send them when they rise up and revolt, and why they fail to learn their lesson from the experience of other leaders. Instead, they insist on viewing the people’s uprising as part of a conspiracy that must be crushed by their security and military apparatus.
Mubarak failed to benefit from Ben Ali’s experience, and did not understand his people’s message, and so threw away the opportunity to step down from power [in a dignified manner]. The same applies to Ali Abdullah Saleh, who survived an assassination attempt, but continues to refuse to understand the message being relayed by the Yemeni street. Bashar al-Assad has gone too far in his insistence on addressing the Syrian uprising, which he viewed – from day one – as a conspiracy against Syria and its role of “resisting” and “confronting” [Israel] (rather than change and the Syrian people’s will). As for Colonel Qaddafi, that is another story altogether, for he not only refused to believe that the people of the Jamahiriya could rise up against him, but he considered those who opposed his rule to be “rats,” “vermin,” and “drugged cockroaches.” Qaddafi, his sons, and their battalions, committed many massacres and atrocities in Zawiyah, Misrata, Zintan, Nalut, Ajdabiya, and elsewhere.
What planet are some of these leaders living on? The Syrian president came out and conducted a televised interview – at the same time that Colonel Qaddafi’s regime was collapsing – in which he said that security achievements had been made in his country and in which he spoke – once more – about forming one committee after another to look into the [Syrian protesters] demands, and announce a timetable for reform, all the while the suppression and torture [being conducted by the Syrian forces] is intensifying. When he was asked about the West’s calls for him to step down from power, al-Assad said “such remarks should not be made about a president who was chosen by the Syrian people and who was not put in office by the West, a president who was not made in the United States.” While Qaddafi, during the early days of the uprising in Libya, stressed that he did not have a position to resign from, and that if he were president he would have thrown his resignation in the face of the protesters. As for Ali Abdullah Saleh, after everything that has happened, including surviving an assassination attempt in which he suffered severe burns and other injuries, he has come out to say “see you soon in Sanaa.”
Is power worth all this?
Colonel Qaddafi who ruled Libya for 42 years, and who bestowed titles upon himself like “King of Kings of Africa” and “Dean of the Arab leaders,” may provide a useful lesson on how power corrupts and subjugates. For he came to power in the sole possible manner that power exchanges hands in our Arab republics, namely via a military coup, raising revolutionary slogans and making promises of change that all evaporated, leaving behind a man that lost his mind trying to hang onto power. Qaddafi took part in crazy foreign adventures in the belief that this would enable him to change the face of the world, according to his bizarre theories put forward in the three parts of his “Green Book.” Qaddafi said that he would implement a unique concept with regards to the rule of the people that did not depend upon traditional democracy, which he viewed as a failed mode because “representation is fraud” and “there can be no representation in lieu of the people.” As for [political] parties, in Qaddafi’s view these are nothing more than the modern equivalent of the tribal or sectarian system and are an instrument of dictatorial government which means that the “partisan game is a deceitful farce.” Following this, Qaddafi put forward his ultimate solution to the problem of governance, an alternative to traditional democracy. This solution was based on the People’s Congress and the People’s Committee system that he set up in Libya. Libya spent billions of dollars promoting the so-called “Third International Theory” put forward by Colonel Qaddafi, dismantling the institutes [of a traditional state], with only the People’s Committees remaining present, which Qaddafi utilized to tighten his security grip on the people of Libya.
Some believe that Qaddafi was insane even before he took power; however there is nothing to back up this theory. Most likely, wielding absolute power is what led Colonel Qaddafi to lose his senses, whilst the prevailing conditions in our region would only have aided his mental deterioration. Human history is full of stories of leaders who were seduced and driven mad by power, establishing dictatorial and suppressive regimes that destroyed their country and people.
However as the proverb goes, “thus always to tyrants”, for every dictator must face the wrath of his people when their patience finally runs out, and so Qaddafi today is facing the wrath of the good people of Libya who finally had enough and who – in the beginning – took to the streets in peaceful protests inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. However Colonel Qaddafi insisted on turning the situation into a bloody confrontation against those that he described as “rats” when he made his famous “Zenga Zenga” speech in which he vowed to hunt down the protesters “inch by inch, room by room, home by home, [and] alleyway by alleyway.” Qaddafi’s battalions committed a number of massacres, but in the end they were not able to stand in the face of the [Arab] revolutionary spirit that was backed by Arab resolutions and NATO airstrikes. Although it is true that NATO intervention was a critical factor in stopping the Qaddafi troops advance to eliminate the rebels [in Benghazi], but these airstrikes would not have succeeded without the steadfastness of the Libyan revolutionaries and their determination, not to mention their sacrifices, to ensure their revolution ended in success.
Colonel Qaddafi, who described himself as a “mujahid from the desert” ended in hiding, from where he called for the Libyan tribes to rise up against the rebels before he can be brought to justice. He was not defended by the millions [of Libyans] who he deluded himself into believing loved him, for in reality they abhorred him for 42 years of oppression, during which he contributed to the poverty of his people and squandered his country’s wealth.
At the time of writing, the battle is not completely over, although it is clear that the speed of the regime’s collapse – at the last minute – shocked everybody, and is reminiscent of the manner that the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes collapsed in the face of popular uprising. Whilst it is true that the Libyan rebels took 6 hard months before they even entered the Libyan capital, in the end they proved that steadfastness and sacrifice is enough to achieve victory over any military machine or suppression, no matter how strong. Today, the Libyan people are facing a new challenging era to complete the journey, particularly as periods of transition are extremely difficult, as we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia. The Libyan people must be patient and exhibit restraint in order to pass the exam of building a new Libya, made up of democratic institutions, and which is based upon general political participation that supports the national cohesion that was reflected in the revolution and the hard times faced by the rebels.
Libya will require Arab and international support and assistance in order to be able to stand on its own feet as soon as possible, and in order to re-start its economy and to lift the [economic] sanctions against it, as well as to ensure that security prevails and stability is restored. Most importantly of all, this [Arab and international support and assistance] must help Libya to build a state of institutions from the wreckage of Colonel Qaddafi’s “Jamahiriya.”
The Qaddafi regime collapsed despite its policy of suppression and torture, so will others understand this message? Particularly as the run of Arab revolutions and uprisings that stalled – and which some thought had ended – is back on course in Libya. So who is next? What will happen now in Yemen and Syria?